Dynamics in mastering • by Angelos Liaros
Subject Introduction The art of mastering is a delicate procedure based on the philosophy and skills of a mastering engineer. Nowadays, most modern mastering productions are noticed to lack of dynamics. This dynamic range reduction, is usually applied during mastering, in order to achieve maximum loudness on a record. This supportive narrative is exploring alternative and conventional mastering techniques, in order to preserve a wide dynamic range on a track during mastering process, while also aiming to satisfy the modern production needs for loudness. The paper focuses in electronic (dance) music sound, connecting the research with my personal work and career pursuit in producing and engineering music that falls within this particular genre. That does not lead to the conclusion, that the techniques described here, are not suitable for another kind of music styles. This supportive narrative is a research and outcome of the author’s need to expertise in dynamic mastering processes & techniques, as well as a useful tool for other starters or professional mastering engineers or artists, who are interested in dynamics and mastering. This paper does not only describe tips and tricks about mastering, but also takes a glimpse into a philosophical, acoustical, aesthetical and commercial point of view, considering how dynamics can affect a record. It is important to clarify and avoid possible further conflicts, that the paper is not trying to judge how records should be produced and whether a dynamic mastered version is “better” or “worse” than a hyper-compressed one. The subject here is specified on how to increase the dynamic range during the mastering process, balancing between loudness and dynamics. In other words, how to make a record more dynamic, while retaining loudness. This piece of writing is meant for (semi-)professionals in audio technology and audio production. A certain level of knowledge of audio technology is necessary when reading this supportive narrative, readers without any knowledge about the topic will have some difficulties comprehending this text. A data reference CD is included with sound samples of the techniques applied, as well as acoustic comparisons on different mastering styles.
Chapters 1.0 Introduction 2.0 The art of mastering 2.1 What is mastering? 3.0 Dynamics 3.1 What is dynamic range? 3.2 Microdynamics & Macrodynamics 3.3 Dynamics in the history of music 3.4 Dynamics in the modern digital age 4.0 Loudness war 4.1 History 4.2 Loudness & Media 5.0 The impact of dynamics & mastering dynamically 5.1 What is impact? 5.2 Targeting mastering engineers 5.3 Why compressed? 5.4 The Fletcher-Munson curves 5.5 Increasing the impact of dynamics. 5.6 How about normalization? 6.0 The methods of mastering dynamically 6.1 Intro 6.2 Mastering preparation 6.3 Metering tools 6.4 Macrodynamic manipulation 6.5 Microdynamic manipulation 6.6 Stem mastering 7.0 Mastering comparison 7.1 A/B comparison on a track by ‘Port-Royal’ 7.2 Loudness measurement 7.3 Comparing the original mastered tracks 7.4 Comparing on a standardized volume 7.5 Converting to mp3 8.0 Conclusion 8.1 Balancing between dynamics & loudness 8.2 Dynamics & electronic music 9.0 Citations & References 9.1 Books 9.2 Journal articles 9.3 Internet 10.0 Appendix 10.1 Appendix 1; Reference CD
Research & sub questions -What is a dynamically treated mastering? -How important are dynamics in music? -How can dynamically treated mastering can benefit the overall sound of a record? -What happened to dynamic range in music? -What is the “loudness war” and why is happening? -How to increase the dynamic range of a track? -What is the impact of dynamics on mastering engineers? -What are the differences (acoustically/visually) between the 2 different mastering styles (dynamic-compressed)? -Is it possible to achieve maximum loudness & maximum dynamic range both at the same time? -Are there any alternatives to make your production punchier instead using limiting/compressing? -How can we monitor dynamic range and where would be the “sweet spot”/balance between dynamics and loudness maximization?
Microdynamic & Macrodynamic manipulation • Methods & techniques of mastering dynamically
Macrodynamic manipulation example Fader-riding example: A soft introduction has been reduced even further, and the impact of the body of the song is enhanced by gradually increasing the gain during the beginning of the main part of the song.
Microdynamic manipulation example Multiband compression/gate/expander on drums and percussion.
Dynamic range metering narrow dynamic range wide dynamic range
-Saturators -New generation finalising plugins -equing instead of compression -No limiting at all • Alternatives to limiting
-Increasing control Side chain compression example: Ducking effect on pads, according to kick drum hits. • Stem mastering
Style A: compressed Style B: dynamic Loudness metering Loudness (EBU R128 compliant): * Tracks (1)-(2) from audible reference CD. -Short-term (S) Loudness Max: Displays the short-term maximum loudness value as defined by EBU R128. -Integrated Loudness (I): This value displays integrated loudness using gating as described in EBU R128. -Momentary Loudness (M) Meter Max Value: This value shows Maximum value of the momentary loudness meter. -Loudness range descriptor (LRA): This value quantifies the variation in a time-varying loudness measurement and is supplementary to the measure of overall loudness, that is, ‘integrated loudness’. -True-peak level meter: Shows true-peak audio levels. -True-Peak overload indicator: Indicates if channel is clipped (L,R, or LR). • Mastering Comparison
Faded K14 & Peak+RMS compressed dynamic
compressed dynamic • Waveforms
compressed dynamic • Spectrogramms
EQ analysis -converting to mp3 compressed dynamic
Conclusion Balancing between dynamics & loudness Dynamic range and loudness maximization, have an inversely proportional analogy relation. Increasing one factor, causes the other to decrease. As a result, it is impossible to make an extreme loud and extreme dynamic version both at the same time. In our comparison test, the dynamic version was 3,5 db less loud than the compressed, but much richer in dynamics. The goal was to produce a version with a wider dynamic range and as loud as possible. The dynamic version is apparently more dynamical (4,5 db more) and loud enough with a maximum loudness at -8,2 db (EBU R-128). Maybe 3,5 db between versions A & B, is not a chaotic difference, yet it can be enough to provoke a loudness distinction between the tracks. A balance between dynamics and loudness is a powerful combination that can satisfy the modern production needs, while adding unique character to a track. Instead of using extreme loudness to make a track distinct, increasing the impact on dynamics can make the track appear more original and distinct from other tracks. It is worth mentioning, that the dynamic version (B) of the comparison tracks of chapter 7, had more impact to the band “Port royal” and will be featured in Tympanik’s recs (Chicago) V/A compilation “eo4” (August 2011). Dynamics & electronic music Electronic dance music most of the time, lacks dynamics due to synthetic instruments and composition tools, compared to other acoustic music styles (jazz for example). The overall sound of electronic music genre is usually more compressed and has a shorter dynamic range than other genres based on acoustic instruments (rock, flamenco etc). Increasing the impact on dynamics using the techniques described above, can add a different dimension to electronic oriented music, benefiting the artist’s overall work. The content becomes more rhythmical and organic. However, this may be unattractive and not efficient for extreme electronic dance styles (such as industrial, breakcore, gabber) that require a more mechanic, “robotic” and “cold” kind of sound. Nevertheless, even in extreme electronic music genres, a dynamically treatment may result to very positive results, particularly considering the rhythmic aspect. Yet this is something that depends on the skills and perception of the mastering engineer. Dynamics add variations and can be used as an expressing technique, intriguing the listener further.
Reference list: • Books • Bull, M. (2000) Sounding Out the City: Personal Stereos and the Management of Everyday Life , Berg • Bull, M. (2007) Sound Moves: IPod Culture and Urban Experience, Routledge • Ford, T. (1993) Advanced Audio Production Techniques, Focal, Newton MA • Katz, B. (2007) Mastering audio, The art and the science, UK: Focal Press • Milner, G. (2009) Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music, Faber • Owsinsky, B. (2006)The Mixing Engineers Handbook, Second edition, Thomson course technology, Boston MA • Owsinsky, B. (2007) The Mastering Engineer's Handbook: The Audio Mastering Handbook, Artistpro • Viney, D. (2008) The Obsession with Compression, a research project dissertation, London college of music, London
Journal articles • McDermott, J. (2008) “The evolution of music‟, Nature, vol.453, 25/7/2008, pp 287-8 • Robjohns, H. (1999) “How & When To Use Mix Compression”, SOS, June 1999 • Sterne, J. (2006) “The mp3 as cultural artifact ‟, New Media & Society, Volume 8, Number 5 (October 2006), pp 825-842 • Walker, M. (1999) “Mastering masters”, SOS, June 1999 • White,P. (2000) ”Advanced compression techniques”, SOS, December 2000 • White,P. (2001) ”Secrets of warmth and air”, SOS, December 2001
Internet • Abelard. (1999) ”LOUD MUSIC AND HEARING DAMAGE‟, Online, Available: • http://www.abelard.org/hear/hear.php • BBC News. (18/8/2005) “MP3 users hearing damage warning”, Online, Available: • http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4162028.stm • Bupa. (5/7/2007) “Deafness warning for music lovers‟, Online, Available: • http://www.bupa.co.uk/health_information/asp/direct_news/general_health/hearing_loss_060707.asp • Kirn, P. (16/5/2007) “Loudness War”: Music Over-Compression, Demonstrated on YouTube‟, Online, Available: http://createdigitalmusic.com/2007/05/16/loudness-war-music-over-compression- demonstrated-on-youtube/ • Rowan, R. (2004) “Pump up the volume”, The wire, online, available: • http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.01/play.html?pg=2%26%238232%3B • Shepherd, I. (2011) “Dynamic range day”, online, Available: http://dynamicrangeday.co.uk/ • Speer, B. (2001) “What happened to dynamic range?”, Online, • Available:http://www.cdmasteringservices.com/dynamicrange.htm • Wagner, A/ Ralston,J/ Dye, C. (25/5/2011)“Turn me up organization”, online, Available: http://www.turnmeup.org/
Portfolio/Projects Work delivered to other graduation projects (HKU): -Game Play (room 1218): music composition for a documentary for handicapped people playing video games, modified for their special needs. -Nominated for SD Cologne 2010:Representing HKU in Soundtrack Cologne fest 2010 as a nominee with the Rightsound project. -Carkit exodus: Theme composition for the promo video of the Carkit exodus 3d game. -The jelly reef: sound design for the whole game. “Jelly reef” is a game fully accommodated to the unique selling points of the Microsoft Surface. A game hosted by Dutch Game Garden. http://www.thejellyreef.com/[Project in collaboration with the Bachelor student Luuk Muller]. -Project sunburn: Sound design & music for the whole game. A first person shooter game for xbox. http://projectsunburn.blogspot.com/[Project in collaboration with “Rightsound” HKU project].
Additional works: • -”Mobthrow” personal electronic music project.[www.mobthrow.com] • ”s/t- album” LP (CD) released on 29 March’11 on Ad-Noiseam recs, Berlin(DE). [http://www.adnoiseam.net/] • ”Pitch Black” EP (12’’ vinyl) scheduled to be released on 5th of September’11 on Mindtrick recs, Rotterdam(NL).[http://www.mindtrick-records.com/] • Live dates are scheduled all across Europe. • -4be sound.[www.4besound.com] • Sound design & mastering audio independent platform founded on February 2011.