President/Editor/Publisher: Kerry J Haps
Vice-President: Michael Kolar
Secretary: Chris Cwiak
Volume 24 Number 9
EARS meets (With the Beatles) at Chicago Mastering Service
3052 W. Carrol Ave., Chicago
Tuesday, September 29th, 7:30pm
Help! It's been a Hard Days Night and the Beatles (are again) For Sale. It would Please Please Me if you would put one Rubber Soul in front of the other as you cross Abbey Road, hop in your Yellow Submarine, leaving your Revolver behind, Sgt. Pepper, and Let It Be that I might think of a way to work The White Album into this sentence.
That's right. Call it a great idea or just the lowest hanging fruit this month, but we're taking this moment to gather and take a serious listen to just what Apple Corps./EMI has finally done with the Beatles catalog. The plan is to give the new Beatles Remasters a close listen, up against the original CD releases, the MFSL Vinyl reissues, and anything else interesting we can get our hands on.
One thing we're missing, by the way, is the new mono releases. If you happen to be the fortunate owner of the new mono box set, drop me a line and let's arrange to get it to CMS and ready for A/Bing...
Obviously we're not going to all fit in the mastering room at the same time, so we'll probably have to rotate through, I'm sure there'll be plenty of great conversations to have in the lobby/lounge areas, but hey, if you happen to have the new Beatles Rock Band and the game platform to play it on and are willing to bring it, let us know that too. :)
Bob Weston and Jason Ward have graciously opened their fine facility, Chicago Mastering Service, to host us for this one. If you were there two years ago, you know what a fine facility this is and what a treat it will be to hear these records in such a room. Last time around, it was one of the latest meetings we've ever had, simply because people didn't want to leave the sweet spot! :)
The address is 3052 W. Carroll Ave., which is between Kedzie and Sacramento and 2 blocks North of Lake St. If taking the CTA, take the Green Line to the Lake St. stop. If driving, take the Sacramento exit off the Ike (I-290). Theres plenty of street parking available.
See ya there! -KJH
EARS's annual BBQ at Marshall Terry and Stu Kaletsch's Stereophonic Studios on August 25th was a great time. We had a good turnout. There was good food and drink. It was good to see the recent developments at Stereophonic. Whether it was conversations around the grill, a nice demo of a Kafel guitar amp, listening to tracks (including some nice stuff Stereophonic's done recently) or my favorites: meeting brand new EARS members and seeing some old ones that we hadn't seen in awhile, it was just the kind of good time only an EARS BBQ can bring. Big thanks to Sam Rodgers for expertly handling the grill, Michael Kolar for helping to procure the food and drink, Marshall and Stu for hosting in style, and to all who came out for a great EARS night, especially those who had the decency to RSVP. :) -KJH
Keep that last Tuesday, the 27th of October, open. We rarely let you down. -KJH
MT's Magical Mystery Tip
MMT #6 - A Brickwall Day's Night with Danny Leake
EARS Member and local legend Danny Leake recalls first entering the digital age. "I remember doing the first digital mixing and tracking sessions here in Chicago...we had all of this dynamic range! I was thinking of how much more we could do now - what we might be able to capture because of it. Sadly these days we're using only a fraction of the possible dynamic range because of the need for Hypervolume."
Records have been quieting down slightly in recent times, but the loudness war is still in full swing and he still receives mixes that he has to bring down by 6db or more just to not clip the outboard analog and tube mastering tools he uses. An advocate of matching volume levels when comparing pre and post-mastering, so that loudness doesn't become the factor that's noticeable, only after approval does he restore levels to see how loud it is.
"When clients say that they need their mixes louder, often times they mean they want them 'bigger'. Loud isn't better - bigger is better...and that's part of why I've enjoyed tape so much. Things tend to sound 'big' when other things are smaller, or have more depth in comparison. If everything is made loud, loud, loud, then the louder everything gets, the smaller everything seems." Leake also says that more and more often in the last 15 years, mixes have been arriving with lots of 2-buss full or even multi-band compression being added to give it that loudness and 'bigness' that everyone seems to crave, leaving little room for mastering to do it's thing. On the other hand he looks back fondly on the early Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers catalog and other records where that big, pumping, wall of compression and loudness was part of the effect, part of the bombast - and only added to the music.
"I always tend to start by asking the person: what's most important to you? Fidelity? Loudness? Snap? Bass? Then, I go from there."
So, what is "loud enough" in this new age of digital? "I usually have my meters hovering around +1 to +2 (RMS) for most mixes... some artists have wanted to go as loud as a Jay-Z record, and that was up at +6, +7, and they still came back afterwards and wanted it a little louder!" (For the record, with Danny's Dorrough's calibrated to 0 equalling -12dBFS, a mastered CD at +2 is -10dBFS RMS. A track at +7 is at -5dBFS RMS - only 5dB of dynamic transient range.)
It can get much louder than that, but Leake tries to let the EQ, not the volume level, do the work. The most frequent mastering problem he encounters? "People who mix through a subwoofer seem to never have their levels set right. If you can clearly hear and discern the sub, it's too loud. It should be felt and only barely heard. I get mixes where there just isn't any bass, and they want it knockin'. I ask them if they mixed through a sub and they're actually proud of it, not realizing it's not calibrated right or why that would cause a lack of bass."
On the role of the mastering engineer, "Some guys really feel that they are a part of the mixing process, and bring things out or fit things in or really change things up sonically. I do that when it's necessary, but most often I think of how I approach mastering as fine art restoration. When you're working with the Mona Lisa, you don't re-paint her - you just make her look amazing and refine what's already there."
Speaking of restoring fine art - the big buzz are these Apple Corps./EMI remasters of the Beatles catalog that have infiltrated everyone's ears and emptied their pocketbooks. When asked about what he's heard, Leake shared "I remember listening to the originals at Abbey Road in the 70's, and these re-issues are, to my memory, very close....as close as possible. Those remasters in the 80's were severely limited in fidelity due to the converter technology available then. Today, it's a radically different story."
Continuing, "There are two releases in the catalog, I believe they're 'Help' and 'Rubber Soul' that George Martin created new stereo mixes for back in the 80's, and those 80's digital versions are the only stereo versions that exist. So, on the remasters, it's a clear tonal difference between the albums that came from the tape, and the ones that were only passed on from the early 80's digital source." [Editor's note. The original '65 stereo mixes of "Help and "Rubber Soul" are on the mono box set.]
It sounds like Apple Corps./EMI is staying as true to the tapes as possible. "They've got McCartney and Ono and everyone right there beside them at Abbey Road doing this project, and they're also trying to convey that feeling of the vinyl record as much as possible."
How would these remasters possibly stack up against the legendary Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (MFSL) "Original Master Recording" issues of the catalog that were released in the 90's? "The (MFSL) pressings will absolutely kill the original vinyl, just in that the vinyl pressings themselves are on virgin vinyl, and that they also half-speed master. In comparison to the Apple Corps./EMI issues we're talking about...probably the main difference is that (MFSL) issues are focused on pressing a good vinyl, and Apple Corps./EMI is focused on making the CD remaster, but they should both be the cream of the crop."
A big, gracious thanks to Mr. Leake for not only being a great, active member of EARS, but letting this analog cowboy pick his brain on a lunch hour.
Finding the harmony between tape heads and hard drives...
There are endless good reasons to band together here as EARS. It can be whatever we want it to be. If you have any ideas for the EARdrum, our website, or future meetings, please email us. We still have a lot of great meeting plans lining up, some website plans, and a lot of good fresh energy and hopes for a more vibrant, participatory EARS, so of course we're very interested in your input on everything EARS. Please! :) - KJH
Our Archives are again up to date. Check out the website for that and more EARS info. Also, I'd like to complete our files with the pre-2001 EARdrums. By my calculations we're missing the first 16 years! (Now minus that first one.) I know Timothy Powell has a year or so on his Metro-Mobile website but that still leaves a lot missing. If you happen to have your old paper copies or files you could get to me, I would love to get them online for posterity. Let me know. - KJH
Notes about our Website, and our Logo
We've noticed that the website doesn't auto update in some web browsers. If you're looking for something (such as the latest EARdrum) and it looks like old info, try reloading the page. Also, I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that it's time for a bit of updating. We think EARS deserves a bit of a makeover and can't help but wonder who among us might actually double as a professional designer but with the necessary sensitivity to our audio world. Drop us a note if you'd like to consider helping us out with a new look for the website, logo, etc. -KJH
Thanks to all who support EARS through paying their dues. Just as a reminder, they're due yearly by the October meeting and this is a prerequisite for voting and joining us for the Holiday Party and BBQ in August (and occasionally things like the Grammy Party), but they're always welcome. As your participation is the higher priority, we typically deem dues paid within a few months before October to be for the coming year, but if you joined before, say July, you should consider that for the previous year and renew. (At $25.00, considering the value received, it's just not worth haggling beyond that.) Dues checks (or cash, but no credit cards) for $25.00 can be made out to EARS and given to any of our officers or sent to the following address:
Engineering and Recording Society of Chicago, C/O Eric Roth, Treasurer, PO Box 98, Highland Park, IL 60035-0098 - KJH
Its time again to be thinking about my least favorite subject, EARS politics. According to the Bylaws, nominations for president of EARS are to be held at the September meeting, so if youre a dues-paid member and want to nominate someone, Tuesdays the night. It seems like every year we have someone convinced that nominations are open until the moment of the election but the bylaws are very clear on this point, even as they're not on so many others. We're on a good roll and there's still much we hope to accomplish, so of course Id be happy to continue to serve for another year with basically the same team, but perhaps someone else wants to take the reigns for awhile? Now would be the time to make that known. -KJH
A (few) (more) word(s) from the Prez...
or (the) One After (090)909
Not much to say here this month. Things are going nicely for EARS. Membership's still steadily climbing, we've had some really great meetings recently, and when we've wanted for anything, like a good meeting idea, EARS' reputation and the good vibe we have going have made it easy to solve.
Personally, I've just finished a big Produce/Engineer album project, the discs should be in hand any day now. Danny Leake mastered it artfully, indeed, making me feel like I'd given him a Mona Lisa. Three more similar projects, one a double disc of really out there stuff that's going to be a real challenge and the other two thankfully fairly straight forward, are lining up and in pre-production. How the heck am I going to find time on top of a full time gig, teaching, and EARS? Well, of course, by hook or by crook, that's how, because that's what I love to do.
I'm quite excited about this month's meeting. What a thing! Let's just get together to seriously listen to the Beatles? Cool. And to get to do it at CMS. Nice.
And seriously. If you've got the mono box set. Bring it!
At your service,
Kerry J Haps