Monday, September 20, 2010

Sound Quality Part 1

Sound quality comes in various shapes and sizes but what I'm referring to are the sonics involved in a song. How the mix translates not only to speakers and headphones but other mediums as well.  I read an article regarding how some people preferred the mp3 sound over cds and at first I was surprised.  I come from what's considered the "old school" where vinyl was king and cassettes came second but cds for me was something cool yet foreign.  The technology was in it's infancy stage so as converters and mastering techniques evolved, so did the quality.  I always thought cds sounded great but veterans felt otherwise.  I guess the same way older folks felt about cds is how I feel about mp3s today.

Not all mp3's sound like crap.  The codecs used in the iTunes software is great but there is something lacking.  Something that doesn't keep me glued to the music.  Maybe it's just more to get used to.  If kids today were to see a walkman or disc player in action they would probably think the individual using the device could not afford an iPod.  I don't think that's the case. You need a computer to use an iPod and a descent sized hard drive to store all of the music that you rip from the cds.  Then you get something that in my opinion doesn't sound as good yet you spend more money for it.  Granted a computer is being used for more than just a music library.  I can't help but wonder how today's mixing and mastering engineers feel about the technology.  Do they feel that a sense of tradition in mixing should be preserved for the sake of the music art form?  How about the "Loudness Wars" epidemic? When did we feel it was necessary to make everything louder?  How does this make the material sound better?

I've have been mixing hip hop music for a little while and I often get the stereo mix or 2 track of the beat with the vocal multitrack when dealing with rappers.  I know producers are concerned about someone stealing their work and yes those fears can out weigh the overall sonics of a track.  That's cool because I would feel the same way if someone else were to mix a Right Bros. session.  Why does this trend occur within the music industry on a major label scale even after the track has been purchased?  Another thing that bugs me out is when the hook and the beat are not separated.  It's when the producer sends a "TV mix" of the track.  I had a tough time with a session where the vocals were recorded so poorly that I told the artist's manager I would not be mixing the song unless the vocals were separated.  Needless to say the song was mixed despite not receiving the "Pro Tools" file the way I asked for.

There was another session in particular where the quality was so appalling  I needed to use the "Waves X Noise"plug in on the vocal tracks.  Thats something you breakout if you are doing forensics.  It was as if though the artist was not in an isolation booth and the air conditioner in the control room was on full blast.  That bothers me not because of the work required but because the people responsible for the recording appeared to be so careless.  The persons involved  were most likely friends and not recording engineers so technicalities went out the window.  So I ask you this...  How in the world can something like that be mixed without affecting the spectrum of the song as a whole?  Seriously how do people have the nerve to send something like that to an engineer?  WTF!!!!!

I am still learning how to better my self as a music producer and mixing engineer daily.  What helps is knowing how guys like Tom Dowd Bruce Swedien and Eddie Sancho painstakingly crafted classic records especially during a time when computers let alone digital equipment didn't exist.

To be continued....

By F.J.