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Rob Nation | Loudness & music delivery
PREPARING FOR THE BRAVE NEW WORLD OF LOUDNESS-NORMALIZED MUSIC
NUGEN AUDIO TOOLS SMOOTH THE WAY
by Robert Nation
For the better part of 40 years, I’ve been involved in music mixing, recording, mastering, and production. In 1979 I co-founded EMAC Recording Studios, offering professional recording services to record companies, producers, artists, broadcast production companies, advertising agencies, and corporate clients. The business has given me an interesting perspective on the technological advancements that have taken place over the past decades.
The technology evolution hasn’t just been exciting; it’s nothing short of revolutionary. Although I’m still somewhat old-school, the digital era has radically changed many of my work processes for the better. The fundamentals remain the same, but I find that today’s digital and software-based technologies allow me to hone in more on the creative process than ever before. That’s especially true as the music industry continues to transition away from the “louder is better” era, also known as the loudness wars.
With so much change in the air, audio professionals like me are stuck in a type of limbo. Because loudness regulations and loudness normalization for streaming services have not been fully implemented yet, we still feel compelled to create tracks that are louder than our friends’ tracks. At the same time, loudness regulations such as EBU R128 have given us a standard by which we can normalize an audio track to actual perceived loudness, which is the key to dynamic range and contrast for a more satisfying listening experience. This is not to say that I cannot use heavier compression and limiting if I feel it’s appropriate; however I do not need to use those tools just to make it loud.
Given all of this, I’ve been searching for easy-to-use tools and technologies that can help me make a smooth transition to mixing for maximum dynamic range as opposed to maximum loudness. These capabilities are becoming especially important as the streaming services, such as Apple Music, Spotify, and DAB Radio are continuing to adopt loudness normalization and true-peak limiting techniques.
A couple of years ago, this search took me to the AES pro audio convention, where I came across NUGEN Audio. I was impressed by the company’s dedication to offering extremely high-quality and great-sounding tools for audio loudness analysis, metering, and measurement as well as mix and mastering tools. I realized these tools could be a good reference to the new streaming criteria – with the ability to understand not only how the streaming algorithms affect the mix, but how the track will sound on consumer playout devices for the optimal listening experience.
One particularly valuable tool is NUGEN Audio’s LM Correct plugin, which automatically analyzes audio peaks and makes quick adjustments to bring a track into compliance with loudness thresholds. I’m currently using LM Correct as a standalone, final check on loudness and true peak levels as a file goes to sequencing or delivery to the client after mastering. There might be other companies that offer this capability, but LM Correct is one of the most elegant approaches I’ve ever seen. Together with VisLM, NUGEN Audio’s loudness metering plug-in, LM-Correct plays a critical role in loudness normalization, giving me the ability to deliver high-quality, loudness-compliant audio.
The NUGEN Audio tools are also increasingly coming into play when I wear my other hat, as a professor of recording engineering for the Music Industry Arts program at Fanshawe College here in London, Ontario. For second-year students, I’ve recently begun to emphasize loudness issues and incorporate loudness tools as part of the essential techniques necessary for mixing in today’s production and post-production environments. These techniques are especially important as more and more individuals are mixing and mastering on their own as part of a “one-man band” process of writing, recording, and finishing their own material. In our program, we’re stressing the use of professional tools that will keep mixing and mastering at the highest-possible levels and maintain the standards of our profession. The NUGEN Audio tools play a critical role in this effort.
When loudness normalization becomes mandatory on the streaming services, it will be the biggest change to happen to our industry in at least 20 years – and it will mean the loudness wars are well and truly over. No longer will we have “wreck” every track just for sheer loudness in order to make it stand out; instead, we’ll be freed to concentrate on more creative mixes with the broadest-possible dynamic range. With the NUGEN Audio toolset, I’m not only able to prepare my students for coming world of loudness normalization, but I feel completely prepared in my own business for the smoothest-possible transition as these changes begin to fundamentally change the way audio professionals work.
Robert Nation is co-founder and principal engineer/producer at EMAC Recording Studios in London, Ontario, Canada, specializing in music recording and mixing, mastering, and audio post-production on a wide range of radio, film, and television productions. Since 2000, Nation has also served as a professor of recording engineering in the Music Industry Arts program of the School of Contemporary Media at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario.
Mix & Mastering