SXSW 2007 Panel: Why Does Today's Music Sound Like Shit?
Why indeed? To answer that question, SXSW convened a panel comprised of mastering engineer Bob Ludwig, president of Gateway Mastering & DVD in Portland, Maine; producer Sandy Pearlman, now a professor at McGill University in Montreal; and Andy VanDette, chief engineer at Masterdisk in New York City. It was moderated by Joe Gross, a music critic for the Austin American-Statesman. As expected, Ludwig dominated the discussion - but as these excerpts show, everyone had something vital to say, especially for Sound & Vision readers.
ON WHETHER TODAY'S MUSIC REALLY DOES SOUND LIKE SHIT
Ludwig: For me, the answer is - this seems very equivocal, but it's both yes and no. I've been doing mastering for a very long time, and I can honestly say that, in my whole career, the average recording that comes into me now sounds worse than any master tape before. And the reasons for that? Lack of budget. And the fact that, instead of musicians recording with professionals in controlled acoustic environments, very often they're now recording with amateurs in basements and garages. So the average record absolutely sounds worse than ever - which means that the mastering process is doing more than ever to shape the record's final sound.
Which is not to say that there aren't some great-sounding records today, because there are still some professionals who can get work in this industry. There are still the Bob Clearmountains, the Mick Guzauskis, the Tom Lord-Alges out there who know what they're doing.
But without question, the average record sounds worse than ever. And a lot of it is due to the fact that we've made a switch from analog tape - which is very forgiving, and something that the human ear really loves - to the digital domain, where, up until the invention of high resolution, the sound was very brittle in comparison to analog. Digital is just a very different animal - and much more difficult to control, I think.