There were approximately forty attendees, and our conversation ranged from how to identify noise types in order to choose the best tools to address them to how to decide how much noise to leave in to achieve best results.
Jessica Thompson spent some time discussing how she thinks about noise in her work as a restoration engineer. She thinks of it as part of the program, and when looking at it through that lens, it is not always something to be gotten rid of, and almost never something to be completely eliminated. She talked about how noise can refer to a time in history. If recordings are documents, then noise is part of that snapshot in the way that parchment might be part of a historic document from centuries ago. It would look weird to see the US Constitution on printer paper! But she went beyond, indicating that the noise could add to the beauty of a recording.
We all agreed that in order to be able to effectively reduce noise, certain things are important:
We also touched on new machine learning informed tools that are bringing new approaches to the work.
Until fairly recently, we simply had to try to attack noise with steady state and broadband noise reducers or various types of interpolators. In the last few years, we have been able to use a class of tools called source separators (see RX 6 Advanced’s Deconstruct module) that intelligently separate a tonal signal from a noisy signal, or a sustained sound from a sound that has strong transients, and in separating them, play with levels and remix them.
Now we also are seeing machine learning provide yet another approach, whereby the machine can identify the signal to be maintained and reduce the level of everything else (see RX 6 Advanced’s Dialogue Isolate Module).
On the second day of the conference, we walked around the corner to Coast Mastering where Michael, Jessica, and I gave a mastering clinic to another forty eager audio engineers and producers. We discussed workflows, how to set mastered levels for streaming, CD and lossy files, and the importance of working in a high resolution. We all use at least 24 and 32 bits all the time, and when we can, sample rates higher than 48kHz.
A theme that persisted was how helpful the collaboration between an informed mastering engineer is to a mix engineer, giving the mix engineer perspective on her or his work. Whenever possible, all of us commonly offer feedback and advice to mix engineers before the mixes are finished so the mixes can arrive for mastering in better shape. That’s a win-win situation.
We all agreed that there seem to be two trends present in audio production that are at odds with each other:
Consumer audio levels are coming down as streaming services begin to dominate the consumer marketplace.
Mix levels are still very high (mostly too high) because of the availability of high-quality limiters that make it easy to raise the level on meters.
This was one of the impetuses for this workshop—to help engineers understand how to get the best results.
All of us also agreed that it is a common practice now to generate one version of a master without limiting (or with very little) that would go to streaming and be vinyl friendly, and to generate another hotter level for projects going to CD or for download sales.
We also debated the viability of high res in the consumer marketplace and how it might affect our work.
It was agreed that high resolution was important through the mastering process, but the extent to which consumers would spend money on high resolution is a subject for debate (or we can just wait and see!).
I was impressed by the level of interest and sophistication of the audiences, and all the more, by the incredible hospitality I was shown.
Thanks to Coast Mastering and Fantasy Studios!