So Dynamic Range Day has come around again. Once again, thanks and respect to Ian Shepherd for conceiving it, running it every year and generally flying the flag for more dynamic music.
For today’s blog I’ll presume we are conversant with the concept that as you make a recording louder you decrease the dynamic range of the music. This can have very pleasant results in the case of some tasteful buscompression, or some very unpleasant results in the form of hyper-compression and limiting on a lot of modern records.
In a few days I’m going to Mumbai for a week to spend some time with my Bolllywood clients, visit the studios, catch some music, eat lots of fine Indian food and hopefully pick up some new clients.
To set the scene, here’s a song we mastered recently from a movie called Highway, composed by AR Rahman.
The irony of going to India just after Dynamic Range Day is that they don’t actually believe in dynamic range there – when we master Bollywood soundtrack albums we are asked to make them louder than any other genre we ever master, except perhaps Nigerian hip-hop.
While UK and Western artists, producers, mastering engineers and music fans are debating how to reverse the tide of over-compression, and the average volume of Western releases has backed off a bit recently, the thirst for volume in India is driving the levels ever higher there.
Perhaps it’s because the cities in India are so noisy that you need to shout to be heard; perhaps it’s that Bollywood music has always had a reputation for being bright and in-your-face; perhaps it’s the boundless, unselfconscious enthusiasm that most Indians I meet have, just applied to volume! Whatever the reason, almost every commercial song that’s released in India is very loud indeed, and when we master songs for that market we have to match that volume to be competitive.
The down side of this, obviously, is that we have to push the volume significantly beyond where the songs instinctively feel good.
The up side isthat it does leave us with a slight competitiveadvantage – a lot of commercial releases that are mastered domestically in India sound like they have been mastered for volume first and sound quality second. There are plenty of examples of high profile film songs selling millions of copies with very clear distortion all over the track.
This means that when we approach mastering with sound quality as our first principle and with volume as the trick necessary to get the gig, we can come up with masters that are competitively loud in India but that still retain more of the original integrity of the song and the mix.
It takes longer – it’s harder work chasing down distortions, swapping limiters and converters and adjusting release times over and over – and the results usually feel like they’re a couple of decibels past their loudness sweet spot, but we do coax the best we can out of the songs at that volume, and our clients appreciate it.
Patakha Guddi, the song in the Youtube clip above, is a great example – most of the song is open and spacious and the music breathes – if you’re conversant with the TT Dynamic Range Meters, it hovers around 9-10dB of dynamic range, which happens to be the goal of the Dynamic Day Challenge. However the full-on rock section in the middle of the song has the same meters planted firmly at the rather loud 6dB, as per the client’s request.
Here is the Dynamic Range meter sitting at around 6dB for the heavier part of the track above.
So in conclusion, while ‘How I still have to make my records incredibly loud sometimes’ seems like rather a strange blog for Dynamic Range Day, Hafod Mastering still fully supports the principles of the campaign and we pledge to retain dynamics wherever we can and spread the good word!
I will also accept Ian Shepherd’s Dynamic Range Day Challenge and master my next record with a dynamic range of at least -10dB. Unless it’s for Bollywood, of course, in which case I won’t be allowed!