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Q. What is 'broadcast quality'?

Published September 2008

I am a musician who produces music from a home studio using Logic Studio software. Recently I have had requests from radio stations to send promotional CDs for them to play on air. I am worried about the quality requirements for playing on radio. I have heard the term 'broadcast quality' in the past but have never really thought about it when I'm recording. Can you explain what 'broadcast quality' really is, and tell me if you think it is achievable in a home studio setup using Logic?

Morni Otadaferua

Q. What is 'broadcast quality'?Q. What is 'broadcast quality'?Q. What is 'broadcast quality'?Q. What is 'broadcast quality'?Editor In Chief Paul White replies: 'Broadcast quality' is a bit of a vague term, as much of the material that goes out on air now is data-compressed in some way (a bit like an MP3), so it doesn't really refer to a specific technical benchmark. I think what it means is that the material has to sound good on the radio and stand up well alongside commercial records, which in turn means recording a good performance and choosing a suitable range of sounds, then mixing it all carefully so as to avoid unwanted noise or distortion. There's also the artistic side of mixing to take into consideration, such as the use of effects — but the bottom line really is that if it sounds good, then it is good.

In order to make your records sit comfortably alongside commercial material, level-wise, you also need to ensure the finished audio file is polished with a little mastering-style processing, a subject that has been covered many times in the pages of SOS. You will find a wealth of useful material on our web site.

At its most basic, mix processing often means applying a little low-ratio, low-threshold compression to the mix to squash it down by just a few decibels, and also limiting the peaks to claw back an extra two or three dBs of level. You may also need to EQ the final mix prior to limiting it to make it sound more like a commercial record but that's an artistic decision. My best advice here is not to overdo any mix processing, and play your mix alongside some commercial CDs to see how they stack up.

Bear in mind, however, that you may not get your mix to sound quite as loud, as many records are very aggressively mastered these days.

As to the question about whether Logic Studio is capable of producing such results, I'd say yes, definitely. Logic and other DAW packages are more than capable of producing first-class, release-quality recordings. The main technical limitations are the audio interface you have and the mics and other equipment you plug into it. After that it's all about creating the right musical sound and capturing it to the best of your ability. 

Published September 2008