Ask the Engineer with Scott Hull: How Much Music Fits on an LP Side PART 2

Last time we cut mono test tones and found out how big a difference a little bit of level can make on the duration of an LP side.

So let’s now look at a typical rock program. For our example this music is compressed — something like a classic Rolling Stones record — but not peak limited like a typical radio rock hit of today.

The grooves for this cut wiggle back and forth and up and down. That is how a stereo disk works. The more stereo the mix is (for example, guitars and drums panned to the sides) the deeper the groove is. A deeper cut is also wider — check your geometry lessons from middle school. 

image of vinyl grooves, magnifiedDoes anyone know what the word “analog” means? The signal and the groove is an analog of the original audio, i.e. the groove and signal are analogous. (I should not try to use such big words.) But louder alone does not determine how much space the grooves take up on the disk. The character of the program, how loud, how soft, how much bass and how much stereo all contribute to the picture. Bass has the biggest overall impact on duration.  

So when measuring the grooves to see if they will fit on a side, the cutting engineer has to consider the bass, the peak level, the average level and the duration of the music. Every change you make to the music is a compromise, so deciding how much bass, how much level and how much compression has to be decided by ear and with experience.  

Why do records that come from one studio sound better? One simple reason is the engineer, and how much they care.  

John McLaughlin Now Here ThisThe sad truth is, a typical engineer hears the music and says, “Oh it’s kind of bright, lets roll of the top; they probably won’t notice… and wow, they put a lot of bass in the mix too so we had better roll that off too! And wait a second, the floor tom is panned all the way to the side and that means we have to put in a low frequency EQ called an Elliptical to partially mono the bass.” You can certainly expect this record to sound weak, limp and dull. I don’t even like my breakfast cereal that way.  

What if that same music could be cut and fit, in full frequency range, with the bass intact and the floor tom where it belongs — but just lower the level 1db. Only a patient, determined and experienced disk cutting engineer, who is compensated for his or her time, will push that cut, take the right chances and make an amazing record. But what about the compromises?  

I cut a recent John McLaughlin album, “Now Here This,” for the Abstract Logix label. It would have sounded awful if the bottom end had been rolled off. It was in-your-face with bass and that was how the artist wanted it. So to fit the music on the side, the level had to be reduced. Not a lot, just a db – but in this case, with a quiet pressing, there was no creative damage done to the music.  This is the caring part. 

I recently cut a very demanding Glen Frey record, “After Hours,” with my young ace cutter Alex DeTurk assisting. We cut many refs and compared the playback to the tape master — that’s right I said “analog tape master.” It IS very cool to cut an analog record from an analog tape through an analog console! The original Elliot Scheiner-mixed 2 track analog was beautiful. I was tasked with making the record sound exactly the same as the analog tape. They wanted full range, no filters, almost no de-essing, and NO digital or analog processing of any kind. Well, let me say it wasn’t easy. But I’m super proud that Michael Fremmer’s review claimed it to be a 10 of 10 for sound. (link )  It only took experience, determination, and patience. Just like anything worth doing well.

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Music Production Event at City College: Off the Record with Scott Hull


Masterdisk is co-sponsoring an exciting music production event at the Sonic Arts Center at City College in New York next week! It’s called “Off the Record with Scott Hull:” an informal talk about music production focusing on best practices in making great recordings — the artistry involved rather than a focus on only technical matters.

Scott’s guests are John Davis and Aaron Nevezie. Aaron and John are producers and engineers and co-owners of The Bunker Studio in Brooklyn.

Visit our event page on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/events/375252289218648/

Please spread the word! It’s FREE and open to the public. Attendees can enter to win a $250 gift certificate to Alto Music too!

Off the Record with Scott Hull at City College
Thursday, November 15 at 7:30 p.m.

City College Campus
Shepard Hall, Room 95
Southeast corner of 140th Street & Convent Ave

Bring your questions for the Q&A!

Masterdisk Up and Running After Hurricane Sandy

It’s been a crazy week here in New York in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The Masterdisk studios, our engineers, and the members of our business team all came out alright, thankfully. Our hearts go out to the many New Yorkers who were hit harder by the storm — many of whom are still struggling.

I’m happy to report that after a few dark days, the welcome sound of great music is once again radiating from all of our mastering rooms. We’re a little behind, but our engineers and staff are working extra hours to make sure all of our clients meet any deadlines they might have. We should be fully caught up and back on our usual schedule by end-of-day, Thursday, November 1.

Though our phones are down, please continue to contact us by email. If you have a mastering deadline you need met, please let us know. We’ll be working through the weekend to make sure you get the same service you’re used to from us year-round.

Thanks for your support. — The Masterdisk Team