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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Guns ‘N Roses:
Dynamics and quality win the Loudness Wars

from Bob Ludwig:

On Sunday, November 23rd the new Guns ‘N Roses record Chinese Democracy was finally released after many years of waiting and many millions spent making it.  14 different recording studios are credited.  I was thrilled to have been chosen to master the album.

In October, when I first heard some of final mixes which were incredibly multi-layered and dense, I was surprised by two things:  The mixes were so finally honed that doing the smallest move sounded like I had done a lot and also that adding the typical amount of compression used in mastering these days took the life and musicality out of the recordings in a big way. 

The trial disc I submitted to the producers had 3 versions: The one I personally liked had no compression that was used just for loudness, only compression that was needed for great sounding rock and roll.  Then, knowing how competitive everything is these days, I made two more masterings, one with more compression and another with yet more compression, but even the loudest one wasn’t remotely as loud as some recent CDs.  Hoping that at least one of these would satisfy Axl and Caram Costanzo, the co-producers of the record, I was floored when I heard they decided to go with my full dynamics version and the loudness-for-loudness-sake versions be damned.

I think the fan and press backlash against the recent heavily compressed recordings finally set the context for someone to take a stand and return to putting music and dynamics above sheer level. 

The dynamics vs. volume trade-offs include the act of simply turning your playback volume clockwise a little.  True, when shopping the iTunes store your song may not blast out as loudly as other songs. When trying to impress the radio station PD it may be an issue if you don’t have the guaranteed attention this record deserves, however level on the radio broadcast is NOT an issue.  As I have been lecturing to people for years, the radio stations are all in competition with each other and they all have devices to make loud things soft and soft things loud and indeed, I heard a critic’s review of Chinese Democracy on NPR and the song examples they played screamed over my portable radio.  Even with the radio station compression you can still hear detail in the car… amazing!

I’m hoping that Chinese Democracy will mark the beginning of people returning to sane levels and musicality triumphing over distortion and grunge.  I have already seen a new awareness and appreciation for quality from some other producers, I pray it is the end of the level wars.




















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