4. At what point in your workflow do you think about the issue of final level output? To what extent does that relate to genre?
Luca Pretolesi, Electronic: “Level output relates to genre a lot. Styles like trap, dubstep, or hard electro need compression, limiting, and clipping in order to translate certain ways, and are a part of the sound versus something that requires more dynamics like house music or pop future bass. I have my own techniques to reach the RMS levels that I want, so I’m not really worried about that until the final stage. Mostly I try to make sure that at the beginning of the mastering process I control the crest factor on the actual track. So I use a multiband, for example, to control peaks and to have a more level overall master by the time I get to the end.”
Bob Olhsson, Acoustic/Jazz: “Again, context.”
Darcy Proper, Acoustic/Singer-Songwriter: “Very early. It is one of the first aspects I try to determine as I start working because it can have such a big impact on the workflow.
“It’s a high priority in my work. Despite streaming normalization, this still seems to be a big issue with clients, even in singer-songwriter and jazz genres.
“[To what extent does that relate to genre?] Even in the singer-songwriter genre, I have still not encountered an artist who was not concerned with being ‘loud enough to compete.’ This is a shame, of course, because that genre can suffer terribly when heavily over-limited to achieve loudness. In spite of the acoustic nature of singer-songwriter material, it seems that a very ‘unnatural/over-processed’ sound has become the norm, particularly with younger artists.
“In acoustic jazz, I have had a handful of clients who prioritized dynamics over loudness, but still, in most cases, it seems to be a concern—although certainly not as over the top as for rock, pop, rap, modern R&B, and EDM.”
Dan Millice, Rap/Hip-Hop: “[I think about final level output] throughout the entire process from beginning to end. Most clients in this genre ask me to ‘make it knock’ or ‘make it as loud as you can without distorting.’ I get this request often.
Michael Bishop, Classical: “[I think about final level output] at the very beginning of the mastering process. Preservation of (or at least the impression of) good dynamic range is very important. I need to know where I’ll end up before I begin.
“[To what extent does that relate to genre?] Most classical artists want dynamic range to be represented properly because that’s where much of the ‘drama’ of the performance comes from. However, they also want to have good playback presence in the final master. A great deal of work is done to preserve the impression of the performed dynamics and to sometimes further create crescendos/decrescendos where they didn’t exist.”
Adam Ayan, Pop: “[I think about final level output] right at the beginning, going hand and hand with EQ.
“[To what extent does that relate to genre?] For some genres, a certain amount of level is an expectation, though it seems these days that loud is an expectation of all genres.”
David Glasser, Folk/Bluegrass: “I’m thinking about final level from the beginning. Sometimes this involves matching a reference recording cited by the artist; most times it’s a judgement call. I EQ listening through a limiter, but don’t print the limiter until the end, giving the opportunity to fine-tune the final level, as well as capturing a mastered, un-limited version.
“It is often related to genre: acoustic music artists (bluegrass, jazz, etc.) are not as likely to demand as high a level as rock.”
Paul Blakemore, Jazz: “I think about level from the very beginning. I pick a target dynamic range and try to make the entire album work within that range. Sometimes I must revise the initial target for the best results.
“Almost all of the music I work on is for commercial release, so appropriate volume is a very high consideration. However, overall volume is entirely genre specific. You would never master a classical album the same as a modern R&B album. You would never master an Americana album the way you master a contemporary jazz album, etc.”
Cem Oral, Dance/Electronic: “Regarding EDM, it’s genre dependant on how loud it needs to end up.”
Alex Psaroudakis, Electronic: “It directly relate to genre, and I think about it at the beginning. I have three position for my monitoring:
“1st: classical, movies, Spotify masters (highest volume)
“2nd: pop, rock, R&B, reggae, country, rap
“3rd: EDM, metal, dubstep (lowest volume)
“Those three different monitoring volumes guide the final loudness of the master. I also check the VU, but mostly rely on the monitoring volume.”
Mike Bozzi, Rap: “Early stages.”
Jeff LeRoy, Classical: “We almost exclusively use peak normalization, and apply it to the first presentation to the artist / re-apply it to subsequent mastering revision rounds. This is often the most dramatic change for the artist, with other revisions being more nuanced. It’s especially important to be thinking about track-by-track level output at the onset of mastering because of the nature of classical pieces (ex: full movements intended to be quieter/louder) and in instances where multiple pieces were recorded/produced at different sessions and are ‘compiled’ into one album. As simple as peak normalization can be, it’s of critical importance that this approach is used by in large.”
David V.R. Bowles, Classical: “When I’m recording; after editing/compilation/noise reduction. In general, vocal or living composer repertoire has greater dynamic range.”
Gavin Lurssen, No Genre Selected: “[I think about final level output] right from the beginning stages of calculating gain structure. It is such a strong color of the sound that in my rig that it needs to be considered from the get-go. It’s a high priority. Every genre has a level of expectation from the fans at any given place in the timeline of what is currently being released.”