Friendly Fires – Jump In The Pool

1 11 2009

I’ve been searching through my iPod today trying to find a good example of a song that can perfectly describe my project. I was looking for something with that “brick wall” sound described in my previous post, and I think I may have found it. The song is called Jump In The Pool by Friendly Fires, released in 2008:

The song is very upbeat, so it’s understandable that there should be loud parts to the song. But after a few listens I tried asking myself if there were any instruments in the mix which were quieter than others.The conclusion I came to was that there wasn’t a great deal of difference between any instrument, it was only the timbre and pitch of the instrument which would make it sound marginally quieter or louder than the others.

However, if you listen carefully you will notice that there are no real quiet moments in the song whatsoever. Even the backing vocals (the “aaaahs”) are set at quite a  high volume. During the chorus, you can hear slight dips in the sound of the instrumetns when the vocals hit certain notes. This is the vocal compressor squashing the other instruments so that the vocals can be heard over the rest of the drums.

I uploaded the song into Cubase and took a screenshot of the waveform, seen here:

FF Screenshot

"Jump In The Pool" Waveform

As you can see, the waveform is at it’s peak for long durations of the song, where the white covers the blue background completely.You can see that there is little difference in volume between the verses and choruses.

As a sound engineer, I could sit and criticize a great number of things I dislike or don’t agree with about the mixing and mastering of this song. However, Friendly Fires are a very popular band, nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 2009 and reaching #21 in the UK album chart.
With this in mind, the evidence shows that the general public are not put off by the “brick wall” sound in this production. Is it something that people enjoy listening to in a record, or is it more about the actual content of the song rather than the sound quality of the song?


Nashville Producers Panel

31 10 2009

I’ve been recently reading “Behind The Glass: Volume 2” by Howard Massey, a book which gives in depth intereviews with top producers and engineers about their production techniques.

Chapter 1 is a transcript from an interview with the Nashville Producers Panel, a group of producers who have a worked with a number of popular artists in the country music scene such as Keith Urban and The Mavericks.

Part of the interview is a discussion between the producers about the decline in sound quality of records due to smaller budgets, and the use and heavy reliance on Pro Tools in modern releases.
The Panel seemed to be split between whether records were in fact sounding better or worse. However, producer Justin Niebank had this to say about the subject:

The other thing we’re dealing with – and it’s not just in Nashville, but in the pop and rock world too – is this level wars thing. Everything today is so limited and so compressed that everyone thinks that edgy is what sells. It’s hard to tell an artist or someone at a the record label that dynamics actually broadcast better. Why do old records sound better on the radio? Because they have dynamics…you give a radio limiter a brick wall of sound – a two by four – and it inverts. That’s why some records have this squishy ‘what- is- that?’ sound when you hear them on the radio.”

It was from reading this that made me realise how debatable this subject is within the music industry. From a professional opinion it would appear that “brick wall” mixing, is frowned upon. However, this is simply the opinion of one of four country music producers. One of the tasks I look to carry out in this project is to collect views and opinions from all areas of music: producers, recording engineers, mixing engineers, mastering engineers, recording artists, radio presenters, and of course the listeners. If professionals frown upon “brick wall” mixes, then why is there such a  growing trend for this style of mixing?

Small introduction…

30 10 2009

Hello there,

My name is Jamie Hewitt. I am a Creative Sound Production student at Abertay Dundee, and for my honours year I’m creating a project on studying sound quality in popular/modern music.

Sound quality is a fairly big area to research, so my main focus will be on dynamic range (or lack of it) in modern releases, also known as “the loudness war”.

Here’s a video to explain it a little better:

The main reason behind the rise of “loud” releases is simply for record label’s artists to sound louder than their rivals. Unfortunately, this competition for the louder song has led to a serious lack of dynamic range within songs, meaning that instruments used in the song that were meant to be quiet in the mix are pushed up to the same level as the louder instruments.

For the practical side of the project, I will be conducting a series of experiments with members of the general public and also members (or fans) of the music industry. I will be composing a number of songs and mixing them twice (one mix with a great deal of dynamic range, one with very little dynamic range). The songs will then be played through a series of different outputs (such as an iPod, hi-fi speakers, Car speakers, studio monitors, and mobile phone speakers).
The aim of this is to determine whether a pattern will emerge when it comes to the candidates choosing a preference between the two mixes, or whether they notice a difference at all. It also gives me a chance to reflect and improve on my skills as a mixing engineer.