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Preserving dynamics with MasterCheck
Mastering for today's distribution platforms with MasterCheck
by Friedemann Tischmeyer, Mastering Academy
Can dynamic range save the music industry? It’s a huge question, but it’s one that I’ve devoted a large segment of my career to answering. I’ve done my share of work for big-name, commercially successful bands and I’m well-acquainted with the “loudness wars” dictating that every mix should be as loud as possible. But in recent years, my focus has begun to shift to independent artists and musicians that tend to be more interested in sound quality – and that piqued my curiosity about dynamic range. With every dense and hypercompressed mix that showed up in my workflow, I became more certain of the flawed logic in “louder is better.” It’s really no surprise that music listeners are losing the willingness to legally acquire music, since so many contemporary releases are mercilessly over-compressed – a situation that turns off even the biggest music fans.
Out of this, I developed my own simple metering tool to measure the dynamic integrity of musical content that became the industry’s first dynamic range meter. And, in 2009, we founded the Pleasurize Music Foundation, a global umbrella organization that seeks to re-establish dynamic range as the most important means of expression in all genres of music. Our aim is to improve the sound quality of music in its various recorded formats – including data compression methods such as MP3 – as well as music destined for radio broadcast.
Throughout this journey, I’ve become a firm believer in NUGEN Audio metering tools. More than any other audio technology vendor today, NUGEN Audio has embraced the idea of dynamic range as the key to producing a mix that is pleasing to the listener and presents the music as it was originally intended. Most recently, I’ve had the opportunity to work with NUGEN Audio’s newest tool for the music industry, MasterCheck. In brief, MasterCheck is the first music-industry-specific audio plug-in designed to facilitate mix and mastering for the modern world of loudness-normalized playout. iTunes®, Spotify®, and DAB Radio all now use loudness normalization, and MasterCheck reveals how the consumer will hear audio on these music platforms, and others, by using internationally recognized loudness, dynamics, and true-peak standards.
MasterCheck is far more than a metering tool – it’s a very versatile tool supporting and solving leveling issues in the transformative period between peak normalization and loudness normalization. With MasterCheck, audio engineers can employ a single plug-in to apply loudness matching and dynamic content analysis, using techniques such as peak-to-loudness ratio (PLR) to compare multiple sources. The advanced side-chain loudness matching can also be used to audition signal paths, without the "improvement" of increased loudness, to understand precisely how various effects, such as compression, can change the sound with no influence from the loudness enhancement. I have adopted MasterCheck to augment my own loudness metering tools in the classroom as well as my mastering and mixing projects. MasterCheck’s true-peak metering and the convenience of a fast, loudness-compensated A/B comparison with reference tracks are an ideal complement to my TT dynamic range meter, which I use offline to measure dynamic integrity.
In the coming years, more and more audio distribution platforms will apply loudness normalization – meaning that material produced and mastered to be very loud will be automatically leveled in line with the platform’s target levels. Hypercompressed audio will be at a distinct disadvantage, and music that has been produced with a broader dynamic range will sound richer and more satisfying. MasterCheck is a fantastic tool for enabling engineers to adapt to the new world of dynamic range and make a gradual transition. After all, the loudness wars developed over 30 years – and the new world of dynamic music can’t emerge overnight.
A world with the best-possible sound quality is a cause that I believe in deeply. It’s the driving principle behind the Mastering Academy, where our intent is to develop a new generation of mastering engineers devoted to creating music that sounds great, rather than hitting the loudness ceiling as hard as possible. After all, only music that provides a positive listening experience has real market value. If the music industry is serious about reviving listeners’ willingness to pay for music, they’ll pay serious heed to improving the creative process around recording, mixing, and mastering.
With a 30-year career and references ranging from Steely Dan and Johnny Cash to Alan Parsons, Friedemann Tischmeyer is a renowned mastering engineer and a leading expert in the fields of loudness and psycho acoustics. He is the author of best-selling reference books including “Internal Mixing” and “Audio Mastering,” and his “Audio Mastering Trilogy” is the industry’s most comprehensive and complete work on music mastering. Over the past decade, Friedemann has developed a complete mixing and mastering curriculum that he now teaches through his Mastering Academy (www.mastering-academy.com).
Mix & Mastering