Posted on November 29, 2009 -
Over the past 7 or 8 years, record companies have adopted a way of thinking that basically boils down to louder = better. Many new albums have been ruined because they are “mastered” too loud. Rush’s “Vapor Trails” is a great example of this.
For the non technical folks, mastering is the process by which a finished, mixed tape of an artist’s song is then put through a series of refinements to make the sound a little more uniform for all listening situations. It is also at that stage that the “master” is created from which all copies are then produced.
In the early days of CD and digital sound, the process of converting analog sound to a digital signal was not as good as it is now. Also, coming out of the age of vinyl, where too loud a sound on vinyl could cause the needle to jump, CD’s tended to be mastered about the same volume as vinyl. The CD is capable of volume levels that are louder than vinyl.
But, rather than use technology to create a better sounding product, the record companies took a perspective that louder = better = more sales. In other words, the louder the product is, the more people will notice it.
The problem for those of us who enjoy music is that by making CD’s a whole lot louder, we are also losing dynamics and dimension. Music is by nature, supposed to have peaks of loudness. There needs to be contrast. A visual representation of what we should be hearing versus what we are getting out of newer CD’s would be aptly demonstrated IF I BEGAN TYPING IN ALL CAPS. THERE IS NO CONTRAST BETWEEN LOUD AND soft.
So, with Led Zeppelin’s “Mothership” we are now getting louder music at the expense of dynamics. Jimmy Page remastered the entire Zeppelin catalog in 1991 and did a great job of using the technology available at that time. Technology exists now that could expand and sweeten the work that Jimmy did, BUT NO – THE MATERIAL HAD TO BE MADE MUCH LOUDER in order to be more competitive in today’s market.
Competitive with what? I don’t know. It’s Led Zeppelin for crying out loud!
I really wish Jimmy would have taken a more active role in this new remaster job. (Yes, it does say he produced the tracks. He did – years ago. Producing is completely different from mastering – check the 90’s CDs where they additionally credit “remastering” to Jimmy Page and George Marino. Jimmy was not involved in the remastering this time around. It was done by John Davis)
Listen to “Trampled Underfoot” Listen to the Jimmy Page remaster from the early 90’s and then the “Mothership” remaster. Notice how the swirling guitar at the end of the keyboard solo seems to fade up, up, UP in loudness on the Jimmy Page remaster (it was mixed that way in 1975). On The “Mothership” the fade up is less dramatic. THAT’S BECAUSE YOU LOSE THOSE DYNAMICS WHEN MUSIC IS MASTERED TOO LOUD. Notice how when Bonzo crashes in to his cymbals on “Mothership”, the sound of the cymbals is breaking up. That’s because the sound is so loud, even the CD can’t reproduce it. That’s called clipping, basically. That’s where the peak is cut off because the signal is too loud. Imagine a mountain top just under a cloud. If you raise the mountain, you would lose sight of the peak in the cloud. That’s a visual for what happens to sound.
To hear how truly incredible a CD can sound, check out “Love” by The Beatles, the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab version of Yes “Fragile”, or the Tom Scholz remasters of “Boston” or “Don’t Look Back”.
Send Atlantic a message and avoid “Mothership”. Tell them we are tired of having OUR MUSIC PRESENTED TO US LIKE THIS. By the way, the abomination that is Rush “Vapor Trails” just happens to be on…Atlantic.