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'Later... with Jools Holland' BBC TV
Mike Felton | Mixing
- Winner of TVB Awards 'Achievement in sound'
- Original article first appeared in TVB Europe magazine
Advanced Loudness Tools Enable Compliant Audio With High Dynamic Range
By Mike Felton
At 11:30 p.m. on a Friday night, it’s a safe bet that music fans throughout the U.K. are sitting down to watch “Later… With Jools Holland” – something they’ve been doing since the show debuted in 1992. The flagship music show on BBC Two, “Later... With Jools Holland” features both established and new musical artists, from solo performers to bands and larger ensembles. The show isn’t just popular in the U.K.; it also has millions of fans around the world and can been seen in the U.S. on the Palladia network.
As a professional audio engineer, I’ve had the privilege of working on “Later…” since its launch, first as a BBC employee and currently in a freelance capacity as sound supervisor. Mixing a program continuously for 22 years gives one a unique vantage point, and I’ve seen many technology changes – most for the better.
Program loudness is a topic that has been getting a lot of attention lately because it’s becoming more and more legislated around the world – but loudness is by no means a new problem. For some time, the “loudness wars” have dictated that music and other audio be mixed to be louder than the competition. Guidelines that merely specified normalizing audio to a peak signal level only added ammunition, giving mixers a tool for making the audio as loud as possible without violating loudness parameters. However, many audio engineers (myself included) believe the best music mix doesn’t just blare but is much more entertaining when it has a wide dynamic range. The difficulty lies in the ability to make an objective measure of something as subjective as perceived loudness.
New regulations such as EBU R128 have changed the game by providing a standard by which we can normalize an audio production to actual perceived loudness, which is the key to increased dynamic range and contrast. Clear, intuitive loudness metering and correction, such as that provided by NUGEN Audio’s VisLM and LM-Correct plug-ins, plays a critical role in this normalization and provides us with the ability to deliver high-quality, loudness compliant audio for every Jools Holland show we produce, every week.
I have been using VisLM and LM-Correct, along with NUGEN Audio’s ISL real-time true-peak limiter, for almost two years and can say without hesitation that they are critical elements in my audio mixing workflow for the Jools show. In a typical week, Tuesday is the day we record the six musical acts for the hour-long main program to be aired on Friday. At the same time, we prepare for the Tuesday night show, “Later . . . Live With Jools Holland,” a half-hour live broadcast by some of the bands that will appear on Friday night.
For later editing and mixing of the recorded acts as well as real-time loudness metering for the live show, VisLM gives us a visual, at-a-glance reference for audio levels, providing a simple and very easy-to-read color-coded display of the level. With the meter scale in the relative mode, we can set the target level to zero with a green margin on either side as a target zone. VisLM also provides a horizontal linear scrolling history that is the best approach I’ve seen for logging and displaying level histories.
For post-production of the recorded material in preparation for the Friday show, we produce a 5.1 version as well as stereo. Since we mix to the EBU R128 parameters, the feed we provide to Palladia for U.S. broadcast is very close to the U.S. CALM Act standard. Nonetheless, LM-Correct enables us to call up the CALM parameters (or those of any other target country) and does a final scan of both the 5.1 and stereo versions at a speed much faster than real-time to ensure that the targets are spot-on. For the rare occasions when the audio is slightly out of spec, LM-Correct automatically adjusts it to the right levels. It’s a very useful tool and a big time-saver when you consider the alternative, playing through and metering the whole program in real time. And finally, ISL is a set-and-forget plug-in that works tirelessly in the background to ensure true-peak compliance – a brilliant solution.
The loudness wars may not be completely over, but their days are numbered with the advent of standards based on actual perceived loudness, along with robust and easy-to-use tools like those from NUGEN Audio. The great news for listeners is that the quality of music production will continue to grow along with dynamic range, in much the same way as television-watching won’t be such a painfully loud ordeal every time a commercial comes on.
Having worked with many different metering systems over the course of my career, I can say that VisLM, LM-Correct, and ISL are my favorites. Working in combination for live mixing, offline mixing, and peak limiting, these three tools take the guesswork out of loudness compliance – leaving us free to focus on the creative aspects of mixing music for discriminating audiences.
Mike Felton is a BAFTA Award-nominated audio engineer with more than 40 years of service to BBCTV – the last 22 of which he has served as sound supervisor for the “Later…With Jools Holland” show. In addition to the BAFTA nomination for Best Sound (Fiction/Entertainment), Felton has won numerous other industry awards for his work on “Later…With Jools Holland” – including two Conch Awards for Audio on a TV Entertainment Program, an API Award for Broadcast Sound, and a nomination for the MPG Award for Live Production of the Year.
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