Matt Colton wins Music Producer’s Guild ‘Mastering Engineer of the Year’ award

So our mastering engineer Ray Staff didn’t win the ‘Mastering Engineer of the Year’ award that he was short-listed for. Guess that copy of Honey and Lava got lost in the post.

But we can at least boast that Matt Colton did. And last year Matt, as well as mastering releases by Coldplay, James Blake and George Michael, helped us and Ray out by sending me some files when Ray was away. I expect that explains why the judges gave him the award. He was very efficient and courteous, and seemed a thoroughly pleasant guy when I met him at Air (this was before his recent move to Alchemy). That sort of thing cuts a lot more ice with me than mastering Coldplay, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to find out that the judges agreed.

Another reason why vinyl is still doing well…

The BBC reports on the steady rise of vinyl in recent years.

Now, there are a few reasons why some people still like vinyl. Obviously one reason is that DJs like to play around with them. Another reason we often hear is that some people think they sound better than CDs. I agree that there is something really nice about the sound of a vinyl record. But what’s often not appreciated is that a large part of them sounding good — not all of it, but a significant part — is that with vinyl you can’t apply the sort of heavy limiting and compression to the audio that you can for a CD. If you do it causes problems with the playablity of the record.

(By ‘compression’ here I don’t mean compression in the sense of mp3-style data compression, where bits of the audio are thrown away to make the digital file smaller. I’m talking about applying a ‘compressor‘ or ‘limiter’ — a bit of studio gear which stops the loud bits of the audio being so loud, thus allowing the audio signal as a whole to be turned up — at the mastering stage)

I’ve banged on before on this blog about how the modern practise of using heavy compression and limiting in mastering is generally a bad idea, as although it makes tracks sound louder, it reduces the dynamic range of music, which makes the tracks sound boring and fatiguing after a while (and we didn’t apply much limiting to our album Honey and Lava). But if you use vinyl you’re automatically prevented from overdoing the compression/limiting. This means that modern albums that are released on both CD and vinyl have to be mastered differently. And that’s one reason, possibly the main reason, why some people swear that album X sounds better on the vinyl version than on the CD version. It’s also one reason why vinyl albums from the 70’s sound so good. Okay, maybe the music was better then. But maybe it’s because — or also because — the music hasn’t been limited to death. You can listen to vinyl albums from the 70s for hours, even ones with music you don’t much care for, and played loudly, without thinking after a while ‘Please turn this off, my ears need a rest’.

This isn’t my idea, by the way. I first heard this claim made by Hugh Robjohns, Sound on Sound magazine’s resident tech guru. I think our mastering engineer Ray Staff may have also said this to me. Part of the sound of vinyl is the sound of a lighter touch with the limiter.

Maps of the past

It Bites’ album Map of the Past arrived recently. On the cover was stuck a list of tour dates. And this reminded me of something that drives me nuts. (Well, all right, slightly annoys me). Every second band, venue or promoter webpage I go to (and even some festival pages) lists some exciting upcoming gig, but the date never mentions the year! This, of course, wouldn’t matter if bands and venues and promoters and festivals never folded, or if, when they did fold, they put a note on their web page to this effect. But of course bands, venues, promoters and festivals fold all the time, or they just run out steam, and they let their web pages just stay there, for years and years, with that exciting gig from 3 years ago still up there on the front page. And it’s up to you to work out whether this gig really is upcoming, or some ancient relic of history, by consulting a calendar to see if the date matches up with the day of the week. But then some of these web pages don’t even mention a day of the week! It’s just ‘Gig on June 18 at The Flying Monkey’, a date a suspiciously long way off. So you have to look up The Flying Monkey’s webpage to see if that gig is on this year. But The Flying Monkey’s webpage does the same thing! No years, and sometimes no day of the week. So then you have to do some more detective work. Not hard detective work, sure, but a time-waster when it happens over and over. So thank you, defunct band that couldn’t be bothered to update their web page when the bass player went to Dubai and they never found anyone else.

So if you’re a current band who really do have an exciting gig coming up at The Flying Monkey in June of this year, please put “2013” in the date (and the day of the week, to save me having to look that up as well). Because if you don’t, I might just decide that you’re probably no more, and that this gig is a ‘map of the past’. (And if your main page is a MySpace page, then I’m unlikly to even visit, because I know there’s a 90% probability that I will find on it the words “Last Login: 23/8/2009”.)

So what was on the It Bites sticker? A list of tour dates with no year and no days of the week listed! I’m going to presume that these are 2012 dates, because that’s when the album was released. But what a shame if they were 2013 dates, and nobody realized?