Dynamic Range Day - Loudness War Protest

Production Advice

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Building a Home Mastering Studio – Part 1

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It’s probably the thing I get asked about most.

What are the requirements for a mastering studio ? Is it realistic to set one up at home ? What acoustic treatment should you have, what monitors should you use, how to place them, whether to use a sub, what gear you need…

Well right now I’m building my own home studio, and to try and answer some of these questions I thought I’d share the process with you.

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Daft Punk win 2014 Grammy for Great Sound

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Daft Punk won no less than five Grammy Awards last night, including Record Of The Year for “Get Lucky”) and Album Of The Year for “Random Access Memories”.

One of these five awards was for Best Engineered Album (Non-Classical) – and it probably won’t surprise you to hear that I think this factor was a crucial part of the mix. [Boom, tish!]

It’s easy to think that the sound of a record is almost irrelevant to it’s success – after all, it’s the song, performance and artist that sells records. Most people listen to music on laptop speakers, mobile phones and iPod earbuds, these days – no-one can hear sound quality on those, right ?

Looking at it another way, one of the most obvious ways to judge “quality” in the 21st Century is “loudness”, and since research shows that loudness has no effect on sales, one way the other, it stands to reason that other more subtle factors in the sound make even less difference, right ?

Well, maybe – but maybe not.
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iTunes Sound Check has an ‘Album Mode’ – finally

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I recently posted a video demonstrating how Apple’s Sound Check feature works, and exploring whether it really means that the loudness war has been won as Bob Katz claims.

The short answer is – I hope so, but I do have reservations.

But even if Bob is right (and there are encouraging signs that perhaps the loudness war tide is turning, recently) I’ve still always had a reservation about Sound Check.

It evens out all the levels on albums, too – as well as when you’re listening on shuffle.

This is a huge negative point, for me – Sound Check alters all the internal dynamics within an album – the contrast between quieter and louder tracks.

Or at least, it used to.

Tests made recently by Bob and others suggest that Apple have implemented a fix for this problem and quietly rolled it out, without any fanfare.

Of course I wanted to try this for myself, and I made the video above to demonstrate what I found. I also discuss why I think it’s important, what I think Apple’s next step should be – and why that decision could be a really big deal.

UK Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves – Dynamically !

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Bob Katz recently announced that the Loudness War has been won. But is he right ?

Well, based on recent releases by a slew of UK female artists – maybe !

The YouTube video above of Lily Allen’s new single “Hard Out Here” sounds great and measures a respectable DR9 on the TT Meter, following the same trend as two of the year’s biggest hits, “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky“.

(Plus the satisfyingly rude and on-point video and lyrics for “Hard Out Here” are especially pleasing if you share my reservations about “Blurred Lines”…)

And Lily’s not alone.

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Has the Loudness War been won ?

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Last week, on the eve of the AES Convention in New York, mastering engineer Bob Katz made a startling announcement on his website – that the Loudness War had finally been won.

He didn’t mean that he’d made the loudest album in history, though – he was talking about the fact that Apple seem to be using Sound Check, their replay volume control facility, on iTunes Radio – basically Apple’s version of Spotify or Pandora.

Bob went further though, saying that:

“The debilitating loudness war has finally been won… The last battle will be over by mid-2014.”

Bob has been talking about this issue longer than perhaps anyone else I know, and is heavily involved with the Music Loudness Alliance. Certainly his statement needs to be taken seriously.

So, is he right ?

Many people have been contacting me asking for my reaction to his comments, and there has also been a lot of confusion about what it really means about the best way to master your music.

The video above demonstrates the real-world impact of “Sound Check” and also explains why, even though I’m pleased and excited by this news, I think there is still a long way to go before Bob’s prediction can be proven right – and how you can help us get there.

Find out more

For a demonstration of how to optimise your music for iTunes and iTunes Radio using free utilities from Apple, click here.

Ian Shepherd

BBC Radio 4 Interview

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Ian Shepherd from Production Advice discusses the Loudness Wars