All about producing and mastering audio for disc, the web and beyond

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

40 years of music

Not so very long ago I had the pleasure/honor/responsibility of mastering a compilation representing SOME of the best music released on the Rounder Records ( label. For those that don't know Rounder, the label has a VERY diverse catalogue including releases on various sub-labels (Philo/BullsEye/etc and many more). The original focus of the label and I dare say the legacy is one of finding and releasing some of the finest 'Americana', folk music and other 'native' American musics.

The boxed set is divided into 4 decades of music, 1970's, 80's, 90's, 00's with each disc containing about 15 songs from each decade. That's a relatively small sampling of all the music that Rounder released, much less the music released by all labels in the aggregate. Even so, it is absolutely remarkable in the way that each decade seems to have a noticeable difference in production style. The decade of the 70's has the widest variety, from the standpoint of style, tone, dynamic range. The 80's decade has some of the strangest sounding tracks. It seems that decade was one where sonic exploration was rampant while we were beginning to figure out how to work within the new digital container, THe 90's began to show signs of what we think of as current modern audio practice. Still quite dynamic, but gradually the transient detail is compromised in favor of low frequency 'warmth'. Lastly, in the ought's we see the rush to modern presentation, with a lot of limiting, slightly exaggerated bass and treble boost and less ambient information and depth. In other words, the last decades records are really loud!

It was an interesting chalenge to make these all live together, my focus being primarily to let each disc stand on it's own and not worry about level matching the 70's to the 00's, though I gave some consideration to the above.

It was a fascinating exercise and even more, a very interesting listening experience. One that keeps showing me new things each time I hear it.....

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