I’ll let you in on a secret. There will be a new XR1300 album in the new year. No more remixes or anything, but 13 brand new tracks!
As I was recording and mixing it, thoughts went back to two years ago when I released the second album, Surrender Is Not The Answer. At the time I was creating it, I was really looking for a noisy and gnarled sound. I was having some issues at the time (moving, unrequited love, “the real world,” etc) and was in a pretty bad mood. The sound of the first version was a reflection of how I was feeling inside. Unfortunately, things got a lot worse after that, but that’s for another post.
At the time I thought the album sounded good. I was pleased with it and its ultra compressed and ultra loud mix. It wasn’t until a few months later that I tried to listen to it again and thought it was an abomination. It had far too much high end and the results sounded like a mess. And not even a good mess. It literally hurt my ears.
A year later I remastered the album (which basically just involved me mixing the tracks and songs at much saner levels). And while the results no longer sound like the sonic annihilation I was originally going for, I thought it made for an infinitely better album. I was no longer embarrassed by the results and could actually listen to the songs again without killing my ears.
I would imagine some people think that mixing sounds too low sound wimpy and weak. And they might not be completely wrong. Though there is always the volume knob…
To show the difference between the original and remastered versions of Surrender Is Not The Answer, I present the waveforms of the song “Hiding On Planet Yuri” which was one of the more painful songs to listen to in its original incarnation. Obviously the one at top is the original version.
While the waveforms can never tell the entire story of a song, there is absolutely no reason why a song should be mixed that way. It’s a literal brick wall of noise that allows for no dynamics and is exhausting to listen to.
Also, it needs to be pointed out, when you mix that loud, you have no real peaks. All you get is clipping. Look at the image on the bottom and you’ll see actual peak points. The one on top is just a smooth level all the way across. That’s digital clipping. That’s what you want to avoid at all costs.
Of course, one could make a middle ground between the two. I could have made the remaster a few decibels louder and still had better dynamics. But I’d rather mix and master a song so the listener can make the song as quiet or loud as he or she desires. That, and I wanted the remaster job to sound completely different without actually changing the music.
And that is why mastering is an important part of your final product.
Far too much music is mastered hot these days. I’ve talked about the loudness war before. Most products out there is nowhere near as loud as I mixed my album (which was louder in spots than Iggy Pop’s dismal remix of Raw Power), but few if any sound like the way I master things now. Hopefully things will change now that most online music services normalize sound levels.