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Alan Silverman | Arf Mastering
The Grammy winning engineer on VisLM
- Original article first appeared in Post Magazine
NUGEN Audio’s VisLM Helps Arf! Mix Sound that Meets Specs
By Alan Silverman | Owner/Engineer | Arf! Mastering | New York
Arf! Mastering sound studio specializes in high-resolution stereo and surround mastering, ultra-high quality restoration and remastering of vintage recordings, stereo-to-surround conversion, music editing and audio post techniques for creating surround and stereo soundtracks. In addition to our audio recording abilities, we have numerous Emmy-winning music television specials.
The recently put in place CALM (Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation) Act in the US, and similar legislation around the world, has imposed new regulations governing what is acceptable loudness in broadcast. As a result, critical monitoring of loudness levels has become a big issue in the industry. At the same time, there’s been a move in the streaming and broadcast industries toward volume normalization so that music of different styles and different eras plays at the same relative volume.
Sound engineers can achieve this degree of loudness control with the help of an accurate meter that confirms they’re on spec. Initially such meters cost thousands of dollars, but we have recently discovered NUGEN Audio’s VisLM visual loudness meter, a metering plug-in that’s compliant with EBU and ATSC standards. It’s an affordable tool that works, which is critical in the economics of music today.
Because it’s a plug-in, we can insert VisLM anywhere in our workflow whenever it is needed, whether it’s on a mix bus, a track, or a clip. The plug-in is preconfigured to give you numerical loudness measurements according to the latest R128 spec in Europe and A/85 spec in the US — vital information that’s necessary for delivering a product that meets the new loudness standards required by law.
VisLM also gauges true peak, a measurement that is now required as part of the new specs. The true peak reading, which is not always visible on a standard meter, lets you know that you’re not going over the maximum allowable peak, and having the proper true peak level helps prevent clipping.
Arf! uses VisLM-H, the full-featured version with history view (H) and a data-logging option. VisLM-H is especially helpful because it enables the engineer to look at a whole 90-minute movie and see all levels at a glance. It provides an instant visual snapshot of the entire audio sequence to see how consistent it is and where the ups and downs are — helping us pinpoint trouble spots and saving us time during the quality-control process.
Grammy-winning music mastering is a pillar of Arf!’s expertise, and a unique part of our offering is to apply that skill set to audio post for music-oriented films. The first time we used VisLM was to engineer the sound for a docudrama about Gustav Mahler and his second symphony. The project involved music mastering on-camera orchestral recordings in stereo and 5.1, as well as post-production of the film's final audio. It was an experience that reinforced for us how VisLM can make a complex project easier. The performance in the film contains a full symphony of instruments, a choir, a large chorus, and soloists. The audio goes from barely audible whispers to cataclysmic explosions of sound – as wide a dynamic range as a symphony orchestra can perform. The film also includes interviews and dramatizations of scenes from Mahler’s life, which are interwoven with the live symphony recording. From an audio perspective, the film was very delicate and tricky. VisLM was helpful in optimizing the wide range of audio and keeping it on spec. At the same time, its easy-to-understand display provided an overall visual perspective of the entire 90-minute movie.
We’ve since used VisLM in other applications, such as a PBS special featuring Judy Collins recorded live at the Met, and another one about singer Don McLean for which we did an audio-post mix and also mastered archival music sources with varying levels of quality. We also used VisLM when remastering and restoring “Pavarotti in China,” an historic documentary filmed in 1988. In fact, we use VisLM on every project that’s headed for TV or theatrical release because it gives us confidence that our mix will be up to spec and optimized for the channel on the first try.
VisLM is the perfect addition to our music mastering, music restoration, and audio-post mixing operation. What is a real advantage in doing our job effectively is working not from a typical small audio-post room, but a true music mastering studio that is optimized for music monitoring. Besides NUGEN’s VisLM plug-in and Visualizer audio analysis tool, major equipment in our setup includes high-end Revel monitors; a state-of-the-art Sequoia workstation; Weiss digital audio processors; Mytek and Emm Labs converters; a wide collection of VST plug-ins; an EMM Labs 5.1 surround monitor controller; and a TC Electronic M6000 surround processor.
Mix & Mastering