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Q&A: Why is most heavy metal so poorly recorded?


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where is the tunes, the music?

 

 

Where's the (metal) love?

 

Seriously though, good thread. I would just add that most of the metal bands I work with merely want to sound like their fav bands (the aforementioned "The Faceless" "Veil Of Maya" and "Born Of Osiris" spring to mind!) and they all want a mix so thick that no credit card could fit in it. Phil's point about frequency spectrum density is key, and for me subtractive EQ is the answer.

 

A lot of the stuff that bands bring in for reference really does sound good and clear, I just wish is wasn't so squashed in the mastering.

 

I agree with Instrospection regarding the dynamics of older metal/rock guitar tones- it kind of reminds me of an old quote from Ronnie Montrose- to paraphrase: "It's all about the silence vs. sound- the contrast is what makes the loud parts loud".

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(not that the average hearing-damaged tone-deaf metal head would notice)

 

 

I pretty much quit taking the OP seriously after reading this line. Although there is a certain "noise" stereotype assigned to metal as a genre, metal musicians are some of the most tone-obsessed, anal retentive I've ever met . . . and it takes one to know one.

 

As for the engineers being heavy-handed and lacking transparency, a lot of that stems from the desires of labels to have very uniform "standards" in their releases. I am friends with members of a couple of bands on fairly large, well-funded metal labels, and was surprised of the requirements placed on the bands and engineers when cuttings albums for these labels. They are told which drum samples and plug-ins to use, micromanaged to absurd levels. I was told by a label what frequencies they wanted boosted and cut for each instrument, resulting in a god-awful mess . . . but they wouldn't accept any other mix. I've heard unsigned bands put out albums mixed and/or mastered and/or produced by some very big-name professionals that were so overly compressed that there was no breathing room in what started out as very dynamic songs.

 

If anything, I think that more artists need to speak up when they don't like a mix. Some of these guys (and gals) have a great ear for tone as it applies to their genre, and need to trust their instincts.

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I don't give / bring "stems" to my M.E. I mix. He masters. IMO, once you start getting into stems, then it really is moving more to a combination of mixing and mastering, as opposed to pure mastering... but there are still a lot of mastering engineers who do it the old fashioned way - here's the two track mix, now do your thing. Maybe not disk mastering so much, but overall EQ tweaks, compression / limiting, song sequencing, etc.

 

As far as mastering my own stuff - sure, I have to resort to that on occasion. I don't mind doing mastering - for other people's mixes. But in an ideal world, I prefer to have someone else whom I trust do the mastering for material I tracked / mixed, and whenever possible, I prefer to attend the mastering sessions.

 

There's a reason you don't see "Produced, recorded, mixed AND mastered by Bruce Swedien (George Massenburg, Geoff Emerick, Ed Cherney, Brendan O'Brien, Bob Clearmountain - insert your favorite superstar engineer's name here)" on major label commercial releases. Emerick was a M.E. before moving on to balance engineer, so he certainly knows HOW to do it...

 

I've never felt it was really advisable to master your own mixes if you had the budget / choice to do otherwise. YMMV.

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It was that way decades ago as well, and engineers regularly used to refer to mastering engineers possessing "black boxes" and that sort of thing in Mix Magazine and R/E/P and so forth.


Anyway, I think a lot of the same skill sets apply whether it was 10, 20, or 30 years ago, but of course you are right in that the mediums have changed.

 

 

Sure, but it's because the terms mixing and mastering were used interchangeably. Freelance engineers had their favorite "black boxes" EQs, comps, etc. But the idea that you can take a 2-track mix and work some kind of magic with it is a very recent concept... I mean like mid 1990's recent.

 

The mix tape was the master, which was then sent out for duplication. At that stage it was tweaked for the final medium. For CD it was most commonly Sony PCM 1630 U-matic tape that was used to create the glass master. Then there was the loop-bin master for cassette duplication.

 

Technically speaking, the term,

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Sure, but it's because the terms mixing and mastering were used interchangeably. Freelance engineers had their favorite "black boxes" EQs, comps, etc. But the idea that you can take a 2-track mix and work some kind of magic with it is a very recent concept... I mean like mid 1990's recent.

 

The mix tape was the master, which was then sent out for duplication. At that stage it was tweaked for the final medium. For CD it was most commonly Sony PCM 1630 U-matic tape that was used to create the glass master. Then there was the loop-bin master for cassette duplication.

 

Technically speaking, the term,

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As for what people commonly refer to as mastering today, you can only do so much with a stereo mix, and you can't undo some things.

 

Absolutely true. Sometimes the best option is a remix - a good mastering engineer should be willing to tell you when that is your best first step IMO. They may even counsel you in terms of why, and what they would suggest you address. In other words, if someone sends me a mix with an 18 dB / octave HPF @ 1 kHz applied to it, no amount of effort on my part is going to give back what's been taken away, and I'd advise a remix, and tell them why.

 

Thus in time past mixing engineers worked closely with producers at the console, with the analog or digital multi-track material to create a 2-track stereo master.

 

OK, maybe that's the distinction you're trying to make - the producers attended the mixing and mastering sessions back then, and there was more interaction between all of them... but even back then, that didn't always happen, and even today, some of us still like to attend whenever possible. :)

 

But they did do many of the same basic processes then that I expect from a mastering engineer today. No, they're not usually cutting lacquers today, and yes, as with all other areas of audio engineering, the tools and techniques - and capabilities - have changed, but even "in the old days", EQ, compression and limiting were utilized in the cutting process in an effort to "make things better".

 

I was just reading a section in Recording The Beatles (page 468) where Geoff Emerick wrote "please transfer flat" on the tape box for the final mix of Sgt Pepper. Apparently he, as a former M.E., mixed, EQ'ed and compressed the songs with great care; from the viewpoint of a former mastering engineer, and felt no further EQ or compression was needed. The head of the mastering department apparently thought he was stepping out of line, even though Emerick had worked in that department as a M.E. only 18 months prior to that. In the end, they did wind up applying a bit of processing in mastering, but Emerick sat in on the session. The larger point is that such processing was considered a routine part of the mastering back then. Yes, the methods and tools were different, and the release medium was different back then, but those tools were applied not only to meet the requirements of the physical medium of the day, but also to improve the sound quality of the original stereo (or mono) master tapes. They would EQ the mono or stereo master, compress things so that there wasn't too much dynamic range (LP's have about 45-55 dB or so) and so that the relative levels of the all the songs on the album were consistent. They would sequence the album per the producer's instructions, etc.

 

I guess I'm missing the distinction you're trying to make. :idk:

 

Now people, some legit and some not are taking poorly mixed material and trying to fix what should have been done right the first time at the mixdown stage.

 

That's the difference I'm talking about.

 

OK, I agree with that to an extent. But that's probably a result of there being more recording neophytes today than anything else. Back then, there were just fewer people who had access to recording equipment, and most of them only got their hands on it after extensive training and apprenticeship. But even then, you could make the argument that mastering engineers were in the business of "fixing things that could / should have been done differently / better to begin with"; again, I think it's more a matter of degree, and a matter of vastly increased capabilities. Are those capabilities and tools being applied in an attempt to salvage or rescue a larger number of truly poor recordings today? Almost certainly... as you said, it's just math and a numbers game - there's wider access to recording tools, and more people attempting to do "release" recordings today, and for at least some of them, mastering may be seen as a "magic crutch" that can (or promises to) give them great sounding recordings without the effort involved in learning how to make, and then record a great recording.

 

But there are no real shortcuts. You CAN do a lot in mastering. More today than ever. But there are still limitations, even today. And the better the quality of the recordings you send to your mastering engineer, the better the results you get back from your mastering engineer are going to (or at least should) be.

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I pretty much quit taking the OP seriously after reading this line. Although there is a certain "noise" stereotype assigned to metal as a genre, metal musicians are some of the most tone-obsessed, anal retentive I've ever met . . . and it takes one to know one.

 

 

I was talking about the people who listen to this music, not the people who make it. And you would be hard-pressed to find a musician in metal who does not suffer from some amount of hearing loss. Someone complained to Scott Ian a few years ago that the latest Anthrax album had been hyper-compressed and loudness-maximized to pieces, and he replied: "It does not sound squashed in my car". Great response, no?

 

And Lars Ulrich's response to all the thousands of people who complained that "Death Magnetic" had the worst mastering job ever, said something like: "Get over it, it's 2008, this is how we make records".

 

Yes, these people sure are tone-obsessed...obsessed with bad tone I think you mean. You are probably confusing two different things: yes, all metal guitar players are obsessed about their guitar tone, not the final product.

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There's a reason you don't see "Produced, recorded, mixed AND mastered by Bruce Swedien (George Massenburg, Geoff Emerick, Ed Cherney, Brendan O'Brien, Bob Clearmountain - insert your favorite superstar engineer's name here)" on major label commercial releases. Emerick was a M.E. before moving on to balance engineer, so he certainly knows HOW to do it...

 

 

Generally I agree with this....though there are exceptions. Jason Falkner produces/ records/ mixes his own stuff, and it turns out great (though he has worked with Nigel Godrich and some bigger names).

 

Jack Endino does producing/ recording/ mastering and he does a really good job of it. Andy Wallace produced and mixed Bad Religion's "Stranger Than Fiction" and did a great job.....mostly he's a mix guy but he can produce really well, too.

 

But most have something in the chain that they do better than others. I can produce record mix and master (as in the case of most of my own stuff) but that's more a control thing, heh.....I know what I want and spend inordinate amounts of time trying to achieve it. If I had someone I could trust, I would pass off more duties to them for sure. And my heart is the most in producing and mixing.

 

I was going over an unreleased album of mine, and comparing my masters to others. I've noticed that there's only so loud that you can get someone's recording.....digital zero is a technical specification, but in truth, what comes across the speakers varies in loudness, even when everything's either normalized or brickwall limited to zero. IMHO, where alot of people are going wrong is getting it that loud and then realizing that it's still not as loud as the other releases out there. I noticed that with the remaster of Cheap Trick's "In Color".....it's still way quieter than alot of records then, and definetely way quieter than most records now. There's a few albums like that that are still much quieter, even compared to other recordings of the same dB level on the meters. My advice is to get it as loud as you can before it starts pumping or is a continuous block of light.....but the easy thing to do is get bummed out that something isn't as loud as someone else's master.

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I don't know that metal has worse mastering than hip-hop or Western dance stuff or reggaeton, all of which are enormously popular. Well, all that's bad...I'd hate to live on the difference!! :D

 

And if we're talking about effed up recording (and not mastering), I'd have to say that of all the modern recorded stuff, reggaeton sounds the worst by far. Sonically, that's some really horrid sounding stuff.

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:facepalm::facepalm:

 

I'm sorry but this is like saying there are to many drum machines in rap going on these days.

 

That's the style, a lot of bands want that "perfect" (and machine like) sound. It's not possible to get that any other way. :thu:

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:facepalm:
:facepalm:


I'm sorry but this is like saying there are to many drum machines in rap going on these days.


That's the style, a lot of bands want that "perfect" (and machine like) sound. It's not possible to get that any other way.
:thu:

 

I prefer a more human sound. I don't like lifeless music that sounds like it was recorded by a robot. It is a shame that the metronome precision pop music lives by, has now also infected metal. Maybe a lot of new bands want that "perfect" and "machine like" sound because they can't really play? But isn't that why we have ProTwells, to make bad bands sound good?

 

Frame accurate punch-ins sure sounds good until you realize that it's making the music sound more and more sterile. Too many edits and overdubs, too much fixing and manipulating. Too many bad musicians. An engineer friend of mine told me he had a "singer" in that was so bad they were editing syllables - not just words - trying to make his unlistenable and out of pitch "singing" sound good. And they did it. I think you should tell the crappy 'wanna be' musicians to learn how to actually play before they make an album. Or tell them to go home and practice until they're ready before they come back to the studio, but you can't tell them that, because if you do, they will not be back.

 

 

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I'm done with this thread. I'm convinced that the OP just has an axe to grind.

 

I suppose rap should be all organic with no quantization on the MPC parts. I guess we should do away with drum machines, synths, MPCs, e-drums, pro tools, and quantization.

 

Music isn't worthy unless it's recorded in a room with no overdubs, as is, direct to tape. Anything else is "recorded poorly". So tired of this elitist attitude.

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I'm done with this thread. I'm convinced that the OP just has an axe to grind.


I suppose rap should be all organic with no quantization on the MPC parts. I guess we should do away with drum machines, synths, MPCs, e-drums, pro tools, and quantization.


Music isn't worthy unless it's recorded in a room with no overdubs, as is, direct to tape. Anything else is "recorded poorly". So tired of this elitist attitude.

 

 

Definitely. We should get back to the way things were done in the golden age of recordings...that was REAL authentic sound back then. Not this artificial, lifeless, computerized garbage people make while lying on their backs in their bathtubs at home.

 

And I am tired of this amateur attitude of let's replace everything with samples and imitation plug-ins, and let's fix it in the mix, and "sound be damned, let's just use the cheapest, easiest and quickest approach".

 

Glad you are done with this thread. You won't be missed.

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I'm done with this thread. I'm convinced that the OP just has an axe to grind.


I suppose rap should be all organic with no quantization on the MPC parts. I guess we should do away with drum machines, synths, MPCs, e-drums, pro tools, and quantization.


Music isn't worthy unless it's recorded in a room with no overdubs, as is, direct to tape. Anything else is "recorded poorly". So tired of this elitist attitude.

Elitist and plain ignorant. Oh no that music doesn't exist because it doesn't follow the rules! Where's my rulebook???????????

 

:lol:

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It's a BAD craftsman who blames his tools.

 

You are doing nothing but confirming my suspicion that you only start these sort of threads to wind people up. I can understand that it must be fun for you - it is fun to wind people up sometimes when it's done in a light-hearted manner and it's stopped before it gets too far. But coming here and insulting my art form/medium is just plain bad taste.

 

Let me tell you that I would like to have the oppertunity to work with the gear that was used in "the golden age" to see what the fuss is all about, but where I am at the moment makes it damn near impossible. Don't assume that I'm making/producing music "while lying on my back in a bathtub at home". I work damn hard at becoming good at this thing and apart from that I put every spare cent I have into my studio to help me get the things I need to further my craft. I have cut my food-budget to be able to afford some pieces of gear I couldn't get otherwise. Does it make my efforts any less valid just because I don't work with the tools you see fit for producing audio. Is this an amateur attitude?

 

:facepalm:

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