In the August 2012 issue of Electronic Musician, we go behind the scenes on the Blunderbuss studio sessions. Here, read our extended interview with Bob Ludwig, in which he elaborates on the mastering process.
by Kylee Swenson Gordon
Why do the loudness wars persist, and where does this record fall, in that sense?
First of all, every band thinks that theirs isn’t as loud as others on the radio. The loudness doesn’t make any difference for radio when you look at it from a technical point of view because all the radio stations are in competition with each other, so they take soft sounds and make them loud and loud sounds and make them soft. They try to make everything be the same, so if a particular record doesn’t seem to sound as another over the radio, it’s usually a mix quality thing, how much midrange is in there and how much of it is arrangement. If there’s more room in the arrangement, then the records tend to sound louder. The perfect example is Jack’s record. It sounds great on the radio. Nobody thinks it isn’t loud enough on the radio.
Bob Orban, who makes the Optimod which is what a lot of radio stations use for their signal processing, advocates very strongly not having very loud records. He says it’s much easier to broadcast them cleanly and still sound apparently loud. The thing about making records loud for radio is a complete misnomer and it’s been around forever. There might have been something to it back in the day when AM radio stations had the Top 40 records, but these days it’s really not true.
But Vance [Blunderbuss engineer Vance Powell] makes great mixes, so that’s the bottom line is that the mixes are really great there was really no compression at all used on the record. Perhaps we’re talking about one bar of music, or something like that. That I edited in. It was an artistic decision that something in the mix had gotten out of hand, and it was perhaps one guitar lick that was too loud, and Jack wanted it to be not quite as loud while still having impact.
You mastered a double session.
Jack wanted to master from one-inch, because he wanted to have a vinyl record that had no digital processing whatsoever on it. And I haven’t done that, wow, in a pretty long time—back in the ’80s or something like that. I’m just talking about mastering from one tape to another tape, that kind of thing. I played back from the master 1” machine and in the analog domain did leveling by hand and EQ to taste and made an equalized 1” master for cutting vinyl. So there was no digital processing whatsoever done to that. Of course to make CDs and downloads, I also recorded at high-resolution digital, at 96/24.
So the master had to be edited twice.
I did a lot of one-inch editing to create that EQ’d one-inch master. And then I had to do the exact same editing again in the digital domain to do the compact disc and download version. I measured everything, and I could see exactly how long it was.
Vance’s mixes were great, so there was nothing to “bail out.” It was one of those great things for me, where the artist’s master tapes sounded wonderful, and I just tried to keep out of the way of it in a lot of ways by not sneaking in something that would have lessened the dynamic range of it.
quote from the manual of the Orban Optimod-FM 8400 Broadcast Audio Processor: (This was written 10 years ago!).
There is a myth in the record industry that applying ‘radio-style’ processing to CDs when mastered will cause them to be louder or will reduce the audible effects of on-air processing. In fact, the opposite is true: These CDs will not be louder on air, but they will be audibly distorted and unpleasant to listen to, lacking punch and clarity. We hope that the record industry will come to its senses when it hears the consequences of these practices on the air.