Podcast: Is Studio Recording Killing Music?

Martyn Ware

Sparked on by a love of classic record producers such as Phil Spector, Joe Meek, and Sam Phillips, Bowers & Wilkins got together a panel of musical experts to see what they had to tell us about music and sound reproduction. Producers, musicians, and people at the very heart of the music industry, we asked them what exactly it is a producer does – and why modern music on CD doesn’t always sound as good as it could.

At the head of the table, and chairing the meeting was Martyn Ware, a sound pioneer and member of Heaven 17 and the Human League, who also has an impressive collection of production credits including the massive-selling Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby

Steve Levine is well known in the music industry for producing hit albums for the likes of Culture Club and Westworld. But he was also the engineer on early Clash recordings, and has presented an excellent BBC Radio 2 show on the art of record production.

KK has produced music from the likes of Tim Booth and Natalie Imbruglia, and worked on film scores by such big names as Society of Sound Fellow James Newton Howard’s soundtrack for Collateral. He’s also recorded an album of children’s music with Sophie Barker of Zero 7 – which is much loved by parents and toddlers.


Simon Gogerly is a renowned mix engineer, who has worked on a number of Hip-Hop and R&B remixes for artists such as Missy Elliot, Busta Rhymes, Lil’ Kim, Rakim, Mase, Jamiroquai and Simply Red. He also won a Grammy at the 2006 Grammy Awards for his work on U2’s album “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb”.

Jim Irvin is the former singer with the band Furniture, and is now a songwriter signed to Warner Chappell. He’s also a journalist, and is a regular contributor to Mojo and Word magazines.

Steve Sasse is Head of A&R at Atlantic Records, and is therefore involved heavily in the partnering of musicians with producers. He has worked with Paolo Nutini, James Blunt, Leftfield, Razorlight and the Propellerheads.

What is a producer?


The role of the record producer equates closely to that of a film director – albeit with original connotations of actually producing the finished product, records. It is their job to get the best out of the musicians/actors and make the creative vision these people have into something that the rest of us can enjoy.

Steve Levine explains how it works: “When a songwriter or a band say ‘how can we make it like this?’ You’re then trying to interpret their wish, their dream or aspiration”.

It also appears as though the relationship between artists and producers have changed in recent years, and whereas once an artist had no concept of a production and was simply given a producer, so there’s much more of a two-way relationship, especially as many emerging artists have already laid down tracks at home using Pro Tools and even Garage Band.


KK claims that the producer maybe isn’t the magical figure he once was: “The studio is not this big mystery that it used to be. And there isn’t this kind of dogma and mystique surrounding how to record anymore.


Steve Sasse of Atlantic Records agrees, and says that when a band has already had some experience of recording, and has developed their own ‘sound’ he tries to encourage them to keep that sound with their debut ‘professional’ recordings, and find a producer who facilitates that. “James Blunt has an affinity to that kind of west coast American tradition,” he said. “And found a producer in Tom Rothrock that gave him that sound and you know, whether you like him or loath him, I think he has sort of achieved what he wanted to.”

It’s almost as though producers are doing their own A&R, and getting involved with new artists early on and taking that completed sound to the record label. Surely that can only be a good thing for the quality of the music we have to look forward to, but what about that other important matter: sound quality.

Sound quality in the modern age

Compression is an important, and controversial topic in modern music production, especially as far as people concerned about sound quality is concerned: how much influence does a producer have on the sound quality of modern music.


With recent debates over the boosted loudness of albums by Metallica and Lily Allen, mastering engineer Simon Gogerly was obviously well placed to discuss how mastering a record effects the quality of the sound the listener gets out of a hi-fi at the other end of the process!

The loudness wars seem to be affecting more and more artists, with Gogerly explaining how an increasing number of artists are coming back to him saying how they love the mix, but it isn’t as loud as some CDs they have, for example.


“Because things are getting mastered so hot and compressed and limited so much, people are expecting to hear that when you are mixing their stuff as well. So it is colouring how you can mix something. I mean I personally am not such a big fan because you know it kind of, the reduction of the dynamic range of the track is just squashing out a lot of the space, that it’s nice to have in a track.”
This arms race towards loudness, as KK called it, seems to be taking priority over sound quality in a lot of modern masters, and seems to be a sticking point for the recording industry, when it comes to making great sounding releases. Steven Sasse explained how the record companies felt about it, and why it was prevalent: “It is a fear thing I think,” he says. “A band or a label or manager does not want their track to come on the radio and sound quieter than the track that was just on before it.”
However, while compression is a by-word for bad sound nowadays, Steve Levine pointed out to us that it was actually originally a very useful tool for producers, and some of the world’s finest music benefited from compression, including Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound and the Motown sound.
“Berry Gordy would specifically listen to his mixes in his office,” Steve explained. “He would have them cut on to an acetate and he would play them through a transistor radio to hear how they would sound on a radio and would then use mastering compressors in those days to make sure that they sounded as powerful as they would on radio. That is one of the big differences between certain CD reissues and your recollection of them in the vinyl world, they actually sound different because the engineers and producers who originally cut the records had a totally different approach, primarily because they could not get the level on the physical vinyl disk of the day.”

But today things are different, and the loudness war is resulting in albums where every track is produced like a radio friendly single, and it can be very fatiguing.


The latest Metallica album was a good case in point, and sparked off lots of debate, especially as the version available for download in the video game Guitar Hero was less compressed and therefore sounded better than the CD release!

And it’s not only heavy metal acts who strive for loudness, as Steve Levine explains, “One good example is Snow Patrol. I cannot listen to two tracks in a row from them. It is so loud and so in your face that my ears get fatigued by the time the first verse is coming of the next song. It is just too much.”

But it’s not all bad news, as artists such as Mercury Music Prize winning Elbow made a conscious effort not to use these kind of mastering techniques, and it resulted in a top quality album that also sounds great on a quality hi-fi system.


As the band itself say, if you want to hear it louder, then turn your system up a bit. We couldn’t agree more.


  • Roberto Brazy / The SOUND says:

    For the Record & Live LISTENER , in The SPECTRUM ——SOUND IS JUST back of LIGHT ! We are ANALOG BEINGS / SACRED GEOMETRY is Designed into our HEARTS & EARS! This in mind GREAT SOUND must be SEEN as well as HEARD ! " LIKE in Nature Man " …

  • Bernard says:

    An interesting question and an interesting debate. There is no doubt that there was an awful lot of compression used in supposedly ‘classic’ ’60’s recordings too but more often than not it was used creatively rather than with a sledgehammer as it all too often is today.

    A limited palette is something that often results in the most interesting production. Nobody can fully know the ins and outs of pro-tools and it’s all too easy to tinker away at something for hours losing more and more of the original feel.
    Great debate guys, well done.

  • Geoff says:

    Yes – an interesting debate. As Jim Irvin mentioned lots of people listen to their music through their computer or their iPod. More than studios killing music I think that the way we listen to it is the thing that is detrimental. There is a whole generation of people out there who’s expectations of sound quality are so much lower as they only hear their music through cheap headphones attached to their iPod.

  • Andy says:

    Geoff hits the nail on the head. My daughter, 17 and a competitive dancer, in her opinion, loves music. She listens on her iPod, whether its 320 kps or 64 kps. She will also listen on her laptop. The quality of audio doesn’t really make a difference to her.

    Now, just last week, I was buying some new vinyl and I dragged her along. She asked me to pick up a an album for her. I thought, what the heck ,she has somewhat decent taste, lets give it a shot.

    She was all settled down in the basement with the stereo and I dropped the needle on her album (Rockferry by Duffy if you want to know). She was blown away by what her music can sound like.

    In one generation we have gone from vinyl, to tape, to CD, to MP3. And in that same time we have gone from stereos, to portable stereos, to walkmans, to iPods, and to people listening on PC’s with $20 speakers and a $0.50 sound card. Lets hope the quality of music makes a comeback, only then will music make a comeback.

  • Daniel Svoboda says:

    I am subscribed in iTunes to free lab podcast, but I don’t see this one (Is studio recording killing music) there. Is it an omission or done on purpose? Like tha I can’t really listen to it on my iPhone :) Thanks.

  • Susanna says:

    Hi Daniel,
    Apologies for this. The podcast should be in iTunes shortly – we’ve had to re-upload as there was an error with the first file.

  • JIm Tavegia says:

    I am amazed, also, at the poor quality of some recordings. I have a copy of a B and W Demo DVD that I have played quite often with an opening number from a Peter Gabriel concert.

    Listening in PCM there is just something “grainy” about the sound of it. It is so unlike the high quality of the demo tracks from the likes of Alfred Brende et. al that I could not help but think something is amiss.

    I must admit that I have some supposedly “hi-rez” dvd concert videos that sound great (Diana Krall Live in Paris), and some that do not sound quite as good (Phil Collins, Loose in Paris). It is too bad because the Collins disc is great fun to watch. James Taylor, Live at Beacon Theatre is also very good.

    I guess it just depends upon if the mastering engineer cares and if he is given a decent master to begin with.

    I do fear for the future as I was hoping that SACD would become a popular format and save digital audio. If downloading wins, I ultimately think those of us who care will loose. I am glad I have a large disc and LP collection to go back to.

    Also, I do wish you would put your list prices on your speaker product web site, if possible.

  • Al says:

    Bottom line for me is the best sound format as possible lossless if you will.
    I am still one of those guys born in 54 that still listens to music on a serious note. Sweet spot and always searching for components as well as software for the holygrail listening. Keep up the good work!

  • Jorge says:

    If I were to vote someone for mayor Jim Irvin, Geoff and Andy would make it to the top of the list.

    Fully agree with you guys!!… No is not and industry issue (at least not the record industry)…

    IMHO in an effort to accomodate personal tastes and (ill developed) likes we have gotten to a point we (the people) no longer know what the music was intended to sound in the first place.

    Nowadays there are so many settings and simulated staging options (both in portable and computer systems… and “High End” amplifier as well) it is difficult for the common people to have a taste of all the hard work producers and artist have invested in any particular piece.

    Having a 14 year gadgeteer at home sharing my main system is a real clash of preferences finding myself re-adjusting SW and EQ to a more sedate settings every time.

    Should’t there be a recipe for playing you music as intended
    defeat loudness control
    set EQ to medium treble

    je je there goes audio democracy…

    any way your podcast have triggered incredible conversations / denates among my closest group of friends…

    keep it up!!

  • Toi Cheung says:

    I now live in China, I own iPods, all generation of them, but I’d never download anything, I bought them all in NON-PIRATE CDs that I bought from Hong Kong few times a year, format and burn them into my Mac. The problem is, even with the lable like Deutsche Grammophon on Herbert Von Karajan sound bad, Yo Yo Ma & Friends, Fun House by Pink, Lily Allen.., I had tried it on my set of Naim with 805s and Goldmund with Revel both…ugh ! II first thought it was the weakness with my stereos, but after reading the debate and comments, I am in relief. I love all sorts of music, and good sound quality is a bless.

    Or do you think the CDs that sold in Asia is not as good ? Maybe it’s been reproduced again or mass copied by a lower grade master ? I hope I can go back to albums, but it’s too difficult to start again now.

  • Sahin Derya says:

    On road to perfection, its inevitable to have complex mixing and processing.
    Without these there wont be any progress.
    Although some instruments resist any compression and further sonic development such as strings. Some things are meant not be touched , only to retrieve from the source, which is main concern here.
    Vinyl is still superior to all we have in hand. This is our dilemma.

  • Max says:

    I’m verry dissapointed having to listen to my (classical) music on CD, SA-CD having been droped by the producers. Having said that, I guess I needn’t mention what I think about compression and MP3, do I?
    Just listened to a remaster of a 70’s Karajan recording on CD by the way. Don’t worry about dynamics with Herbert! Maybe things would be better, if other artists would be as consequent as he was in getting the recording teams to capture the full spectrum of his performances.

  • John Pinniger says:

    For those who have access to a peak meter and observe BBC R1, they will see it appears to be stuck at the equivalent of PPM 6 + a bit.

    Very few seem to understand dynamic range or indeed in Dolby; the importance of Dialnorm being a case in point.

    I think it’s this oppressive sound that has killed off the CD to a large extent. I cannot remenber the last time I purchased a modern CD.

    Dynamic range is so important as is the balance of the vocals.

  • Jake Purches says:

    I believe we have too much music nowadays. You can’t escape it. a hundred years ago to hear music you would have to go to a concert. Now you can have what ever you want at an instant, all in a 40 gigabyte ipod with shit ear phones. Music is almost pointless now. So UNITE! Ban iTunes. Go and buy a CD. Go and get yourself a SACD player because they are wonderful. Better still invest in a proper turntable and buy some vinyl LPs which have never been so good. Get a decent pair of speakers. Sit down, shut up and listen to some music like its meant to be listened to. Someone composed it, played it and wants it to be listened to. I never listen to music in the back ground anymore. I hate it. I make time, sit down in front of my sound system, drop the needle, (or a SACD) close my eyes and let the sound waft over me. Lovely. Who the hell wants to actually listen to a ipod? And its dangerous too. I nearly ran over a girl crossing the road as she was in another world with her itunes.
    LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO LISTEN TO CRAP SOUND. And compression in music is a crime too. Support SACD so the range gets better. Stop wasting your life downloading, buy the album, get the artwork and ‘own’ the product. Nuff said!

  • Nicos Gollan says:

    I am amazed that the word “remaster” did not occur so far. Those “polished” re-issues of formerly great recordings are among the prime examples of how unskilled downright unethical a lot of today’s sound engineers have become. Take, for example, Kansas “Leftoverture”. Get the CD with the 1977 copyright, and the remaster from 2004, and listen to both. You will notice that the 2004 release is around 5dB louder, and has no dynamics or headroom at all. In a direct comparison on good headphones, you will notice that there is quite a bit of the high frequencies missing. The guitars that are authentic and fresh in the old release are just painful to listen to, the brilliant vocals do not rise above the instrumentals anymore. If your amplifier has a clipping indicator, it is pretty much always on.

    All in all, you will notice you just wasted good money on the re”mastered” release.

    Live albums are a beast on their own, since the focus nowadays often seems to be the atmosphere, or however sound engineers call permanent audience noise (not just applause) at -10dB. That is a noise floor 40-70dB higher(!!!) than even the worst studio albums, and probably worse than vinyl that spent 20 years out of the sheath on a radiator.

    I have come to the conclusion that most releases after around 1995 are, to put it bluntly, garbage that is not worth paying for. Luckily in the age of the Internet, it is easy to find a used copy from the “good old times”; it is just too bad that the artists do not profit from that, since their record companies decided to screw the customers.

    And it also is not like online sales of music would be without choices (as the B&W Music Club shows). There are very interesting codecs like WavPack that even allow for a multi-tiered model where a customer could buy a lossy version of a track at a low price, and listen to it. If the track is good, the customer could then buy the correction data that in combination with the lossy track restores full lossless quality up to 32bit floating point high dynamic range PCM. (But please do not adopt MP3HD, which is inferior to pretty much any alternative. FLAC or WavPack are perfectly fine, eventual re-encoding for portable devices is trivial and fast too.)

  • Dan S says:

    Perhaps it is the fact I was a R&R photographer when I was 23-25 and photographed 200+ shows my ears might be a little played? However,I have to say that my Music Fidelity CD player in tandum with my 803Ds using Rotel power listening to Patricia Barber “The ???? Years…” it sounds EXCELLENT! The mastering of the sound and the compression/lack of compression makes the sonic experience thru my system sound a little better or a little worse. I figure the Producer and the band put a lot of work into the sound and I appreciate the experience. I am sure there are better systems out there but finally after 56 years I pretty much have my perfect surround sound system… thank you B&W!
    However after listening to my daughters IPOD I was shocked how much is missed. Let’s only hope that when they produce music it is still played somewhat uncompressed. And in the way the musicians wanted.

  • Alan says:

    I hope we never lose CD,s I was raised on 45,s LP & tape and a Ludwig drum set.
    Zeppelin, Davis,& Cash sounds wonderful on CD. Computers did not hurt music the way we listen to it did. Don’t you remember transistor AM radio listening to the Stone’s & Elvis. Computers in the recording studio are great, I love my MAC. & my B&W’s

  • Albin says:

    I’m no expert.
    As a high end enthusiast, I really liked reading this topic and would like to add my view.

    To me, the word producer seems a bit strange.
    I would rather say:
    1. Record Advisor,
    2. Recording Specialist,

    The best recording is the one which approaches the music, which is playing in the head of the musician, the most.

    As a ‘producer’, you should first of all fully understand (hear) the music playing inside of the mind of a musician.
    Once understood, a producer could (definitely not must) inspire the musician to optimize his musical expression in various ways/ techniques and lead the way till the music is printed on disc.
    Just like an accountant does with your tax form.

    Kind Regards

  • Dan B says:

    No, MP3’s and todays copy cat everything sounds the same bands are killing music !! And as good as CD’s are compared to MP3’s it’s still not as good as vinyl. Vinyl has a more Airy neutral sound that is missing with Digital. I find that most of the new music today is far too overprocessed and has a compressed, thin and bright sound. I have over a hundred CD’s in my collection that can only be listened to on my car stereo. MP3’s in my opinion are a waste of everyones time, but sadly todays youth prefer quantity over quality. In my opinion, MP3’s are an insult to all those how truely enjoy “Listening” to music. MP3 are also the reason that today’s youth do not by CD’s. Here is another thought…If DVD audio is so much better than CD why not start putting music in that format? not in 5.1 please !!
    I listen to a lot of Concerts on DVD they sound great! With the exceptions of those whom thought that having some instruments in the rear channel was a good idea. Although I find that the Sound off of a DVD is better than CD, I always find that Dolby digital sounds better for concerts than DTS. Eventhough DTS sounds better “technically” it takes away the live ambiant feel of the concert. DTS sounds like exagerated, overtubbed soundstaging. But maybe it’s just me !

  • Mr Artrock says:

    Hi there, I´m surprised that this still is somewhat unknown as a subject to certain musiclisteners/consumers.
    We all know that (too) many people today don´t bother too much about quality as they obviously prefer sitting in front of their computers or stick to ipods etc listening to music via inferior systems…

    Those loudnesswars that are on our lips (producers/engineers etc) since long now is really a silly situation, I mean if you got some pride and have such skills, why do you keep performing the stupid task “faschists” or companies want?
    (adressing mastering guys selling…)

    Has everyone became totally disabled?
    Isn´t there a vol. knob anywhere anymore?

    I just sigh and almost puke when a CD is so damaged and maxxed out in level that you must put the level DOWN the first thing you do when playing the first track,
    this also tells me to beware because I know it will not be an exciting experience filled with pleasure and joy as listening to a good record should be!

    I run Camelot studios in Sweden as a producer, I love music in many forms and I´d like to see a quicker return to sensible mastering as of yesterday if you get me…

    This would be of benefit to the entire businesscommunity and above all to of us who like to sit back, listen & appreciate the excellence & craftmanship of superior mixes made by devoted guys/girls wordwide!

    What a difference some dB´s make…

    Dynamics is dead, long live dynamics*

  • Susanna Wendler says:

    Studio works are like a canvas of notes that may be left as is or brought into a new creation. The studio works are most often the beginning for many to bring songs to life. The master studio sound experts are like a preservation that will embellish the works further or in preserving the sound. Is one sound better to another depends on the listening abilities of those who are listening and what they clearly want to hear. I think we all know who’s the best around here thanks to people who have the expertise. One will not weaken the other only improve each to their best potential.

  • Baily says:

    A good studio recording is unbeatable.
    no sonic inteference

    Recommend Mike Oldfield – Tubular Bells II – Track 7 – The Bell

    I listen to this on a Technics SU-V4X that drive 2 pairs of B&W DM602 series 3 speakers – quite a sonic bliss :)

    not recommended is mp3 compression

  • Peter Silvester says:

    For me – its simple – the job of the producer is to reproduce the studio recording as a “live” performance, so when you are sitting at home in your living room, eyes closed, listening between two stereo speakers you feel the performer is there, in front of you. You feel like putting your hand out to touch them. Of course, it does mean generally you have to have a good music system to retrieve the detail and hear it !! But worth it.

  • Nicos Gollan says:

    SACD is coming up in this discussion a bit too much for my taste. It is just another lossy format (high frequencies effectively get even less dynamic range than on CD) with a rather bad market penetration and overly expensive players, which would probably go loud as well once it became more popular. Another weak spot is the use of some fancy “protection” scheme which makes it hard (or at least illegal) to transport the audio between devices.

    CD audio is still sufficient for most things, it is just incompetence killing the format.

  • Paul Van Wezemael says:

    I have to agree that life is too short to listen to crap music.
    I am not interested at all to listen to compreseed music. it is hurting my ears to be guessing which instrument is playrd or who is singing.
    CD audio when well recorded sounds beautifully when played on a modern hifi cd player. They finally get it right.
    The industry, artists and sound engineers should have focused on recording quality.
    As a lot of hifi lovers I also like to hear real instruments.
    And of course I still have an outstanding turntable where I can listen to my vinyl collection.
    And of course enjoying uncompressed music on a hifi installation. The only thing I wish to do is choosing the volume at which I want to listen.
    The rest I want to leave in the secure hands of the artists and the producer.

  • Jeffrey Miller says:

    As a radio programming consultant for 43 years, I can tell you that producers needn’t limit dynamic range for radio. Radio seems unable to limit – shake its addiction – to downward or upward compression; that’s where the loudness wars exist and it leads to listener fatigue. I seem to be always fighting a futile battle for limited EQ and wide dynamic range. I also agree that young people today don’t know, let’s say, what an orchestra should really sound like. Not that they listen to orchestras anymore, but even when they go to pop concerts it doesn’t “sound right” to them and that’s sad. We have to educate and enthuse a whole generation, maybe two, about the nuance and pleasure of musical performance and faithful reproduction. Could it be the lack of musical education in schools is the place to start?

  • David says:

    Jake, while he is awfully direct, is right. I don’t think it’s because we have too much music, but music has taken on a new role, one of soundtrack to all the other commitments, activities, and distractions we have day to day. His point is well taken that we need to separate out our “background” music from or critical listening and not mince the two. Lossy iPods are great for mowing the lawn or listening to podcasts, but taking the time out from a busy day to sit and devote yourself to listening is separate and ultimately an experience as different as TV and movie theaters and need to be separated.

  • Susanna Wendler says:

    The function of the producer is like the “icing on the cake”. Some icings are better tasting than others and some icings are more popular with the consumer than others. Without high quality sound mastering you deliver a product that might have had more appeal in the long run. Too, there is a lot happening with home sound studios and if someone is very talented in that area there will work will shine no matter what. New producers are always in the making. The best part of what is happening is that more producers are willing to bring forth technology that many young artists are not aware of and will go that extra mile in quality work become even better.

  • Haris Agic says:

    I think that modern technologies of sound recording has brought a number of opportunities the main one being making crapy artist sound allright. But the challenge of making enough room on soindrecording for all those large artists, singers, bands, instrumentalists, orchestra….well that is a challenge just as big as it ever was.

  • Jeff C says:

    At first, I thought this was a silly topic about a Producer’s role. And now it’s all about CD vs. anything else…with a bit of compression thrown in. The format has little to do with compression. I’ve got crap sounding vinyl, CD and SACD. I’ve got great sounding examples of each too. So here’s my thought on modern studio recording:

    I love some compression! Heresy, you say. But really, a little done right really works well for our playback systems. Outside of a few folks on this list that have spent time with raw, uncompressed sound in the studio, few of us know how that would work out on our audio rigs. Or in our cars. Even on our iPods. I love the loud sound from modern mastering…but I have plenty of pop music examples where it is too heavy and makes for less interesting listening.

    I wish the industry could use *just* enough to keep the music out of the ‘noise floor’ and still allow it to play well in the home, car, portable, etc. Would I like completely uncompressed sound? I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not.

    Uncompressed sound might show inadequacies in my audio gear that my pocket book isn’t deep enough to fix!

  • Laax says:

    Mass consumption of music in M3-players, mobile phones, from lap tops and as video clips have changed the way of listening to music and the “music industry” is adopting to this new market situation. Most people uses lower end equipment to listen to music and the listening environment is often noisy on trains etc.
    There is a demand for digital music in small file formats that is quick and easy to down load and store. And there is no room for dynamic range in the world of lower end equipment in noisy environments.
    We are also flooded with music and one popular method to stand out is to be as loud as possible, no place for dynamic range.
    The demand for well produced, good recordings with dynamic range and correct levels is too small. Few people listen to 2-channel music in higher end audio equipment today. It is difficult to survive in the current market with new more expensive formats like SACD and with well produced, good sounding recordings.
    Hopefully will the market demand change over time to give room for producers and sound engineers who can fulfil the creative visions of the artists and put sound quality, dynamic range and interesting music in focus.

  • Steve James says:

    I concurr with the opinion of “over -production”, where the original recording is manipulated for effect, usually to the detrimant of the detail and overall quality. I still have a live mono recording of Jake Thackery that I did (with his permission) when I was priviledged to be his sound engineer at a college gig back in the late sixties, I also have an LP of the same repertoir professionally recorded in a studio. You would not beleve the difference – to me the whole life and vigour of the performance has been lost in the studio mix.


  • Thomas says:

    Well, I think the SACD is the solution to this ! 1 layer for CD with compression that could be used by anyone in car or Ipod. And a 2nd layer in SACD with NO compression for house and big system. Because I had already listen a lot of masters records without compression and remix, that’s sure ! You’re speaker could died quickly with all this dynamic and bass level ! No compression is not for mass market !

    But another side is that really we have a lot of CD on the market with low quality recording. I like the last THE SCRIPTS cd, but the recording of the voice is terrible. Also to have listen some different studio speaker, the sound is so flat, no life, nothing, so borring for people work all the day with it !

    I think this is the actual socity: Nobody want to take the responsability to have a special sound on recording. So they just make recording with average performance, not bad but not good, just average, can work everywhere (radio, mini system, car systems, Ipod, …) this is like morderns cars or mordern speaker as well, nothing really special.

    Is it what you want in your life ?

  • Ben Taylor says:

    I kind of bowed out of doing pop music as the constant request for louder mixes began to get on my nerves, not to mention, I believe, taxing the equipment used to do this beyond their tasteful use range. Some of the uglies heard are a direct result of the processing devices adding far more crap than they were designed to, and therefore taking away the clarity in the music…, and the recording.

    I do mostly classical and jazz these days. Now I can’t say that I never get a request for “louder” , but when I explain that there may be negative affects to the music if over done, we will usually come to some reasonable compromise. In classical music, perspective, detail, depth and subtlety are an important part of the recording, and anything that sacrifices those qualities, will usually deter over processing.

  • Rob says:

    I was excited in the early 1980’s when the CDs were released since a digital format would last much longer than analog LP33 records… But they never did produce the sound of a brand new LP. Fast forward to today’s technology and we have HDCD, SACD, DTS, DVD-A, all the amazing high definition formats. If mainstream could “get with it” and we had much more affordable HD players and music was recorded and sold in HD, but w/ a standard 44.1KHz CD layer it would be wonderful. To me, a CD is like a hamburger- pretty good, fills you up, but never much more. The HDCD, SACD, DTS, DVD-A formats are like the Filet Minon of steak, the ultimate. With the correct playback system (i.e., B&W 802D, high end amplification and HD player) a dose of your favorite music played back in HD is so amazing it can be overwhelming. The details heard and depth perception of the sound stage, vocals so smooth, and high freqency resolution that it raises the hair on your arms with goosebumps at times! This is what is missing TODAY. Get this OLD stnd CD format TECHNOLOGY to rest (r.i.p.) and lets get on with the latest state-of-the-art recording technology in HIGH DEFINTITION. Push and drive this out with equipment makers helping get the new players to the masses. Listening to the amazing sound quality recorded on your favorite movies should stand out loud-n-clear. Ever wonder why it sounds so much better than CDs? There is MORE data (bits) per word and the HD formats come very close to analog vinyl but have much higher dynamic range capabilities than the old LPs.. I say we embrace the latest technologies in sound and recording engineering. Sit down with your special person with a glass of fine wine and enjoy the recordings how they were intended to be listened to. Yeah, you still want the IPODs and streaming music for the gym workouts and outdoor picnics, but eventually ALL sound and music media should be in High Definition and we can the 44.1KHz CD can forever rest-in-peace! :) Remember the 8-track tapes, beta movies, 45 record singles? They served us well but evolution has made them extinct! So will be the same for the stnd CD..

  • Nicos Gollan says:

    Yes, the CD can die in peace, but not now.

    There is just no proper follow-up format yet. In my opinion, hardware media distribution should be mostly phased out, in favour of high-quality digital distribution. This would of course require a major change of direction of the publishing industry, towards a provider model, allowing easy (unrestricted!) access to content, which would be a major turnaround from today’s model of actively preventing access.

    Such a model would make it rather easy to offer a wide range of specialized masters, from the ultra-compressed “black sausage” (how I love that expression…) at sub-CD-quality, up to freak formats like 32bit floating point at 192KHz that only bats could fully appreciate. It might even give the producers more leeway for doing proper work, while still releasing mainstream dirt “on the side”, since they would not need to squeeze everything into one compromise(d) release.

    Until then, the CD can stay.

  • Tito says:

    Rob I am totally in agreement with you, today the cool are SACD and DVD-A, the Blue-Ray Audio still it does not convince to me.

    Good luck to all
    Tito Zenteno from Mexico City.

  • Nicholas says:

    This is one of the best discussions on audio. It is absolutely relevant. Many of us get caught up in our equipment (I’m very guilty) and yet don’t question the quality or variances of the recording being played. Especially our favorite CDs or albums that have been tuned for the radio – it’s a shame.

    6 yrs ago I was prepared to go all out and spend $35K on a system and spend $7K in room and electrical modifications. My wife asked me why? She wasn’t against it but she was curious. As an art dealer and a classical musician she questioned the purpose of audio equipment that surely couldn’t reproduce “the” real sound. Her definition of “the” real sound is the source of sound, volume it makes, and area in which it is to be heard – never to touch the volume control, set in one place forever. It made me think. And the points made in this BW discussion was inherent to what she was speaking of without the audio talk. So I shifted around and budgeted $5K for a reasonable system and have used and saved the remaning funds for good seats at live concerts.

    Sidenote: Lots of mentions of SACD and DVD-A. Tried it and not impressed. Sorry I tried. This sounds completely crazy but I transfer and mix a lot of my CD’s onto cassette tape and prefer the smoother sound. I’m using a Denon DN-790R 3Head w/ Dolby S deck recording on metal bias tape. I feel much less fatigued.

    Florida, USA

  • KODG MAN says:

    yes & no. at first cd were great small, will never wear-out. the sound was better than lps, as they lost the crackle associated with the vinyl lps.& could be played over & over again & not wear down like an lp. we know now you can scratch & ruin cds now, but their still easier to care for than lps.

    I would like to see cds manufactured with a standerdised high quality materail. rember when people would say cds that were colored gold were better than than silver?

    we will never go back to lps , cds are small compact & do last a long time if cared for. only audphiles w/big budgets can afford high quality turntables & eveything else you need to get that high quality sound, we now demand.

    my sony sacd via hdmi multi channel w/h.a.t.s. technology makes my cds sound great. (as good as sacd.)

    i would just like to see a high quality standerdised medium for cds.

    the reason sacd failed is sony would not let go off their tight grip on sacd technology, if they would have been reasonable w/other companies using their created technology it would have flurished & lead to even better quality sound technology because of competion from other manufactures to create even better sound reconding sources.

    sonys’ greed killed their created sacd technology & stopped the competive process of deleveloping better sacd tech. & so forth.

    kodg man.

  • the master says:

    to those who have both cds and ipods, you can rip music in .aiff, the format is completely uncompressed and lossless. by the way, buying from amazon.com is always better than buying in china/hong kong, why pay for pirated copies anyway?

  • Fab says:

    As a music producer myself, I’d like to chime in. That problem, like all problems that seem to not solve themselves easily is a combination of multiple problems.

    1/ Problem #1 is ignorance. There is no longer a tradition of quality recording technique handed down from seasoned veteran to their assistants, who then pass them on to their assistants. That chain is broken.
    I myself made a bunch of shitty sounding records before I decided to seek professional help. Most people don’t even realize how bad their stuff sounds.
    The newfangled recording schools serve no purpose in that matter. I have 6 assistants at my studios, all freshly graduated from various schools. All great people with lots of energy and all musically and technically useless at this point, except for the one who has been with me for 4 years and has worked very hard at listening to everything with a critical mind. People no longer have the time to listen to anything carefully.

    2/ The new recording tools and techniques are not helping.
    Digital recording is a beautifully accurate thus incredibly unforgiving way to record music. We get no love from the media we use to capture the performance. Tape used to round off edges, provide a lovely kind of non-compression kind of compression, and generated a certain ‘tone’ that required less post production love.
    Also, the new fixer tools, like timing and tuning systems have made a lot musicians appear better than they are, and have opened the business of music to people who should really have stayed int he fashion business.
    Also, the piecemeal recording techniques consisting of overdubbing every musician one after the other instaed of all musicians playing together, have made the process incredibly tedious and sometimes boring. The fire is gone in most recordings. The reason for this is that most studios lack the equipment to do a truly successful live session because of problem #3 below.
    Lots of musicians have also come expect to underperform and ‘fix it later’ and have lost the pressure of studio recording.
    Ask yourself how well you perform in your job without external pressure.

    3/ Budgets have dropped insanely.
    There is no time to make good records, unless they are a work of love. How many works of love can a skilled professional take on for free before they have to take on another job to support the said works of love
    Never underestimate this problem. Think of it this way: Singer walks in. Mike is put up, singer performs, sound is ok. Two options:
    a/ old school: ‘Let’s try another mike. Mhh. No, let’s try another. Ok nothing we have fits this guy. Let’s rent something. Break and come back in an hour.’
    b. new school. ‘ok.that’s all right. Do we have anything else? Nope, that’s our best mike and we have three lead to track today, let’s move on.’

    4/ Stupidity.
    The shift of the industry from a monetized art from to a commodity business, complete with projections, expectations and end of quarter trepidations, have brought people at the helm of the business with financial savvy but zero music production knowledge. As in every human endeavor, ignorance + pressure to perform have generated much fear driven decisions to be taken everyday. Like, for example but hardly limited to, the loudness war.It is fascinating to watch a six months to a year long painstaking process, with very minute decisions made by committee thru much scrutinization and negotiations, been singlehandedly destroyed and crushed to a pancake on the very last day-by the guy (The mastering engineer)who works on the record for ONE day, usually by himself. Usually because he can’t afford to loose the gig to someone else who will heed the terrified A&R execs ludicrous requests.
    It’s trickled down to mixers now. The record is ruined at the mix level. The mastering guys now complain that they have nothing left to do. The whole process belongs in a Monty Python sketch.

    5/ Last, and least: lowered expectations.
    This is the most easily solved problem. You don’t know a really, really good red wine until you’ve tasted one. Then some people have the ability to retain the memory of that wine and pass judgement on subsequent bottle based on that experience. Some people just don’, but without that first great bottle no taste can formed no matter how apt you are at tasting wine.
    Out current problem is that convenience has killed quality. Most people haven;t experienced great sounding music before.My most recurrent comment when I play a finished record to my clients is invariably ‘Wow, I can hear everything’. It’s clockwork. I always tell my artist ‘listen to your record right now, in my room, uncompressed, un mastered, unpressed, unsoiled, this is the best it’ll ever sound. Enjoy this and learn to preserve this feeling for as long as possible when you leave this room’. Most understand, some don’t. Some care, some don’t. But they are aware. They tend to come back to listen to their stuff raw. Gives me hope.

    Sorry about the long post, I thought another insider viewpoint might be of interest to this forum.

    I welcome comments @ fab@fluxstudios.net



  • Jake Purches says:

    Thank you Fab, I think you have summed it all up. It seems it is even more in B&W’s interest to publish well recorded music. By the way the B&W tradition of recording music goes back to the late 1980s and most of that is on the MELT 2000 label now when B&W was under different ownership. There is a large back catalogue (I have quite a lot) and it still sounds great. Some are even on Vinyl too.
    Its just a shame that we have to move heaven and earth to get good recordings now. However the new SACD recordings from Genesis sounded pretty good to me, because the originals were awful.

  • Florian says:

    Im 15 and i got a Zeppelin last year and i was impressed of the Sound. I didn’t know how good Loosless Music Sounds against MP3s.Yesterday i was at my dealer in Vienna and i listened to B&W 804S once with a Rotel amp and with a Classé amp. I didn’t know that you can hear the difference between two amps.Now i started to save money to buy two 804S and a Rotel amp (the classé is to expensive for me) because i don’t like my Stereo any more.

  • DLF says:

    Loving Phil Spector can be fatal. If you were you, I’d just love his WORK.

  • David Barbarulo says:

    I own a Mastering Studio in Italy.
    The main thing we observe daily is less “care” in making records than before. What I mean is that 80% of the moovement is low budget and probably 90% of that stuff is realized in wrong monitoring environment by “not so much skilled” professionals. That kind of products (in numbers) would be impossible 15 years ago, so the music is growing in the studio. On the other hand, during some teaching in schools I found that 99% of young people from 13 to 19 are using as main reproduction system youtube (with integrated PC speakers or sound cards)… so they don’t feel the need to download anymore music since the source is available 24 hours a day and is most of the times related to the video.
    No one of them seems to care about differences in sound quality or feel the need of better reproduction systems for that kind of source.
    We did an experiment, moving that audience in the studio in small groups, offering them the opportunity to listen to the music as is (we use as main monitoring Nautilus 802s paired with Velodyne subs). We noticed 100% of exciting impressions but we felt like that’s a thing out of theyr business and culture. The world of young listeners is mooving too fast to let them sit down in a “good listening position” and enjoy music. Theyr attention seems to be limited in 40 seconds without the video. If the music is played from a computer all the listeners naturally are facing the screen (80degrees out of axis from speakers…we turn it off and they look disoriented, we send the screenshot on a centered screen and all the audience turns in the right position).
    So Is Studio Recording Killing The Music?
    (in terms of sales) My answer is no. Is a matter of format. My feeling is that a large number of consumers today are “looking” at the music that without video is a partial experience.


  • SeeHear says:

    Music isn’t dead, music appreciation is changing. I love music and can play anything… On my stereo. I am blessed to count among my friends some very talented professional musicians. Ironically, they are not interested in what I consider high-end stereo equipment. It’s not that they don’t appreciate it; it’s that they liken it to a newspaper of super expensive polished and bound paper. It’s still just music – do you care if the newspaper is printed on bright bond paper or regular newsprint? From their perspective, the expensive paper buys them nothing – they still hear the music, just like we still read the news. That said, I, who in more than 40 years on this planet have only learned to play the most basic chords and riffs, value the sound quality almost as much as I value the music. I can happily listen to my car stereo because I am not concentrating on the music as much as I am concentrating on arriving safely. At home, I listen to my music primarily through a nice pair of headphones (Sennheiser, usually) unless no one else is home and I can play at “realistic” volume levels. My thought is that most kids today have never heard a “good” system and are satisfied to hear the song – the message – regardless of how wrinkled or unevenly toned the paper, err, playback system is. My friends, most of whom can not fathom why I put such effort and money, have no problem hearing the difference; they simply don’t value it enough to make the effort or pay the expense themselves. Long ago, I gave up trying to “convert” people. I am still an audio evangelist, just no longer of the Mormon-knock-on-your-door-early-on-Saturday-morning type, lol (No offense to the Mormons intended). With regard to the original topic, I think people fail to acknowledge what is produced in the studio as art. It may not be art you like, but it is an art form just the same. Just as in the art world, you have impressionists, abstract painters, and those who strive for photo-realism.
    I like most kinds of music but I prefer my music in HIGH FIDELITY. I have recordings on various media of music I love but can only listen to “casually” because I find it hard to listen past the recording shortcomings. Similarly, i will see bands live multiple times that I won’t buy a record of – unless it’s live. Chris Botti comes to mind: His live performances on PBS in HD are great! The band is killing, the music is served and it looks and sounds great. However, i find his studio recordings too perfect, boring, actually. I never appreciated him until I caught a live performance on PBS. I now have all of his performance blu rays and would happily drop the $100+ that seeing him at the Blue Note costs.

  • Edward_A says:

    This is such a useful forum.

    Most of the kids today have NO idea what music should sound like, and this has made me think.

    I’m not really sure what *I* think music should sound like any more.

    In days gone by … vinyl days… I *thought* I knew what music should sound like. I’m a kid of the 80’s, so Levine, H-17 et al are heros of yesteryear. Back then I had a decent-ish hi-fi set up that gave a good sound (to me) – clear, dynamic, and my Thorens TD-whatever was the muts-nuts as far as I was concerned.

    Then CD came along (I leapfrogged Cassette!) and my budget increased to a farily decent Arcam CD player and a series of new amps and speakers. My frustrations grew behind the scenes with my music/audio and I didn’t know why.

    Then along came downloadable music from OD2 – super-compressed (sonically and in data terms), and a load of others. At about the same time came the 1st ipod, then the nano…and it’s been pretty much down-hill from there…music has become just a background, hardly listened to, few changes in my equipment because , I concluded, the source material was so universally bad. Yes there were flashes in the pan that made me think that there was still hope, but these were CDs mastered/produced/recorded with the volume set to 11 (AC/DC albums!!) that appeared to be good, and I guess they were in terms of Signal-to-Noise, but still dynamically challenged. The odd Clapton track was OK, the odd small-scale release (Pinetop perkins etc), but the “charts” stuff had all become dull-dull-dull (apologies!)

    Much the same for the PC playback too. Crap soundcards, poor software etc etc.

    Then I discovered the Cantatis Overture192 product on Amazon and bought one, more out of idle curiosity (and perhaps too much cash!) and stuck it in my PC. Downloaded a few albums from B&W, Linn and HDTracks and W-O-W !! The life has come back into music. 192kHz sample rate, huge dynamic range that makes my old CD player seem muffled. So, it got me thinking that maybe some of the old CDs could sound better, so I ripped a couple of oldies using ExactAudioCopy and let them rip – W-O-W again.

    So, please answer this – all you experts…is music mastered to match the crap reproduction equipment (poor CD players, poor soundcards) or are CDs mastered to be “good” in their own right ??? Are 24-bit files always going to be better than 16-bit CDs (they seem to be)?? There’s loads of misleading info on this topic, and I, for one, remain puzzled.

    Help….I’ve nearly managed to restore my faith in 2-channel stereo, especially with some of the “stdio master” files that are now (becoming) available.


  • Mike says:

    Nice article but a shame to not credit me for the use of my Simon Gogerly photo :-(

  • Paddy says:

    You need, microphone(s), xlr cords, a sound board, a comptuer program that will allow recording, and a way to get your signal from the board to the comptuer (USB device).You can get away with one mic and record everything separate and combine in the program, a bad mic can make a good recording sound bad. You can get a Shure SM58 for $100. You can get a small Behringer sound board for under $200. Some of the Behringer boards are coming with a USB adapter for your comptuer. If not you can buy one for under $100. Cake walk makes some decent recording programs for affordable prices. The best way to do it is on a Mac comptuer with a pro logic program. Be sure to pad the walls and ceiling in the room where you record. You don’t want sound bouncing around. You want a nice clean sound.Go to Musician’s Friend and spend the money on a good home recording book. Every little thing makes a difference from mic placement to effects.

  • Tom Althouse says:

    I have read and agreed with most of these excellent comments.
    I would like to add a couple of thoughts;

    1. You can have all the equipment (which is now within reach for most people) and if you don’t know what to do with it and don’t understand the music and how we hear it, it is useless. You can give me top quality paints and brushes and I will never paint the Mona Lisa.

    2. On the philosophy of recording, I never try to create a sound for a musician(s), I try to capture it and reproduce it accurately. Therefore I listen to the components/musicians/instruments as well as the complete performance, and then try to capture that. I never use pitch correction, never “re-amp” a guitar track, never try to create music that wasn’t the artists. Go see someone else for that crap ( ditto for loudness vs dynamics).

    3. The audio equipment companies need to get together in both effort and funding to actively run campaign’s to educate the public. Public demonstrations, advertising comparing MP3’s to hotdogs and Good recordings to top cuisine.

    I congratulate B&W on educating through demonstration at WOMAD.

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