Author Topic: Lazy songwriting techniques  (Read 6361 times)

Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #150 on: May 03, 2013, 11:34:40 AM »
Something the brickwall re-mastering technique has done it's best to eradicate :

Smells like teen spirit - 1991 top, 2011 remaster bottom :


Idiots.

I'm not much of an audiophile and my technical knowledge is limited, but all I can see from that is that the remaster is consistently a bit louder, presumably because it's opening up more channels ... or something, yeah?

NoSleep

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Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #151 on: May 03, 2013, 11:41:09 AM »
No... it's like turning up the pressure with a hose. There's still only the same absolute ceiling (0dB) but everything is crammed harder against that ceiling, so dynamic range, transients and room for the music to breathe are sacrificed to the god of (seeming) "LOUDER". But don't take my word for it:

part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8EgamkLkXW8
part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97bJ5J_mY14

Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #152 on: May 03, 2013, 11:46:12 AM »
Limiting compresses the signal to raise the average volume at the cost of reducing the dynamic range.

If you think of the top and bottom of the ranges in that picture being the boundaries of a box which you can't go outside - that's the total room you have to play with. Try to go beyond those boundaries and the audio will start clipping.

So, there's a volume spike in the original version above about a fifth the way through, where the volume goes from relatively quiet to a lot louder briefly. This is an example of the dynamic range - the distance between the quietest part of a track and its loudest part.

If you want to raise the total volume of that track without doing anything else, you can only raise it as far as that spike will allow. Unless, that is, you compress the whole lot, reducing the size of the dynamic range - then you can raise the volume of the whole track further before it starts to clip.

While this makes for louder music, it tends to rob it of a lot of its character and dynamic meaning, and makes listening to it fatiguing.

Kane Jones

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Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #153 on: May 03, 2013, 11:48:43 AM »
No... it's like turning up the pressure with a hose. There's still only the same absolute ceiling (0dB) but everything is crammed harder against that ceiling, so dynamic range, transients and room for the music to breathe are sacrificed to the god of (seeming) "LOUDER". But don't take my word for it:

part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8EgamkLkXW8
part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97bJ5J_mY14

The Loudness war is a fascinating subject if you're interested in home recording or just production/mastering in general.  I can see why it's tempting to have the music as loud as possible, but it sucks any dynamics out of it.  Rick Rubin is a cock for this, but Metallica's Death Magnetic was the absolute pits for his overly compressing something to the point of distortion.

You know, if the music's too quiet.. Maybe turn the volume up?

Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #154 on: May 03, 2013, 11:54:12 AM »
Most of this thread, including the Mogwai/Slint comment, is discussion of song arrangement, rather than songwriting techniques.

And they are not so much lazy as well-worn

Don_Preston

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Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #155 on: May 03, 2013, 11:57:05 AM »
NoSleep mentions Family.

Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #156 on: May 03, 2013, 12:02:15 PM »
So why do all of these (presumably pretty well-versed) producers, mixers and technicians do it?  Of course I understand that remaster = re-release = more money, but you'd think they could do a good job of it fairly easily.

Then again, Frank Zappa used to remaster his own tracks and everyone hated them.  I've sometimes suspected a bit of elitism among fans in that regard.

Petey Pate

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Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #157 on: May 03, 2013, 12:12:28 PM »
Then again, Frank Zappa used to remaster his own tracks and everyone hated them.  I've sometimes suspected a bit of elitism among fans in that regard.
He didn't just remaster, he added overdubs and new instruments to his old recordings. His fans were understandably pissed off that this ruined the original CD release of We're Only In It For The Money and all new releases of Ruben and the Jets.

Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #158 on: May 03, 2013, 12:14:26 PM »
He didn't just remaster, he added overdubs and new instruments to his old recordings. His fans were understandably pissed off that this ruined the original CD release of We're Only In It For The Money and all new releases of Ruben and the Jets.

It didn't ruin the original CD release though, did it?  The original still exists.  I have it.  I don't hate the remasters as much as most do, though.

Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #159 on: May 03, 2013, 12:15:50 PM »
So why do all of these (presumably pretty well-versed) producers, mixers and technicians do it?  Of course I understand that remaster = re-release = more money, but you'd think they could do a good job of it fairly easily.

Then again, Frank Zappa used to remaster his own tracks and everyone hated them.  I've sometimes suspected a bit of elitism among fans in that regard.

The term 'loudness war' might give you an idea.

Basically, the music industry has been seduced by the idea that over a radio, or a pub music system or through a tv, the public will prefer two otherwise identical tracks where one is louder than the other. This is an observable psychoacoustic effect - music tends to sound better at louder volumes (within reason, obviously).

So it's a commercial battle where lots of people genuinely think their music can't compete without entering the battle to limit the fuck out of it.

The problem is, there's a difference between something sounding better because you've turned the volume up on your sound system and something sounding better because it's been limited. The former is normally true, while to the ears of more than a casual listener (I'd say) the latter isn't.

NoSleep

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Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #160 on: May 03, 2013, 12:42:44 PM »
So why do all of these (presumably pretty well-versed) producers, mixers and technicians do it?  Of course I understand that remaster = re-release = more money, but you'd think they could do a good job of it fairly easily.

The reason is dumber than you would imagine. Mastering tends to be the in the hands of engineers, rather than producers, and for many years they would probably have the same discussion with artists and producers regards the loudness war: Don't do it. However, after taking this sage advice and listening to your new masters in comparison to the competition there would, almost invariably, come the phone call the next day, "How come my record doesn't sound as loud as X's?". So they didn't bother anymore with the lecture and just crush the hell out of anything they get hold of, which has become a competition. If you follow those links you will hear that digital masters on average sound louder by up to 20dB than the average product from a decade or more ago. I say "sound" louder, because it's impossible to exceed the absolute ceiling of 0dB in digital.

NoSleep

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Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #161 on: May 03, 2013, 12:50:35 PM »
Then again, Frank Zappa used to remaster his own tracks and everyone hated them.  I've sometimes suspected a bit of elitism among fans in that regard.

He didn't remaster his own tracks, he re-recorded bits, then remixed the result. They would have been mastered at a later stage.

Famous Mortimer

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Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #162 on: May 03, 2013, 01:06:10 PM »
Talking of garbage-sounding re-recorded earlier tracks, there's a Residents DVD which allows you to play new versions of the songs, recorded decades later. It's safe to say they don't quite remember themselves why they sounded so great back then.

NoSleep

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Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #163 on: May 03, 2013, 01:16:14 PM »
...or, indeed, forgot that they were not in the original line-up.

Johnny Yesno

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Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #164 on: May 03, 2013, 02:19:30 PM »
So, there's a volume spike in the original version above about a fifth the way through, where the volume goes from relatively quiet to a lot louder briefly.

Going purely on the visual information, I'd say that spike and another even more transient one near the beginning are good candidates for being controlled with a limiter. I doubt they really add any dynamics a listener would pick up on but they do affect the level of the entire rest of the track.

The Loudness war is a fascinating subject if you're interested in home recording or just production/mastering in general.  I can see why it's tempting to have the music as loud as possible, but it sucks any dynamics out of it.  Rick Rubin is a cock for this, but Metallica's Death Magnetic was the absolute pits for his overly compressing something to the point of distortion.

You know, if the music's too quiet.. Maybe turn the volume up?

It only sucks the dynamics out of music if it's overdone. A nice respectful bit of limiting can add a good 3-6dB of volume overall without damaging the dynamics.

Wrt altering the volume, software like iTunes has settings for smoothing out the differences in presence between tracks anyway so engaging in the loudness war seems like a waste of time now.

Famous Mortimer

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Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #165 on: May 03, 2013, 02:22:27 PM »
...or, indeed, forgot that they were not in the original line-up.
I thought it was just two blokes, had been since the beginning or thereabouts, and anyone else who appears on stage is a session musician? Or am I miles out?

Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #166 on: May 03, 2013, 02:43:42 PM »
Going purely on the visual information, I'd say that spike and another even more transient one near the beginning are good candidates for being controlled with a limiter. I doubt they really add any dynamics a listener would pick up on but they do affect the level of the entire rest of the track.

It only sucks the dynamics out of music if it's overdone. A nice respectful bit of limiting can add a good 3-6dB of volume overall without damaging the dynamics.


Well, I agree that limiting isn't in itself a bad thing at all. The problem is that a lot of mastering now emphasises loudness too heavily, over a 'respectful'[1] approach to balancing dynamics and overall volume. I'd usually (depending on the nature of the music) much prefer a quiet track with a decent, meaningful dynamic range that I can make louder myself at my leisure, than a heavily limited one with no room to manoeuvre.[2] Then again, you could cite people like Death Grips, where the abrasive loudness of a lot of the music (achieved in part by large amounts of compression) is part of the aesthetic.

But there's a lot more involved than the appearance of a waveform which I'll admit remains a bit mysterious. Timbre, intonation and arrangement can allow for dynamic shading as much as volume, if I'm not straying too far from the meaning of dynamics.

This is a fairly interesting wondering-session on In Rainbows: http://www.gearslutz.com/board/mastering-forum/162507-radiohead-rainbows-mastering-vinyl-vs-cd.html

I have to say that Bodysnatchers does indeed sound almost unpleasantly over-compressed to me. Most of the songs on the album still sound lovely and gentle to me though, so it's not such an issue as to ruin the album as it has for some others.

Often (if they've been separately mastered) the vinyl version of an album will have a more pronounced dynamic range simply because of the limitations of the medium, which is something to bear in mind if you're conscious about this.

Wrt altering the volume, software like iTunes has settings for smoothing out the differences in presence between tracks anyway so engaging in the loudness war seems like a waste of time now.

That sounds like a(nother) very good reason not to use iTunes to listen to music.
 1. Johnny Yesno, 2013
 2. I'm not saying that you wouldn't either - just trying to make my position a bit clearer.

Johnny Yesno

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Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #167 on: May 03, 2013, 03:38:51 PM »
Well, I agree that limiting isn't in itself a bad thing at all. The problem is that a lot of mastering now emphasises loudness too heavily, over a 'respectful'[1] approach to balancing dynamics and overall volume. I'd usually (depending on the nature of the music) much prefer a quiet track with a decent, meaningful dynamic range that I can make louder myself at my leisure, than a heavily limited one with no room to manoeuvre.[2] Then again, you could cite people like Death Grips, where the abrasive loudness of a lot of the music (achieved in part by large amounts of compression) is part of the aesthetic.
 1. Johnny Yesno, 2013
 2. I'm not saying that you wouldn't either - just trying to make my position a bit clearer.

Sorry, yes, I wasn't suggesting that you yourself were against all limiting. I was thinking about Kane's appeal to turn the music up, which I have sympathy for but feel it doesn't acknowledge the presence and fatness that a good mastering job can introduce to the sound. Getting the bass frequencies under control can do wonders, and brickwalling those is not as damaging to the apparent dynamics as doing the same thing to the mid and treble yet it could make the overall waveform visually very flat.

Quote
But there's a lot more involved than the appearance of a waveform which I'll admit remains a bit mysterious. Timbre, intonation and arrangement can allow for dynamic shading as much as volume, if I'm not straying too far from the meaning of dynamics.

No, I don't think you are straying from the meaning at all. I think people set too much store in level changes as representing dynamics. The human ear squashes the fuck out of the dynamics of sound anyway and the brain is significantly reliant on timbral changes to identify dynamics. Keeping these sorts of things audible in a mix can do wonders for the dynamics in a piece of music in direct contradiction of what the waveform might suggest.

Quote
This is a fairly interesting wondering-session on In Rainbows: http://www.gearslutz.com/board/mastering-forum/162507-radiohead-rainbows-mastering-vinyl-vs-cd.html

I have to say that Bodysnatchers does indeed sound almost unpleasantly over-compressed to me. Most of the songs on the album still sound lovely and gentle to me though, so it's not such an issue as to ruin the album as it has for some others.

Thanks. Will read.

Quote
That sounds like a(nother) very good reason not to use iTunes to listen to music.

On the face of it it seems sensible to me. iTunes doesn't mess with the level within a track. It just tries to match up the levels of the mid range between tracks so that playlists have a consistent presence. This is a particularly good idea for headphone users who are worried about blasting their eardrums, I reckon. I don't think it would suit the audiophile market but iTunes isn't aimed at that.

daf

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Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #168 on: May 03, 2013, 04:25:56 PM »
This has got to be the worst ever remastering job - Iggy Pop 'Raw power' :

Stooges—Search and Destroy (Raw Power, Columbia Records, 1990 CD release)


Stooges—Search and Destroy (Raw Power, Sony Records, 1997 remastered CD release)


Close up of the 1997 waveform showing digital clipping (creating irritating 'sizzle' distortion)





Johnny Yesno

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Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #169 on: May 03, 2013, 04:31:19 PM »
Wow! That looks like a stinker. I'd be really interested to hear the difference.

Subtle Mocking

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Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #170 on: May 03, 2013, 04:32:33 PM »
Wow! That looks like a stinker. I'd be really interested to hear the difference.

I find the difference is that you tend not to be able to hear any discerning features of the instruments. It all melds into one big electric noise.

Subtle Mocking

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Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #171 on: May 03, 2013, 04:36:12 PM »
Just gone onto Audacity myself to check out some recent albums, here's what I got for Radiohead's 'Separator':


Johnny Yesno

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Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #172 on: May 03, 2013, 04:41:29 PM »
I find the difference is that you tend not to be able to hear any discerning features of the instruments. It all melds into one big electric noise.

Sure. I'd just like to get an idea of how bad this particular example sounds and how well this correlates with how bad it looks.

Subtle Mocking

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Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #173 on: May 03, 2013, 04:46:13 PM »
Sure. I'd just like to get an idea of how bad this particular example sounds and how well this correlates with how bad it looks.

Try this perhaps: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-v6ML2DsBfA

Notice how squashed in and cramped the first one sounds, and the little bits of drumming and guitar distortion that are lost.

Kane Jones

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Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #174 on: May 03, 2013, 04:51:12 PM »
This has got to be the worst ever remastering job - Iggy Pop 'Raw power' :

Stooges—Search and Destroy (Raw Power, Columbia Records, 1990 CD release)


Stooges—Search and Destroy (Raw Power, Sony Records, 1997 remastered CD release)


In the liner notes of the remaster, doesn't the Iggster say this is exactly how he wanted it to sound originally; ie "Everything in the red, man.[1]"
 1. "man" added for authenticity.

daf

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Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #175 on: May 03, 2013, 05:06:02 PM »
In the liner notes of the remaster, doesn't the Iggster say this is exactly how he wanted it to sound originally; ie "Everything in the red, man.[1]"
 1. "man" added for authenticity.

Quite possibly, but I think he might have been after the old 'analogue distortion' (which gives warm fat sound) - digital distortion by (which is the squaring off of the waveform by being too loud) just creates a brittle headache inducing sizzle effect.

It can't be how he originally wanted it - you couldn't achieve that effect before the digital age.


Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #176 on: May 03, 2013, 05:24:30 PM »
Just gone onto Audacity myself to check out some recent albums, here's what I got for Radiohead's 'Separator':



Doesn't look that bad to me.

Subtle Mocking

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Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #177 on: May 03, 2013, 05:31:44 PM »
Doesn't look that bad to me.

The percussion is especially tinny and ear-splitting.

Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #178 on: May 03, 2013, 05:34:10 PM »
I do agree somewhat that the hats could have done with a bit of softening with EQ, but I don't think that has anything to do with mastering compression.

NoSleep

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Re: Lazy songwriting techniques
« Reply #179 on: May 03, 2013, 07:27:27 PM »
I thought it was just two blokes, had been since the beginning or thereabouts, and anyone else who appears on stage is a session musician? Or am I miles out?

Actually, I thought it was down to one original member these days, and the original four making up a whole which produced their first few absolutely essential albums. Not sure exactly when the dwindling began (I think maybe Goldentony would have more accurate information on the comings and goings).