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Author Topic: Too much bad sounding stuff out there - a root cause?  (Read 9231 times)

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September 11, 2011, 10:21:56 PM
I originally posted this topic on Mike Senior's thread for his book and song mixing competition for the book.  Given the audience is bigger here I figured I would post the thread here. For reference I was commenting on the quality of the entries in the contest. That thread can be found here
http://mixoff.org/index.php/topic,87.450.html
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I just finished the article, listening to the songs and reading the comments.

First - Mike you sir have the patience of Job.  You did a lot of work, treated people with respect and took the time to try to help a lot of people. You are a good man (Love the book)

I gotta say, and there is no way this comes off good because I am not a credentialed producer etc, But I am SURPRISED at truly how bad most of these sound and not how dead on - every single time - Mike is, but how easy it was for him. (Yes I am going to post a version here myself. I just found out about all of this). I would have thought people who thought they were good enough to post on a thread like this would all be good and the differences would be matters of taste and subjectivity. NOPE - the problems are VERY easy to hear.  Given that I think there is a huge major root cause. The underlying problem is that people are getting used to crappy audio (while they crave better quality video).  Our reference for what good audio sounds like is rapidly changing for the worst.  Yes I am an audiophile but I am not suggesting one only listen to music recorded without amplification or that people spend their life's savings on equipment.  But clearly something has to be done.  I have one high end system, two sets of headphones and my monitoring system and each, while different, would have allowed me to come to the exact same conclusion.  Why? because I have educated myself on what sounds like what and what sounds good. And most importantly I take the time, especially with room systems, to engineer the room as well as the system correctly.  An OK system in a great sounding room and set up always crushes an incredible system in an average or poor room - especially below 300hz and reflection issues like comb filtering.  While everyone has different tastes in music and how things can or should sound the majority of the music in this thread is nowhere close enough to what sounds good to argue those points.  Yes it sounds elitist and this direct and straight talk should be coming from a verified professional in the business.  BUT let me say this. Even in the "high end" industry and even, believe it or not, most musicians and recording professionals have no idea what sounds good either because their equipment and rooms are crap too.  But the issue is not that they can't understand what good or right is. I would BET it is because they have literally NEVER been exposed or educated on what I am talking about.  it is not an issue of intelligence or desire. It is an issue of EXPOSURE.

If you made it this far in my post and can get passed the directness, the fact that I am not someone in the business, your own ego to some degree and what I would assume is coming off (unfortunately) as arrogant (Or hypocritical or insane if you listen to my songs and think they are crap) on my part please AT THE VERY LEAST be open for a second to the fact that I MAY be right.  And if you can do that take a shot at experiencing what I am talking about.  (A long time ago I thought I had my crap together too. Hell I even used to repair and align stereo equipment.  Then after a while equipment came in I never heard of - NAD, McIntosh, Spica etc.  I thought my Carver, JBL etc were it.  While those companies have made some good stuff it was the companies that i never heard of who made the great stuff, it doesn't have to cost much more and if set up right - WHICH IS MOST IMPORTANT- can result in huge differences.

There are so few people, professional or otherwise, that get this right that I would have no idea where to send you. Hell even most high end stereo stores sound like crap.  The best I can suggest is a good pair of headphones.  Most of the issues experienced in this thread would be caught by them.  And after you get a pair I would like to suggest you listen to some specific music - listed below. As for headphones there are a bunch of good ones.  Cost is usually, though not always, somewhat proportional to quality.  I have Sennheiser 280s (which I think are a tad bass light) and the amazing Klipsch S-4s which are a tad bass heavy.  The last tip I will give you, and Mike covers all of this great in his book, is to listen in nearfield to eliminate as much of the room as possible. If you equipment is OK and you can't treat your room this will help.  AND unless you know what good sounds like or ran sweeps (assuming you have not identified a specific hearing loss issue) do this listening with everything flat tone control wise. (Oh yeah - and listen loud enough for it all to "pop" in. You can tell. There is a volume where most music sounds right. Too low and due to your bell curve hearing too much is missed)

Music - I tried to very my taste and admit there isn't too much new stuff I play
Cowboy Junkies - Trinity Sessions - DAT recorder with one mic. Amazing. The tone is right and you can hear the room they are in.  Has to be the best minimalist recording ever - or darn close to it. This one is a must.

Stevie Ray Vaughn - Texas Flood - song Tin Pan Alley - The drums are processed a bit much but loud there impact is amazing

Xavier Rudd - Dark Shades of Blue - songs Dark Water and Dark Shades of Blue

Steely Dan - Two Against Nature and  Everything Must Go

Mermen - most of their stuff is great but try Food for Other Fishes

Tracy Chapman - first album self titled

Paul Speer and Scott Rockenfield - Hell's Canyon - High end is a tough recessed but it's amazing instrumental rock and sounds great cranked

Chris Rea - Road to Hell

Rush - Moving Pictures and Snakes and Arrows

And the wining songs from this thread/contest. Again you don't have to like them but you do need to understand how and WHY they won and sound good.

And to be fair since I have opened my big mouth HUGE here I am providing a link to some songs I created.  Some are just NINJAM jams I tweaked and others are originals. Like I said I will post the song from this thread here so to put my capabilities where my mouth is. (Unfortunately these are Mp3s. The wavs will sound better but not result in a drastic earth shattering difference)

http://www.icompositions.com/artists/imispgh
« Last Edit: September 11, 2011, 11:35:52 PM by imispgh »
Equipment-Trends Micro amp w/ Paradigm Export speakers ports covered.  Use Fx EQ for  studio room issue fix.  Also use Klipsch S4 & Sennheiser HD-280 phones - home stereo= AMC 3030 tube amp, Triangle Celius 202 speakers & Behringer para EQ for room nodes-laptop=HP 8430 w/Digigram VXPocket & Reaper

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September 11, 2011, 11:32:02 PM
I think one of the main mistakes that people make (myself included) is a failure to reference frequently while mixing.  OUr ears adjust to the frequency curves of our mixes so quickly that after 10 minutes, things sound good, even if they're out of wack.

I'm looking forward to hearing your mix, as well as Mike Senior's, which he has said will be the subject of an upcoming Mix Rescue article!

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September 11, 2011, 11:46:53 PM
I think one of the main mistakes that people make (myself included) is a failure to reference frequently while mixing.  OUr ears adjust to the frequency curves of our mixes so quickly that after 10 minutes, things sound good, even if they're out of wack.

I'm looking forward to hearing your mix, as well as Mike Senior's, which he has said will be the subject of an upcoming Mix Rescue article!

So am I after what I posted. Hopefully it will not be a case of open mouth insert mixer and laptop

While I agree with you in the micro I think you excuse too much in the macro.

Some of those mixes were way off for the genre.  If one hears enough of the wide range of what is truly Good then I think the switching you refer to is needed for tweaking. If one has to visit for major changes something is off. Having said that however one does have to start somewhere and until you are accustom to what is Good then you are dead on. Keep switching.  (I like to switch mediums to do this too. It forces a delay to put on headsets or move to a different system. Forces a little recalibration.)

I would like to make one more comment on what Good is.  It is determined a lot if not predominately in the macro by genre.  The suggestions I made for Good recordings are not hugely different in the macro by genre differences.  Now one can screw all of them up by making some major offenses but short of that recalibration by genre is needed and too be honest I have so little experience in some I am not qualified to opine on them and would probably make the mistake of applying my normal biases to them and pick something the majority of the faithful would say was horrible.
Equipment-Trends Micro amp w/ Paradigm Export speakers ports covered.  Use Fx EQ for  studio room issue fix.  Also use Klipsch S4 & Sennheiser HD-280 phones - home stereo= AMC 3030 tube amp, Triangle Celius 202 speakers & Behringer para EQ for room nodes-laptop=HP 8430 w/Digigram VXPocket & Reaper

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September 12, 2011, 12:29:01 AM
I should also point out that most of the mixers on this forum are not pro's getting paid big bucks for mixing. I try to encourage everyone to post their mixes, even if they're not great, as it gives a good opportunity for feedback from others, with real objective mixes to compare to. Unlike most forums, where advice is given in the abstract, generally. Getting feedback from someone like Mike is valuable for anyone, pro or rank amateur. I don't think being a quality mixer should be a prerequisite for posting here.

You're probably right about getting things close just based on experience (assuming you have the skills to get the results you want.) But things like tubby bass, or harsh highs, etc can often be a result of fatigue, or not referencing, or just not knowing what to listen for, or how to correct it.

I appreciate your post, and it's an interesting line of thought. Surely we can all benefit from conscientious listening to quality work on decent quality monitors/headphones, etc.

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September 13, 2011, 02:17:12 PM
To the OP, I would agree with your observation, but I disagree as to the root cause. Most of the people I know recording are actually musicians that want to record themselves, so they start out not as an engineer, but rather a musician. They naively go into Guitar Center and ask what equipment is needed to record, then purchase an mbox, computer, headphones, monitors, some cables and a mic. They spend between 5-10K, with the resolve that they now have a recording studio, and so the journey begins.
I have no doubt that when these people are making the recordings, it sounds really good to them in their rooms, it's when it leaves their rooms where the problems begin, in the translation. There is nothing exciting about hanging rockwool on your walls, but a new reverb unit, monitors, etc., that's "cool", but it takes a person some time to realize how important the room is, and learning what a good starting sound is, in terms of the recording. What sounds good live may not translate to a good sound in a recording. For me, I post mixes not as a competition, but more to see how things are translating to others, in order to improve my room and my ears. When I first started getting paid for small projects, I would take all the money I got, and paid that to a ME so I could learn what I may have missed - money well spent. 
      I am curious to hear your mix as well, because as an audiophile, working in a tuned room, your mix may be sonically more balanced, but you, not being a musician, will probably be weak on the "vibe", "Feel", and "pocket" areas, which would be expected since you have spent more time on learning about acoustics, and where they have spent more time on learning to play an instrument. Neither is better, just different sides of the same coin - I believe you need both, and that takes time.  And to be clear, I am not disagreeing with your orignial post, just the cause of the problem. I think that this site, allowing people to submit their mixes, recieving feedback and teaching about bass traps, phase cancelation, etc, is the thing that needs to happen. It is the solution that you are asking for. How else would we as hobbyists learn that? When I have the raw tracks, make a mix, then have the opportunity to hear another version that sounds better/different it leads me to ask why, then find the solution. It' part of the process and some are further along than others.
     I just spent $7k on wood floors in my room, and finally have it measuring +/- 10 db from 50hz up to 10K, and then after that it goes up another 2 db until 20k, but it took me quite a while to figure that out, let alone why that was important. It was hard at first to spend the money on traps, when it would be more fun to get a new mic, or some API pres, or whatever. However, now I have no surprises with my mix. Having the room flat, is simply amazing. FYI - I am monitoring through Dynaudio BM5A's, Benchmark DAC, Velodyne Sub have 6 Bass Traps, 8 2" panels and 2 auralex roominator kits. I just pulled out the carpet and put in the wood, and now I feel i can hear everything. I do have a dip in my hearing around 3-4k of around 20 db, from playing loud guitar, so the carpet, with that hearing loss was a struggle.

P.S. - I took it from your post that you are not a musician, but an audiophile and the songs you had posted were mixes that you did, not played. If in fact you are a player, I didn't mean any offense, just didn't get that impression.












In the game of golf for example, to lower your score, you need to putt really well, not drive 350 yards - but - on a driving range, everyone is trying to drive 350 yards and noone is on the putting green. Why? Because they haven't been playing the game long enough to figure that out or

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September 13, 2011, 04:13:40 PM
LCressy excellent post

I do play drums and harmonica but am not a musician yet. I prefer to compose, arrange and mix.  And I do none of those professionally yet. I did do some of the drums for some of my recordings.  However you are correct I am working at this backwards compared to most.  From the listener to player etc
The gist of my point was that musical sound quality is degrading over time and it is not mostly by choice but by lack of understanding and exposure.  As you say most of the people in this business start out as musicians and get excited by the musicianship in their recordings not the sound quality.  Hell that applies to most professionals too.  Having said this if one wants to sell one creates what the masses (kids) like.  I wonder though if the kids were educated would things still be this way? Would they give up the cheap headsets and low bit rate Mp3s.  (I think the small resurgence of vinyl among the young shows that when exposed many are open minded enough to get it and make a change. Of course the issue is how to expose them. And maybe the best case in point. HDTV.  The same people who are allowing and contributing to music sounding worse are driving video quality higher.  Why?  Exposure to what is real or good.  We constantly see what real is. As such we are very familiar with what good is. Therefore we know that HDTV, for the average person, is photo quality and that a human and a tree look real give or take an inch, between the HDTV and the person or tree standing next to us. If the same people had similar exposure to audio that would follow HDTV)
My issue is not that what I hear should sound the way I like or even that it sound "Good". My problem is more with how it got there and if the artists were exposed to what is "Good" would it sound better.  You are right me or any audiophile could put purity ahead of feel.  Again I am not saying that Good is always those qualities an audiophile might like.  But KNOWING and understanding what and why things can sound that way is key.  The choice should be an informed one.  Why? Because even if your choice would still be the same I bet that choice would even be modified a bit to sound better even if the sound one creates is a he departure from what an audiophile might like. My bet is that over half of the poor sounding entries in Mike's contest are due to lack of understanding in how it could sound. (And here's one for you. I listened to the artists version of the song for the first time last night.  It’s good. It defiantly has that modern pop rock feel. But I think the kick drum is out of place. Not because it isn't to an audiophiles liking but because I that sound doesn't match the genre or the music they created.  Now of course that is a choice and if it is an informed one on their part that's fine.  To each his own)
I agree with your point about getting the room right and that it is not a cheap, fun (in most case) or even pleasant thing to look at when you do it right. And that is obviously one of the big reasons it isn’t more popular.  Like I said and I am sure you agree. Truly good sounding systems in good sounding rooms is VERY rare. As such I my suggestion to give these people exposure is to try good headphones  first along with truly “Good” recording AND most importantly someone to point out what to listen for and then for them to switch to something that clearly isn’t good as a juxtaposition.  An example. Years back several friends of mine knew I was in to high end stereos. So they ask me what to buy. I told them that they can find something much better and not pay much more than they did for the usual brands.  All I said I wanted them to do was listen to my system then one at a high end store and be open minded – using their own material and mine.   In every case where they did as I suggested they were flabbergasted and bought the “high end” system. And didn’t pay a bunch. The key was they were open minded and they spent the couple of hours.  If most musicians and recording industry professionals did the same it would be eye opening.  To me the key is what do these people play their music on at home. If it is crap in a crappy room then they are either uninformed or informed and don’t care. Neither is good.  Why? Because even if the music they create isn’t audiophile like at all either by choice or because genre wise it shouldn’t be its sound will still suffer because they are not informed.
Your system and the work you did to get the set up right is excellent.  I am glad to hear you hear the difference and enjoy it.  The area below 300hz and first order comb reflections are key. (And so many people miss the floor and ceiling relative to those points. If you can see your speakers in a mirror then absorb all sound at those points. And that includes seeing both speakers). Those bass problems force people to lower the overall bass to compensate so they lose a lot or they can’t adjust it, buy too much speaker for the room, and have mud.

“I have no doubt that when these people are making the recordings, it sounds really good to them in their rooms, it's when it leaves their rooms where the problems begin, in the translation. “
But does it sound good to them because their references are crap and it’s proportional?  As for leaving their rooms 99.9% of people who listen to music, even musicians, have crappy systems in crappy set ups (which is worse) and because it is what everyone else has and thinks is  good too - they think it is good.  As such it never sounded really good in the first place. It was better than very bad. So when they go somewhere else if does get worse as you say but it didn’t go from good to bad it went from bad to worse. It’s relative.
As for my mix of  “Blood to Bone” I am working on it.  Boy did I set my self a freaking high bar?.  I have no doubt it will sound better than most.  And that is surely not because I have more skill than the others. I truly don’t have a fraction of their experience with the tools and what they can do.  It will sound better because I can employ enough rudimentary tools to make it sound better than bad- probably tonally (as you guessed) and to some degree arrangement wise.  As for meeting today’s kids expectations it won’t be there.  I am choosing to do a version I like as opposed to copying what the band normally does.  Maybe I will work on that one next.  Lastly unless I hear something huge in a timing area I am not going to worry about timing. It’s a human band who I assume play live. I prefer those types of recording to sound like humans did them. And to give the group some chance to reproduce most of it and have it sound close live.  As such small timing errors and parts where automation would help will stay put.  I will adjust macro parts but not micro.

Some of my prime time songs-mixes. They are pretty varied in genre. I would truly like your opinion on them especially regarding feel
http://soundcloud.com/imispgh

Lastly sorry for being long winded.  I struggle with knowing when to stop when the subject interests me greatly.
Equipment-Trends Micro amp w/ Paradigm Export speakers ports covered.  Use Fx EQ for  studio room issue fix.  Also use Klipsch S4 & Sennheiser HD-280 phones - home stereo= AMC 3030 tube amp, Triangle Celius 202 speakers & Behringer para EQ for room nodes-laptop=HP 8430 w/Digigram VXPocket & Reaper

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September 13, 2011, 04:58:31 PM
If I understand your point, the younger generation of mixers/musician are allowing their hearing to be "dumbed down", therefore having lower standards. This can be directly related to earbuds and the loudness wars. Yes, I agree with that. I guess the point that I was trying to make is that having mix contests where they can post mixes, compare to better, more open mixes,  may in fact be the answer to this. John only started this site a few months back, and it is growing pretty fast I think, so the interest is there.
    I did listen to your soundcloud site, and here are my comments. Most of what I heard was electronic, sample based, so the raw tracks have already been processed, so not very much is needed for it to be "good", it already is. Your spectral balance across the freq. range is all there, nothing poking out, no harshness, very easy to listen to. I will venture that when you do the mix of people actually playing in a room, where the amount, type, decay time of the reverb needs to place the instrument in the "right" space in the mix, things are going to change. When the guitar isn't a very good one, nor in tune - it's a fight to get it where it should be in the mix. I think it will be different from what you have been doing. No disrespect intended, and I may be wrong, but the tracks uploaded here, are not from processed samples, they are quite raw. I don't know what song you are planning to mix, so that is not intended at any one song in particular, but just a general comment.
     As far as the timing and such, for me anyway, it is important to make a connection with the music both from the ears, sonically as well as the heart, the feel. I try to keep after the groove until I feel it, and as John pointed out, sometimes it takes so long, that your ears "adjust" and you "think" it sounds good. So, all of it comes in to play, thus the importance of a good room! It allows you to work faster, more confidently and more accurately. You mentioned that you feel you may be approaching this backwards, you just started with a good room and trained ears first, now you will be learning the music part, as well as the daw.

     When I started getting serious about my recording, going from the roland vs 1880 to protools, I remember putting a reverb plugin on a track, moving some of the controls and thinking," why do they put controls on this when they don't do anything?". Well they did, it's just my ears weren't trained to listen for .5db changes in a reverb tail and my room was not tuned and working against me in that regard.

I just encourage your input on this site. Your observations and thoughts on the subject are spot on, just coming at it from a different perspective. As you participate, I'm sure you will pick up some info that will help you on your journey, and no doubt your input will help others on theirs. I wish that when I first started someone, like yourself would have told me the importance of the room - I would have saved thousands of dollars! That is not an exageration, my wife will be a witness to that!
Thanks for your input! Looking forward to your mix!
P.S. - If you wouldn't mind, I posted a mix under modern rock, Don't Give Up - Wooden Ladder, I would love some feedback on. It's the first mix I did with the new floors. I am very curious how it is translating.Thanks!
« Last Edit: September 13, 2011, 05:01:48 PM by LCressy »

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September 13, 2011, 05:34:48 PM
You are correct most of them are arranged loops that do come processed to some degree. However I think you have a misconception about at least some of them - or at least most of what I do. (And that does depend on genre). Most of the ones I uses are not that processed because they know people can't strip that back out well. Especially the ones recorded from a human playing an instrument. As such they still have to be arranged and worked with to mesh and like I said most are thankfully recorded with little processing even tonally so the user can do what they want with them.  Now the ones that aren't recorded from a human playing can be pretty well processed especially for the hip hop and dance genres like you suggest.  I will post a totally unprocessed version of one of the arrangements so you can hear it. I think it will be Here and There since that one has me playing live drums on it mixed with the other loops. (I do notice a big difference in sound quality when I post on Soundcloud. Most of the ones there sound much deader than the Reaper or even WMP Mp3 I have.  Have to figure out what to do about that.  I am actually replacing a couple now. 

We have quite a lot of common ground here and I find the discussion and even the push back interesting and enjoyable.

I will check out your mix now.   

Equipment-Trends Micro amp w/ Paradigm Export speakers ports covered.  Use Fx EQ for  studio room issue fix.  Also use Klipsch S4 & Sennheiser HD-280 phones - home stereo= AMC 3030 tube amp, Triangle Celius 202 speakers & Behringer para EQ for room nodes-laptop=HP 8430 w/Digigram VXPocket & Reaper

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September 13, 2011, 06:00:41 PM
Just listened to Don't Give Up

Very, very nice. And I never just say things like that just to be nice.

Sounded good on my monitors, headsets and even the big rig.  (Gotta say I think the Klipsch S4s are amazing. A Little hot on the bass but that can be dealt with by backing them out of the ear just a tad).

The only comment I have - and this may a subjective choice thing or a source issue - is that the cymbals seem more spread out than the rest of the kit?  (And this kit sounds good. The one on Mike's thread sounds bad to me especially the toms and snare top. Not easy to work with)

Curious how does Soundcloud sound to you?  It seems it diminishes the treble and soundstage to me.
Equipment-Trends Micro amp w/ Paradigm Export speakers ports covered.  Use Fx EQ for  studio room issue fix.  Also use Klipsch S4 & Sennheiser HD-280 phones - home stereo= AMC 3030 tube amp, Triangle Celius 202 speakers & Behringer para EQ for room nodes-laptop=HP 8430 w/Digigram VXPocket & Reaper

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September 13, 2011, 06:03:19 PM
Myself as well! I find it very interesting that we seem to be in a common ground, although from different starting places. Your thoughts are very refreshing, to approach it primarily as a listener, and second as a musician. Also, keep in mind, I am at work at the moment so I don't have time to listen to your work in much detail at the present, so I was commenting on the general vibe of what I picked up.