Monday, December 1, 2008

Update on the Metallica Mastering Debacle

So over the Thanksgiving Holiday (hope you all had a lovely one, by the way...), I was flipping through the latest issue of Tape Op magazine. In the 'End Rant' on the last page, Paul Abbott wrote up a nice editorial outlining how the differences in the hyper-squashed mastering on the CD version of the new Metallica album contrasted with the less-squashed version of the songs in the new Guitar Hero video game, and how this provided a tangible example to the average listener as to why the Loudness Wars are a bad thing. Most astounding to me, however, was the following quote (via the Metallicabb fan site) from Ted Jansen, the guy who mastered the album:

"In this case, the mixes were already brick walled before they arrived at my place. Suffice it to say, I would never be pushed to overdrive things as far as they are here. Believe me, I am not proud to be associated with this one, and we can only hope that some good will come from this in some form of backlash against volume above all else."

Did you read that first sentence? The mixer/producer actually sent the mastering engineer mixes that had a limiter strapped across the master buss! That is complete insanity! And this isn't even a rare occurrence from what I've read in various magazines. What the hell is the point of sending the mastering engineer an already squashed mix?! Shit, you're already part of the way there, why not just balance the EQ, program the codes yourself, and not even bother with a mastering engineer? You can't undo heavy limiting or over-compression any more than you can 'unbake' a cake. For the love of all that is holy, people, give the mastering engineer the most dynamic range to work with that you can. You're presumably paying the mastering person good money to do what they do... just let them do it! Concerned that your final mix isn't going to be loud enough? From what I understand, most stereos are equipped with a nifty device most consumers know how to use called a 'volume knob'. And honestly, if the only thing that makes your songs compare favorably to other songs is the volume level, perhaps you have bigger problems with your music than a mastering engineer can help you with.

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