Need Mastering?
Learn more now
© 2024 Fix Your Mix. All rights reserved.

Archive for the ‘The Music Industry’ Category

Use Bandcamp To Release Dynamic Versions Of Your Mixes

Posted by Keith Freund On March - 20 - 20103 COMMENTS

For a thorough explanation of dynamic range and the “loudness war,” read: An Explanation of The Loudness War That Even Your Dad Will Understand. But here’s the gist: in order to make a mix louder, mastering engineers have to increase the volume of the softest points in the music to be closer to the loudest points. This is called decreasing the dynamic range.


From what I understand, the idea is to protest the loudness war, raise awareness, and ultimately persuade others to join the effort to preserve dynamics in future recordings, without the fear of being quieter than everyone else’s record.


As musicians and audio engineers, we bitch and moan about a lot of things that 98% of the population really doesn’t care about. But we got them to hate Auto-Tune, didn’t we? While it may be a tougher sell, the “Loudness War” could be next, even if on a smaller scale.

Personally, I’m not as averse to extreme mix compression as some engineers are, but I certainly appreciate big dynamics when it makes sense. The problem is that a bigger dynamic range means lower average loudness (RMS). And loudness is one of the few things non-musicians notice about our line of work. (They only notice it when it’s too quiet, which apparently makes the song sound “amateur” to them.) is proposing that artists release more dynamic recordings and display their “Turn Me Up!” logo in the packaging.


But I’d like to suggest an alternative to experiment with:

Let your fans decide what they want using Bandcamp’s “hidden tracks” feature.

Bandcamp is by far the coolest and most artist-friendly online music retailer out there. It’s free to sign up, they take no percentage of your sales (except PayPal’s standard transaction fee), and it doesn’t require your fans to create an account in order to purchase your music. (More on Bandcamp at the bottom of this post.)

One of their coolest features is the “hidden tracks” option. This allows you to include songs that your fans won’t be able to preview or purchase individually.

So I’m proposing that you have your mixing or mastering engineer give you two passes for each song. One squashed to living hell and one that is on average about 3 dB less squashed to hell.

Now I know what you’re thinking. “But Keith, Stephanie Status Quo doesn’t know about dynamic range, won’t she just pick the louder versions and get confused about the other ones?” She may. But many of your fans will get curious and do some research. Perhaps you’ll explain it briefly in your liner notes. And if a bunch of artists do this, hardcore music fans will appreciate it, people will start talking about it, and eventually insist that their favorite artists include masters with some dynamic range. That is, if the masses come to a consensus that they don’t like the lack of dynamics in today’s recordings.

It also ties into this power shift in the music industry we’ve been experiencing–away from the major labels and towards the artists. The ‘suits’ mainly cared about whether you got hooked enough in the first few seconds to buy it, so A&R would push mastering engineers to their limits (although artists do this too now). Repeat listens didn’t matter much except for selling the next record. Artists, on the other hand, stand to gain much more if their record is your favorite, not something you forget a week later, because it brings you to their shows, gets you to buy merch–pots that labels don’t have their hands in. If people become more informed on this issue, certain types of artists may rethink how loud they want their record to be, in terms of longevity vs immediate attention grabs.

A Philosophical Counterargument

Another, more subjective counterargument, could be the philosophical one–that artists must be (or at least seem) decisive in how they intend their music to be. This may be valid, but perhaps my proposal would still work as a transitional step. The more awareness that is spread, the less necessary it will be to include louder versions. Plus, blogs will totally blog you for being so innovative, so that’ll make up for it.

I hope some of you will try this out and let us know what the response is. And send links! – [email protected]

The Soundcheck Solution

My solution comes from the artist’s end, Ian’s comes from the artist+listener+engineer end, but there is actually another type of entity that can effect change in this arena: the companies who control the manner in which people listen to music. Audio software developers and hardware manufacturers.

Apple has already helped in the fight against overcompressed records by enabling their Soundcheck functionality by default in iTunes. Soundcheck calculates the average (RMS) loudness of every song in your library and adjusts them accordingly so that all songs will be the same average volume. This means Death Magnetic gets turned down and your record stays the same–but with more punch and dynamics.

More About

Here’s why Bandcamp is the only existing online music store that can compete against iTunes and Amazon MP3:

  • Fans don’t have to create an account to purchase music.
  • Flexible sales options:
    • Free
    • Free if the fan provides their email address
    • Artist sets the price
    • Fans name their own price
    • Artist sets a minimum price, but fans can pay more if they choose (Bandcamp says that on average, fans pay 50% more than the minimum price unless you give them a free option)
  • No approval or wait time–songs can be purchased immediately after they have been uploaded.
  • Fans can choose from a number of file formats (MP3, AAC/M4A, FLAC, etc.)
  • No signup fees
  • No percentage taken (except PayPal transaction fees, approx 5%)
  • No ads
  • Embeddable streaming player with advanced song stats (including full vs partial song plays)
  • Allows you to include multimedia content
  • Can optionally embed your lyrics and artwork into the files themselves, which
  • Clean layout. No Myspace-esque clutter or distractions (see Miss Geo’s Bandcamp page)
  • Allows you to create “download codes” for promotional offers and digital sales in person
  • Hidden. Freaking. Tracks.

*One of my first audio-related memories was when I first bought The Cure’s Disintegration. I bought the CD, sat down on my living room couch, popped it into my CD player, put on headphones, and got lost in a swirl of effects and extended instrumental intros as I listened to the album in its entirety (okay technically I fell asleep but it was a great nap). As I listened, I stumbled upon something peculiar in the liner notes:

“This album was mastered to be played loud, so TURN IT UP!”

Now in those days I didn’t know anything about engineering, so I grew curious about what it meant to master an album to be played loud. In the end I decided it was just some BS their audio engineer told them that they decided to run with. And who doesn’t want their fans to blast their album at full volume?

Of course I now know that the reason is because the album had a very large dynamic range and therefore had a lower average loudness (RMS) than other releases at the time.

Re-thinking the Death of Record Labels: Gigging

Posted by Fix Your Mix On September - 22 - 20092 COMMENTS

cave01A friend of mine is an exceptionally talented bass player.  He’s played all over the world with musicians from Michael Brecker to Andy Timmons and he’s also an excellent storyteller.  One day we were hanging out and he started reminiscing about this gig he played during apartheid in South Africa.  He began by saying that he had this six-month contract to play as the house band at a nightclub.


Everybody listening had to stop him before he made it through his first sentence:  A six-month contract to play at a venue?


We were stunned.


“Was that just the way they did it in Africa back then?”


“No, that’s the way everybody used to do it back then.”


Thirty years ago, young local groups were actually contracted to play at a venue for numerous dates at a time.  Allegedly, you could actually make a decent living doing it too.  You’d play a bunch of small gigs and build a local reputation for yourself or open for a bunch of bands as they passed through town and get some exposure to managers and label reps on the way.  


My wheels were spinning from his comment and I missed the rest of the anecdote (fortunately, like all great musicians, he’s prone to repeating his best stories so I got many other opportunities).  This just seemed so crazy in comparison to what is going on in the live music world today.   Another friend of mine, a very talented sax player, just got back from a gig up in New York and told me that insanely talented, well-connected musicians are playing at venues in New York for a free meal…


Look at the picture above from the Cavern Club: “THE BEATLES PLAYED HERE 292 TIMES”… 


The musical landscape has changed dramatically over the past thirty years.  Once upon a time, musicians were able to be musicians and support themselves with their music through a fertile, logical local system.  Now the clubs are gone, the gigs pay so little that they aren’t even worth the gas, radio doesn’t care about the local scene any more, and (as previously discussed) it’s pretty hard to make it big unless you are already big in the first place.


During an interesting segment on NPR’s All Songs Considered, Carrie Brownstein and a panel of music bloggers discussed whether or not labels were useful in discovering new music.  In a brief aside, Carrie mentioned that the label Kill Rock Stars almost passed on her band, electroclash darlings Sleater-Kinney, because they thought it was “just a side project”.


Now in Brownstein’s case, the group was a side project to her other band Excuse 17, but there is a prevailing philosophy among the decision-makers at labels that there should be some considerable measure of success derived specifically from the band in question in order for it to merit consideration.


That’s pretty difficult to do in today’s musical climate.  I’ve always encouraged people to not define themselves by their day job—do enough to pay the bills and support your passions.  The music business is now saying that that’s not enough.  You have to be professional before going pro.


The problem is that we no longer have a system where amateur musicians can cultivate and support themselves in the process of turning professional.  The issue is partly one of supply and demand.  Back in the 60s, venues wanted bands and there simply weren’t that many out there.  It was more difficult to even get an instrument, let alone be good enough at it to play for two hours.


All their success aside, Ringo Star and Mick Fleetwood would each tell you that they are not the most talented drummers (Mac Fleetwood doesn’t even know what 4/4 time is and he labored to explain that fact in Ken Robinson’s The Element).  The fact is that they were the guys in their local area with a drum kit.  Drums at the time were exceptionally expensive and too large for most in urban England to store.  If you had the instrument, you were in a band.  If you were in a band of any caliber, you were likely to land a gig playing at some venue with some regularity.


Every band needs somewhere to play.  Unfortunately, these days venues are so financially strapped that they’d often rather put the iPod on shuffle than hire four teenagers and a sound guy.  Consequently, the venues with live music are overrun with demos of musicians willing to play for peanuts.


In a world where it is virtually impossible to support yourself as an amateur musician, labels are left looking to people who are already famous to fill out their rosters: solo artists from previous hit-making bands like Gavin and Gwen, celebutantes, and contestants from reality TV.


Some amateur bands are lucky enough to catch a label’s attention and they land one of the precious few spots on a national tour playing a hundred dates with one band.  Obviously these gigs are rare, but they also reduce exposure to only the fans of a certain band.


It has been said that all business is local.  In the Digital Age, there is such a focus put on national and global considerations that the local concerns fall by the wayside.  But ultimately, a return to a fertile local music environment is what will repair the music business.  Labels have an interest in seeing musicians cultivated in their home environments, winning over a local demographic, and climbing a logical ladder toward regional and national success.


This was the model that worked thirty years ago and I believe it can still work with some adjustments for the digital age.  In many ways and to their detriment, record labels are stuck in the old ways of conducting business.  In this instance, I fear that they have overlooked a useful lesson from the past.  Emphasizing a fertile local music scene and a logical progression from there toward a national spotlight is what encourages a diverse and creative musical landscape.  There is no one better suited to make this happen than the labels themselves. Pays You To Buy Music

Posted by Keith Freund On June - 2 - 2009COMMENT ON THIS POST

If you read music news blogs you know that the music industry is going through an identity crisis trying to find “sustainable models” and other funny business terms. I just came across an online music store which seeks to capitalize on the “I knew about XYZ artist before they got big” phenomenon. Their slogan is catchy– Buy Music. Make Money.”

popcutsThey sell downloads for independent artists and it works kind of like a legal pyramid scheme with social networking built in. For every person that buys a song after you do, you get a portion of what they paid. My assumption is that they’re banking on the idea that they’ll make it up in volume. In other words, by paying consumers even a nominal amount, so many more people will be buying music from Popcuts and so many more artists will be selling their music through Popcuts that it will more than pay for itself. Will this work in practice? Who knows. Humans are creatures of both habit and trust. They’re targeting serious music fans, most of whom probably already have a routine way of buying music. And frankly the offer seems too good to be true. But they’ve thrown in an added incentive: the bragging rights of being able to verify that you did, in fact, discover an artist before all your friends.*

It’s an interesting concept, but in my view the sink-or-swim question is how much money? The artists get to choose any percentage of their money to give back to the fans, so that answer remains unclear.

One thing I like about is that they target the consumer. The ad I clicked on featured a collage of childhood photos of music stars and the text read: “You knew about them before they were cool. Show it off.” This provides a stark contrast to the multitude of budding online music retailers who cater exclusively to the artist, which screams, “I know some rich dude who wants to put his name behind the Next Big Thing even though he has no understanding of the music industry whatsoever, which is why I was able to swindle him and his rich pals with this shortsighted idea,” or even, “I heard chicks dig entrepreneurs so I figured I’d give this a shot!”

Popcuts, on the other hand, has attracted some legitimate attention with Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante selling his solo work along with indie rockers Piebald.

UPDATE: Just checked out Popcuts on Twitter (@popcuts) and saw they’re also selling a record Phil and I worked on, Break The Silence by American Idol finalist Jon Peter Lewis.

breakthesilenceBuy Break The Silence on

Will Popcuts become the new CDBaby? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

*Ah, high school.

Noisettes (The Water Cooler)

Posted by Keith Freund On April - 6 - 2009COMMENT ON THIS POST

noisettesArtist: Noisettes
Album: What’s the Time Mr. Wolf?
Released: 2007
Sound: Indie Rock
For Fans Of: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Janelle Monae
Recommended Tracks: “Scratch Your Name,” “Don’t Give Up”

To get a feel for Noisettes, you have to start by watching frontwoman Shingai Soniwa’s electrifying performance in their music video for “Scratch Your Name.” This is classic case of a lead vocalist taking an act from good to great.

I saw them play a small Brooklyn night club a few summers ago. The show unexpectedly got combined with Battles at the last minute. (This was right around the time Mirrored came out, one of my favorite albums in the last 5 years.) The energy was unreal throughout the night. Since then, they’ve have toured with Bloc Party, TV on the Radio, and Muse.

While their sound is not “revolutionary” per se, Noisettes doesn’t particularly sound like anyone else. It would be a disservice to compare them to the decidedly darker and grimier Yeah Yeah Yeahs (though Shingai does list Karen O as an influence).

When Janelle Monae came out last year, I immediately thought “hey, she’s ripping off Shingai’s look,” (although she’s equal part Andre 3000). Musically, though, Janelle is a solid Motown-era soul singer while Shingai is an epic, class-of-her-own, wouldn’t-want-to-challenge-her-to-a-thumb-wrestling-match rock vocalist. Her signature is when her voice squeaks in just the right place at exactly the right time. You have to hear it to understand.

noisettes-s“Don’t Upset The Rhythm,” the second single from their yet-to-be-released sophomore album, has reached #2 on the UK Singles chart after being featured in a Mazda commercial. This track, along with the other single released from their upcoming sophomore album, ironically seem to indicate a directional shift for Noisettes towards a more processed, dance-y, Janelle Monae-esque sound. Guess indie rock wasn’t paying the bills. I will reserve judgment, however, until the new album drops.

Wild Young Hearts comes out April 20th on Universal.

Noisettes on Myspace

Sonic Deconstruction: MGMT “Kids”

Posted by Fix Your Mix On March - 30 - 2009COMMENT ON THIS POST

Sonic Deconstruction is a monthly feature where we spend an entire week analyzing one song from every possible angle: personnel, instrumentation, composition, recording, mixing/mastering, and production. Check back every day this week for the next installment!


mgmt3kh3 Perhaps the joke is on us. According to their interview on, it wasn’t until Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden began writing pop songs as a joke that they started to realize their music-making potential. Writing under the name “The Management,” even their moniker was a part of the gag—a jab at corporate manufactured pop with the end-game to “sell out as quickly as possible.” We’ve all heard that same tired construct a thousand times in half-baked collegiate pseudo-comedy so even though they don’t get points for back-story originality, they do take home the prize for execution as their efforts have snowballed into genuine pop glory. Somewhere along the way the Brooklyn duo, now performing as MGMT, have forgotten the punchline and are enjoying the kind of global success not known to very many indie rock groups, serious or not.



MGMT is a peculiar entity combining an aged sonic sensibility with a somewhat naïve stage presence.

If you remember the 60s, you weren't there.  Or you weren't born of the two...

Critics often chide the youngsters for invoking a psychedelic persona that is worn like daddy’s oversized shirts. Even so, the group has certainly left their mark over the past year after earning accolades from, Rolling Stone, and the BBC. Oracular Spectacular has been a global hit and was named best album of 2008 by NME. Their simple but infectious hooks have become part of the pop culture collective unconscious after being featured on numerous television shows, movies, and video games. “Electric Feel” comes pre-loaded on iPods and even French president Nicolas Sarkozy realized the inertiatic power of the pop-synth in “Kids.”



In researching their satire, MGMT unwittingly found the formula for crafting a perfect pop tune. Perhaps their greatest discovery is how to not muck-up the mix with unnecessary complications. Their magnum opus, third single “Kids,” is a modern hit in the sense that it hearkens back to presently fashionable periods in music history. Combining the dancey rhythmic simplicity of disco with the melodic simplicity of monophonic-synth driven New Wave, the song earns high marks by resisting the temptation of cluttering the mix with unnecessary production ideas like chords.

You could try playing chords on the MiniMoog, but you would fail...

You could try playing chords on the MiniMoog, but you would fail...


While the group tours as a five piece, the entire record is presumably the brainchild of the twosome plus indie rock super-producer Dave Fridmann. Fashioned over a period of time at his live-in upstate New York studios, Fridmann’s mature acuity is immediately perceptible. His guidance is especially evident when the album is measured against MGMT’s live show and even their pre-producer EP. His sounds are dense yet spacious and provide gritty credibility to what might be an otherwise adolescent romp.



Given the simplicity of their production implementation, MGMT would seem to be the perfect case study in how anyone can craft a terrific pop tune. I mean, if two stoned college kids (armed with only drum machines and synths) can do it as a joke and get signed to Columbia Records, then what’s stopping you?



Watch out for Part II of the Sonic Deconstruction: MGMT “Kids” saga with tomorrow’s contribution–an in-depth analysis of the song’s compositional elements!!

The Bells of 1 2 by Sol Seppy

Posted by Keith Freund On March - 23 - 20091 COMMENT

bellsof12Artist: Sol Seppy
Album: The Bells of 1 2
Released: 2006
Sound: Dreamy Indie Rock
For Fans Of: Sneaker Pimps, The Cardigans, Radiohead
Recommended Tracks: “Slo Fuzz,” “Enter One”

The Bells of 1 2 is among the greatest indie rock albums you’ve never heard. I have yet to meet a Sol Seppy fan here in the states, though based on her Myspace play count it is safe to say she has a fanbase somewhere out there.

Former Sparklehorse member Sol Seppy (Sophie Michalitsianos) is a classically trained Australian living in the UK who writes, sings and performs all of her own music. To top it off, she recorded her incredible-sounding debut herself in her home studio (though mixing is credited to both Paul Antonel and herself).

I hesitate to call this album “rock” because half the songs feature only piano and vocals. I hesitate to label it “singer/songwriter” because it is so beautifully orchestrated, layered and produced into something enormous. I hesitate to say her slow songs are “ballads” because they come from a completely different emotional space than any ballad I’ve ever heard before.

I hesitate to use these labels because they connote a familiar emotional content, where Sol Seppy’s brilliance lies in her ability to seem at once down-to-earth and other-worldly. While the stripped-down arrangements and soft vocals constitute a very vulnerable and human element, ambient piano and sparse chords, particularly Sus2 and Maj7(no3), make her music seem aloof or foreign: shoegaze for the 21st century.


The album’s mood swings between slow, brooding-yet-hopeful piano and kitschy synth-pop reminiscent of television commercials for compact cars. (The chorus to “Come Running,” for example, calls to mind an Audi being driven on the side of a snow-covered mountain.)

In my personal favorite, “Slo Fuzz,” Sol Seppy takes the most cliché of all the scales, C major, and creates something that is at once beautiful, amazing and tragic, like a lone astronaut projected into the atmosphere.

Only about half of the tracks have drums and they are programmed, though convincingly real at times (particularly the track “Come Running”). On the songs without percussion, she forgoes a click track altogether, using tempo changes as a form of dynamics.

The Bells of 1 2 has received little critical recognition, excepting a 7.1 rating on Pitchfork and her song “Gold” being featured on the CBS series Without a Trace. Sol Seppy has not updated her Myspace page in about six months, so we can only hope her new album will be finished soon.

Buy The Bells 1 2 directly from her independent label, Gronland Records (CD or MP3).

Sol Seppy on Myspace

† by Justice

Posted by Keith Freund On March - 9 - 2009COMMENT ON THIS POST

Artist: Justice
Released: 2007
Genre: Electro/Dance
For Fans Of: Daft Punk, MGMT, Ratatat
Stand-Out Tracks: “DVNO,” “D.A.N.C.E.”


After much deliberation, I’ve decided to kick off our Monday music reviews with something you can dance to: French duo Justice. Their album is a mix between electro, hipster disco and good ole’ fashion pop with samples (probably intended to be ironic) from Three 6 Mafia to Devo to the Brothers Johnson.

Sonically, the brightness of shocked me upon first listen. It was mastered to be as sparkly as the brightest techno record out there, yet they’re more associated with the hipster/electro scene than anything going on in Europe. It sounds like a harmonic exciter set to STUN in the range of 12 kHz and above.

The arrangements are amazing throughout the whole album. They come together in a way that I full band really can’t, because the depth of instrumentation and tonality is limitless with electronic music, especially sampled music. Chopped-up sounds cut in and out at will, creating a dense harmonic landscape which is too fast-paced to comprehend until you’ve listened over and over again. It is a mix of the familiar (e.g. slap bass, disco-style drums, catchy vocals) and the foreign (e.g. distorted found sounds, granular synthesis).

I contend that that their crossover success (from Eurodance to the American indie scene) is owed to two things:

1) Vintage samples. Had they used modern keyboard drum kits and synth patches, Justice would not have made an impact on American pop music, nor would they have been nominated for a Grammy.

Cross by Justice

Instead, they took a cue from American hip hop (the digging in the crates aesthetic) by using lofi drum hits, funky basslines and retro synth sounds.

2) The role of the snare drum. The snare plays a much more significant role here than in a typical techno album. It is up front in the mix and has a considerable amount of low end.

Justice also has an impressive remix resume, including N*E*R*D, Justin Timberlake, Franz Ferdinand, U2 and a 2009 Grammy-winning remix of MGMT’s “Electric Feel.” No plans for any new Justice releases yet, but I will post when they are announced.

Buy the album from the music group that outranks the US Department of Justice on Google.

The Loudness War & Metallica’s “Death Magnetic”

Posted by Keith Freund On December - 17 - 20081 COMMENT

When Nirvana’s Nevermind came out, it was touted as one of the loudest albums ever released. Today, if that album came onto your iTunes playlist after Death Magnetic, you’d have to turn your speakers up considerably to hear it.*

Death Magnetic album coverPsychological studies have shown that a recording’s loudness dramatically affects how much people like a song and how likely it is that a person will stop on a certain radio station. The solution? Limiting: a process which effectively turns up the quietest parts of a recording, automatically raising its overall loudness. A limiter is one of the last pieces in the mastering signal chain and arguably the most important.

Done properly, limiting can add energy to a song. Taking it too far a la Death Magnetic, however, may cause ear fatigue, a subconscious phenomenon akin to reading under dim light, straining the listener’s ears and making him or her want to turn off the music after extended listening periods.

Metallica‘s latest has received a flood of criticism and media attention regarding the presence of over-limiting and digital clipping, an unpleasant-sounding Guitar Hero for Wiidistortion that occurs when a sound medium is overloaded beyond its volume limit.

The audio community has been debating the so-called “loudness war” for years but never before have consumers been able to hear the difference for themselves. Enter Guitar Hero: World Tour, which allows users to access an unmastered version of Death Magnetic – and it sounds a lot better.

Mastering engineer Ted Jensen defends himself:

“In this case the mixes were already [over-limited] before they arrived at my place […] I would never be pushed to overdrive things as far as they are here. Believe me I’m not proud to be associated with this one, and we can only hope that some good will come from this in some form of backlash against volume [being seen as the most important thing].”

It is hard to say who is responsible. The engineers who worked on the album have otherwise stellar track records. In any case, Death Magnetic may represent a new kind of revolution: one that gets quieter.

Personally, I find that clipping can benefit some recordings, but this new Metallica record took it too far. Add to this the fake-sounding drums and we’re left with one of the worst sound major recordings in recent years. What do you think? And to those of you who aren’t audio engineers: did you notice?

Also note: Another result of the loudness war is that many record labels have released “digitally remastered” versions of classic albums in order to compete with today’s recordings. If you want to compare Nevermind to Death Magnetic, use the original release for full effect.

*Soundcheck notwithstanding.

Sources: Tape Op (Nov/Dec ’08),


Featured Columns