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Mike Senior
SOS Mix Specialist

Reged: 08/08/03
Posts: 1510
Loc: Cambridge, UK
Re: Lady Antebellum: 'We Owned The Night'
      17/02/12 10:46 AM
I auditioned this track from their 'Own The Night' album, which gives the following credits:

Produced by Paul Worley with Lady Antebellum
Recorded by Carl Schleicher
Additional Engineering by Erik Hellerman, Brett 'Scoop' Blanden, Curt Jenkins, and Peter Bowman.
Mixed by Peter Coleman
Mastered by Richard Dodd

The mastering credit isn't entirely clear in the sleeve notes, though, and might possibly be Andrew Mendelson (who appears to have been the primary mastering engineer for the record as a whole). Whoever it was, though, the track presents another mastering conundrum: why is this track peaking at -1.3dBFS? I can't imagine why any mastering engineer in this kind of chart-oriented style would deliberately leave that much digital headroom -- OK, maybe 0.5dB if you were really worried about intersample clipping of consumer playback devices, but 1.3dB? And it's not a global headroom setting either, because the other big single 'Just A Kiss' peaks at a much more typical -0.1dBFS.

The only plausible reason I can arrive at for this is that Richard Dodd did indeed do the mastering on this track in isolation, but that Andrew Mendelson then adjusted its gain to fit more comfortably alongside the other tracks on the album. While in principle there's no problem with this, wouldn't it have made more sense to source a master without the final limiting from Richard Dodd so that Andrew Mendelson could make the fullest use of the available digital headroom? High-profile mastering engineers often seem to be up in arms about people squashing mix dynamics in pursuit of overall loudness, so it seems pretty indefensible to reduce a master's dynamic range further than the available digital headroom demands. Of course, none of us know the politics behind the whole situation, and maybe that holds a missing clue to the explanation.

And that's not the only mastering issue that raised my eyebrow. If you check out the phrase "push too far" during the first chorus of 'Just A Kiss', there's a strong subsonic pulse on the plosive of the word "push". At around 15Hz or so, I don't really think anyone is going to hear this information, and again I'd kind of have expected any mastering engineer to be on the alert for this kind of thing -- there seems to be no sense in wasting headroom for the sake of inaudible subsonics.

Perhaps a lack of high-pass filtering on this track was at the instigation of Worley. After all, to quote him from that article I linked to in the main critique: "To this day, every mastering engineer that I know, if left to his own devices, will automatically chop off everything below 20-40, sometimes even 50 cycles. They say you can’t hear those frequencies and that they just affect the limiters, and they want to make things as loud as possible. And I go: ‘That’s wrong!’ If you truncate at 40 cycles, all the multiples of that, 80, 160, 320 Hz, are also impacted by removing the fundamental of a chain of frequencies. So you’re going to affect the kick, and the snare, and the vocal, all the centre information will have its guts ripped out. I don’t care how loud things are — people have volume knobs after all. I just want my low end!”

I have to say that I sympathise entirely with Worley here, and have had similar concerns with some mastering jobs I've heard on my mixes in the past, but in this specific case I can't see how a 12dB/octave high-pass filter at 20Hz would have been the end of the world -- it certainly doesn't seem to 'rip any guts out' to my ears. But even if it did, surely we've come far enough with digital technology that a high-pass filter could have been automated just to take care of that corner (and a couple of less pronounced ones later on) and leave everything else alone?

All that said, I don't actually think it should have been the mastering engineer catching that low-frequency pulse, because my guess is that it's probably coming through one or more of the vocal mics, on account of the plosive. If my surmise is correct, then it's even more questionable to my mind that the mix engineer spared a 20Hz high-pass filter at that stage, when it would have sorted out the technical issue with no side-effects at all on the low end of any other parts in the arrangement.

For more critiques of commercial productions, browse The Mix Review Index.

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* Lady Antebellum: 'We Owned The Night' Mike Senior 17/02/12 10:40 AM
. * Re: Lady Antebellum: 'We Owned The Night' Mike Senior   17/02/12 10:46 AM

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