Too much bad sounding stuff out there - a root cause?

I originally posted this topic on Mike Senior's thread for his book and song mixing competition for the book.  Given the audience is bigger here I figured I would post the thread here. For reference I was commenting on the quality of the entries in the contest. That thread can be found here
http://mixoff.org/index.php/topic,87.450.html
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I just finished the article, listening to the songs and reading the comments.

First - Mike you sir have the patience of Job.  You did a lot of work, treated people with respect and took the time to try to help a lot of people. You are a good man (Love the book)

I gotta say, and there is no way this comes off good because I am not a credentialed producer etc, But I am SURPRISED at truly how bad most of these sound and not how dead on - every single time - Mike is, but how easy it was for him. (Yes I am going to post a version here myself. I just found out about all of this). I would have thought people who thought they were good enough to post on a thread like this would all be good and the differences would be matters of taste and subjectivity. NOPE - the problems are VERY easy to hear.  Given that I think there is a huge major root cause. The underlying problem is that people are getting used to crappy audio (while they crave better quality video).  Our reference for what good audio sounds like is rapidly changing for the worst.  Yes I am an audiophile but I am not suggesting one only listen to music recorded without amplification or that people spend their life's savings on equipment.  But clearly something has to be done.  I have one high end system, two sets of headphones and my monitoring system and each, while different, would have allowed me to come to the exact same conclusion.  Why? because I have educated myself on what sounds like what and what sounds good. And most importantly I take the time, especially with room systems, to engineer the room as well as the system correctly.  An OK system in a great sounding room and set up always crushes an incredible system in an average or poor room - especially below 300hz and reflection issues like comb filtering.  While everyone has different tastes in music and how things can or should sound the majority of the music in this thread is nowhere close enough to what sounds good to argue those points.  Yes it sounds elitist and this direct and straight talk should be coming from a verified professional in the business.  BUT let me say this. Even in the "high end" industry and even, believe it or not, most musicians and recording professionals have no idea what sounds good either because their equipment and rooms are crap too.  But the issue is not that they can't understand what good or right is. I would BET it is because they have literally NEVER been exposed or educated on what I am talking about.  it is not an issue of intelligence or desire. It is an issue of EXPOSURE.

If you made it this far in my post and can get passed the directness, the fact that I am not someone in the business, your own ego to some degree and what I would assume is coming off (unfortunately) as arrogant (Or hypocritical or insane if you listen to my songs and think they are crap) on my part please AT THE VERY LEAST be open for a second to the fact that I MAY be right.  And if you can do that take a shot at experiencing what I am talking about.  (A long time ago I thought I had my crap together too. Hell I even used to repair and align stereo equipment.  Then after a while equipment came in I never heard of - NAD, McIntosh, Spica etc.  I thought my Carver, JBL etc were it.  While those companies have made some good stuff it was the companies that i never heard of who made the great stuff, it doesn't have to cost much more and if set up right - WHICH IS MOST IMPORTANT- can result in huge differences.

There are so few people, professional or otherwise, that get this right that I would have no idea where to send you. Hell even most high end stereo stores sound like crap.  The best I can suggest is a good pair of headphones.  Most of the issues experienced in this thread would be caught by them.  And after you get a pair I would like to suggest you listen to some specific music - listed below. As for headphones there are a bunch of good ones.  Cost is usually, though not always, somewhat proportional to quality.  I have Sennheiser 280s (which I think are a tad bass light) and the amazing Klipsch S-4s which are a tad bass heavy.  The last tip I will give you, and Mike covers all of this great in his book, is to listen in nearfield to eliminate as much of the room as possible. If you equipment is OK and you can't treat your room this will help.  AND unless you know what good sounds like or ran sweeps (assuming you have not identified a specific hearing loss issue) do this listening with everything flat tone control wise. (Oh yeah - and listen loud enough for it all to "pop" in. You can tell. There is a volume where most music sounds right. Too low and due to your bell curve hearing too much is missed)

Music - I tried to very my taste and admit there isn't too much new stuff I play
Cowboy Junkies - Trinity Sessions - DAT recorder with one mic. Amazing. The tone is right and you can hear the room they are in.  Has to be the best minimalist recording ever - or darn close to it. This one is a must.

Stevie Ray Vaughn - Texas Flood - song Tin Pan Alley - The drums are processed a bit much but loud there impact is amazing

Xavier Rudd - Dark Shades of Blue - songs Dark Water and Dark Shades of Blue

Steely Dan - Two Against Nature and  Everything Must Go

Mermen - most of their stuff is great but try Food for Other Fishes

Tracy Chapman - first album self titled

Paul Speer and Scott Rockenfield - Hell's Canyon - High end is a tough recessed but it's amazing instrumental rock and sounds great cranked

Chris Rea - Road to Hell

Rush - Moving Pictures and Snakes and Arrows

And the wining songs from this thread/contest. Again you don't have to like them but you do need to understand how and WHY they won and sound good.

And to be fair since I have opened my big mouth HUGE here I am providing a link to some songs I created.  Some are just NINJAM jams I tweaked and others are originals. Like I said I will post the song from this thread here so to put my capabilities where my mouth is. (Unfortunately these are Mp3s. The wavs will sound better but not result in a drastic earth shattering difference)

http://www.icompositions.com/artists/imispgh

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Replies (50)

    Upvote (0)  
I think one of the main mistakes that people make (myself included) is a failure to reference frequently while mixing.  OUr ears adjust to the frequency curves of our mixes so quickly that after 10 minutes, things sound good, even if they're out of wack.

I'm looking forward to hearing your mix, as well as Mike Senior's, which he has said will be the subject of an upcoming Mix Rescue article!
imispgh
So am I after what I posted. Hopefully it will not be a case of open mouth insert mixer and laptop

While I agree with you in the micro I think you excuse too much in the macro.

So... (read more)
    Upvote (0)  
I should also point out that most of the mixers on this forum are not pro's getting paid big bucks for mixing. I try to encourage everyone to post their mixes, even if they're not great, as it gives a good opportunity for feedback from others, with real objective mixes to compare to. Unlike most forums, where advice is given in the abstract, generally. Getting feedback from someone like Mike is valuable for anyone, pro or rank amateur. I don't think being a quality mixer should be a prerequisite for posting here.

You're probably right about getting things close just based on experience (assuming you have the skills to get the results you want.) But things like tubby bass, or harsh highs, etc can often be a result of fatigue, or not referencing, or just not knowing what to listen for, or how to correct it.

I appreciate your post, and it's an interesting line of thought. Surely we can all benefit from conscientious listening to quality work on decent quality monitors/headphones, etc.
    Upvote (0)  
To the OP, I would agree with your observation, but I disagree as to the root cause. Most of the people I know recording are actually musicians that want to record themselves, so they start out not as an engineer, but rather a musician. They naively go into Guitar Center and ask what equipment is needed to record, then purchase an mbox, computer, headphones, monitors, some cables and a mic. They spend between 5-10K, with the resolve that they now have a recording studio, and so the journey begins.
I have no doubt that when these people are making the recordings, it sounds really good to them in their rooms, it's when it leaves their rooms where the problems begin, in the translation. There is nothing exciting about hanging rockwool on your walls, but a new reverb unit, monitors, etc., that's "cool", but it takes a person some time to realize how important the room is, and learning what a good starting sound is, in terms of the recording. What sounds good live may not translate ... (read more)
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LCressy excellent post

I do play drums and harmonica but am not a musician yet. I prefer to compose, arrange and mix.  And I do none of those professionally yet. I did do some of the drums for some of my recordings.  However you are correct I am working at this backwards compared to most.  From the listener to player etc
The gist of my point was that musical sound quality is degrading over time and it is not mostly by choice but by lack of understanding and exposure.  As you say most of the people in this business start out as musicians and get excited by the musicianship in their recordings not the sound quality.  Hell that applies to most professionals too.  Having said this if one wants to sell one creates what the masses (kids) like.  I wonder though if the kids were educated would things still be this way? Would they give up the cheap headsets and low bit rate Mp3s.  (I think the small resurgence of vinyl among the young shows that when exposed many are open minded... (read more)
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If I understand your point, the younger generation of mixers/musician are allowing their hearing to be "dumbed down", therefore having lower standards. This can be directly related to earbuds and the loudness wars. Yes, I agree with that. I guess the point that I was trying to make is that having mix contests where they can post mixes, compare to better, more open mixes,  may in fact be the answer to this. John only started this site a few months back, and it is growing pretty fast I think, so the interest is there.
    I did listen to your soundcloud site, and here are my comments. Most of what I heard was electronic, sample based, so the raw tracks have already been processed, so not very much is needed for it to be "good", it already is. Your spectral balance across the freq. range is all there, nothing poking out, no harshness, very easy to listen to. I will venture that when you do the mix of people actually playing in a room, where the amount, type, decay time of the rever... (read more)
    Upvote (0)  
You are correct most of them are arranged loops that do come processed to some degree. However I think you have a misconception about at least some of them - or at least most of what I do. (And that does depend on genre). Most of the ones I uses are not that processed because they know people can't strip that back out well. Especially the ones recorded from a human playing an instrument. As such they still have to be arranged and worked with to mesh and like I said most are thankfully recorded with little processing even tonally so the user can do what they want with them.  Now the ones that aren't recorded from a human playing can be pretty well processed especially for the hip hop and dance genres like you suggest.  I will post a totally unprocessed version of one of the arrangements so you can hear it. I think it will be Here and There since that one has me playing live drums on it mixed with the other loops. (I do notice a big difference in sound quality when I post on Soundclou... (read more)
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Just listened to Don't Give Up

Very, very nice. And I never just say things like that just to be nice.

Sounded good on my monitors, headsets and even the big rig.  (Gotta say I think the Klipsch S4s are amazing. A Little hot on the bass but that can be dealt with by backing them out of the ear just a tad).

The only comment I have - and this may a subjective choice thing or a source issue - is that the cymbals seem more spread out than the rest of the kit?  (And this kit sounds good. The one on Mike's thread sounds bad to me especially the toms and snare top. Not easy to work with)

Curious how does Soundcloud sound to you?  It seems it diminishes the treble and soundstage to me.
    Upvote (0)  
Myself as well! I find it very interesting that we seem to be in a common ground, although from different starting places. Your thoughts are very refreshing, to approach it primarily as a listener, and second as a musician. Also, keep in mind, I am at work at the moment so I don't have time to listen to your work in much detail at the present, so I was commenting on the general vibe of what I picked up.
    Upvote (0)  
Hey no problem. I am between job and have the time unfortunately.

And I agree the commonality from two different perspectives is great.  You are not common amongst your peers.
    Upvote (0)  
ok, posts are little out of sequence! this is the first time I have used soundcloud, but I tend to agree with you. Normaly I use dropbox, but my account was suspended due to too much traffic. I have some session that I have that people must be downloading as well, so I used it. But, to me, it does something to files, and not good!  As far as the cymbals, I'll listen when I get home and see what I did, typically I pan far LR for the overheads, Kick, snare and HH are dead center, toms usually are far LR. Thanks for the nice words, it does mean alot! Like I stated earlier, I just now got the room where it needs to be, and it's been work, money and patience!!!!

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