Possible reasons that surround titles are so slow to arrive.

Discussion in 'Music' started by LanceJ, Dec 31, 2003.

  1. LanceJ

    LanceJ Producer

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    I've been doing some lurking on pro audio forums the past few months & talking to knowledgable people at pro audio dealers and mixed together with what I've read here & on other forums, here is my interpretation of why surround titles are so slow in being released:

    1) Most studios just plain don't have surround music production capability. And recording music in surround form ain't cheap! There really is no pro audio recording equivalent of a home-theater-in-a-box; their purchase costs often times can be measured in the tens of thousands of dollars (or more) and coupled with the uncertainty of the popularity of surround music, this causes studio people to be cautious regarding such purchases.

    2) Many pros are still figuring out how to record surround music, i.e. where to place instruments; electrical/acoustic phase issues; how to use the LFE; how to configure their own monitor speakers in the control room (to some, that ITU spec system isn't optimal); what software is best at manipulating 5.1 channels, etc.

    As a result........

    3).......there is not yet a huge pool of people that know how to mix music in surround properly. So I have a feeling the ones that do know how have a long line of clients waiting in the wings. So surround versions of I, Robot and O.K. Computer could be on the way, but probably not any time soon. [​IMG]

    4) For older albums, problems with the master multitrack tape can cause serious problems or prevent a surround mix from being made at all: for one thing, finding the original multitrack tape--or tapes--in the first place. This occurance has been discussed here on the HTF several times and is (strangely) quite common. And if you own the Pet Sounds dvd-audio, in the highly detailed 27 page booklet included with it, it describes just such a situation--listen to the included original mono mixes and then the later stereo & surround mixes to actually hear the differences. And if the tape used an unstable oxide coating and is shedding too much & baking it doesn't help, this could prevent proper playback and obviously, no remixing is possible.

    And a big one:

    5) Just because you finally found the master tape, doesn't mean you can just flip a few switches and start building up a 5.1 mix. Because that original multitrack master tape simply contains the "raw" recording of a drum, keyboard, singer, guitar, etc. Then from this raw-sound tape, specific sound effects, certain types of vocal arrangements and other post-production things (sorry, don't know all the pro terms!) are created, then go directly to the stereo master tape; so in other words, most of the time these customized creations aren't saved on a convenient separate tape.

    This doesn't appear to be a big deal......unless you're the Beastie Boys, Alan Parsons, Enigma, Radiohead, Yes or any other band that uses a densely-layered and heavily processed sound. For example, if the vocal on the stereo tape was processed though a vocoder, then guess what? You have to go find that same vocoder machine used originally, or at least the same model, to recreate that same sound effect for the new 5.1 mix (and keep your fingers crossed that a note was left behind somewhere listing the settings used to create that specific sound). And if that isn't possible, well, hopefully a digital audio workstation (DAW) has a plug-in available that can simulate that effect. Or else you're up the brown creek!

    I'm not sure about this one but you know how the Beasties have all those complicated vocal parts where they seem to be finishing each other's sentences? If these vocals were assembled from separately recorded tapes, then for the 5.1 mix they would have to be reassembled all over again. Yikes! And what about all those little sound effects and samples they use that pop up all over the place? Holy cow. [​IMG] And on some parts on many recordings you can plainly tell vocals (or percussion, etc) were layered one on top of each other (overdubs?) after the initial recording session to form the stereo master tape........which of course means they would have to dig up that raw multitrack tape and do it all over again, but in whatever surround form they thought sounded good.

    And sometimes artists/engineers get ideas after everything is done and on impulse just add an effect at the very last minute. A perfect example of this is the song "Telephone Line" by E.L.O. At the beginning of that song, the lead vocalist's voice sounds like it is literally emanating from a telephone handset--it has a very tinny and nasal sound but after a few seconds it gradually reverts to normal. Well, according to an engineer on Steve Hoffman's forum, that nasal effect was accomplished as the master pressing disc for the vinyl record version was being cut!. And multiple master discs were cut so each one is probably very slightly different. Wow! Cool! Read about how it was done (& more) in this thread: "Kevin Gray's 'My Fun Adventures With Jeff Lynne and E.L.O.'"

    So in other words, it looks like for most artists they literally have to recreate their album all over again, almost from scratch. Not a casual undertaking for sure. And this is assuming the artist is not on a concert tour, recording another album, is on vacation......or wants to do a surround version in the first place.

    Because of all this, I've calmed down quite bit concerning the amount of surround releases occurring. As usual if you want something good it's going to take awhile.

    P.S.: It also makes me glad I bought a separate CD-only player last year, in this case a Technics SL-PG4 single disc machine. I don't know about other's experiences but most dvd players really stink when it comes to playing CDs. Not actually playing them but operating features like: scanning speed; individual track access & programming; random/repeat/delete abilities; and full playback information via a front-panel display. And the fact that CD players usually have separate physical buttons for these things is a very big deal to me. [​IMG]

    LJ
     
  2. ElevSkyMovie

    ElevSkyMovie Supporting Actor

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    I've said that here before. There are only a few engineers that know how to to surround, there aren't very many studios with the correct equipment, and recreating a 5.1 mix that has all the same elements as the original stereo can be a nightmare.

    Eric Johnson's Ah Via Musicom is a good example. Eric wasn't consulted for the surround mixes and they turned out horrible, with scratch guitar and bass tracks used, out of tune guitars. It's a real mess. I wouldn't want to be involved with creating a 5.1 mix of a very well known recording. If every detail isn't like the stereo version (reverb, effects, editing, etc.) the public would know.
     
  3. Wayne Bundrick

    Wayne Bundrick Cinematographer

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    Yes, there are only a few engineers that know how to mix surround. Unfortunately, there are also a few engineers that think they know how to mix surround.


    When I listen to James Guthrie's remix of Dark Side of the Moon, I marvel at how well he was able to preserve the overall sound of this 30 year old album that everyone knows by heart in stereo. Going from stereo to surround, it's too easy to mess up the relative blend of the instruments just by moving them into the 3D surround space. Guthrie must have made tens of thousands of A/B comparisons to the original stereo mix as he made the 5.1 mix. Amazing work, and I would very much like to hear what he could do to Wish You Were Here for its 30th anniversary in 2005.
     
  4. Robert A. Willis Jr.

    Robert A. Willis Jr. Second Unit

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    Well from listening to many of today's two channel CD's I can only say that it seems many engineers just don't know how to mix and produce at all.[​IMG]
     
  5. ElevSkyMovie

    ElevSkyMovie Supporting Actor

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    The problem is, many bands are getting money from the label, buying their own equipment and recording themselves. Many bands scoff at a pro engineer, and don't want a slick, polished sound. I can't figure out why, all I know is you get what you pay for.
     
  6. Felix Martinez

    Felix Martinez Screenwriter

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    I spoke to Dweezil Zappa a few weeks ago, and he indicated that was the challenge for re-mixing his dad's music. Oftentimes the musical bed of a Zappa recording is a work of editing art (using multiple takes from different sources, recording dates, etc.) with the overdubs layed in afterwards.

    However, there are existing quad mixes of Frank's material, as mixed by Frank - Apostrophe, Over-Nite Sensation - and Dweezil is hard at work looking at all options. Very interesting stuff...

    As for Yes, my understanding is that Close To The Edge would have been out already, but they have yet to find multi-tracks for the second side of the album.

    Cheers,
     
  7. Tony-B

    Tony-B Producer

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    A lot of rock bands these days are afraid of their fans thinking that they "sold out". Another possibility is that the band or one of the members wants to try producing and engineering.

    I know that Jonathan Davis of KoRn was the producer on their latest album, Take A Look In The Mirror, and I thought that he did a pretty damn good job.

    Some bands just want to go for a do-it-yourself approach. Killswitch Engage is one of those bands. In fact Adam Dutkiewicz, the guitarist of KSE, produced and engineered their debut on Roadrunner (Alive Or Just Breathing). Personally, I think Adam made the album sound really good.

    AFI signed on to Dreamworks and released Sing The Sorrow, their major-label debut, early last year. However, they got some really big names to produce and engineer the album. Butch Vig (Who produced Nevermind by Nirvana) was the producer and Joe McGrath (Engineer on Ryan Adams - Rock N Roll) was the engineer. They did an AMAZING job, and the album sounded really slick and polished. However, they lost a lot of old fans because of the really slick sound and the move to a major label.

    Hope you get something out of that.

    I think the major reasons why surround titles are so slow coming are that mainstream consumers simply are not interested in DVD-A or SACD and record companies are reluctant to spend so much money on remixing and releasing an album on Hi-Res, only to have it sell very few copies.
     
  8. LanceJ

    LanceJ Producer

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    Here's a speech given by George Massenburg, a respected pro audio engineer & surround music advocate, at the recent 2003 Surround Sound conference:

    "Surround 2003, Los Angeles, California"

    It's very interesting and covers lots of other issues surrounding (ahem) 5.1 sound in general. I agree with his views on the radio business.

    Here's what he has worked on: GM's discography

    I figure there is so much instability in the music business these days (especially corporate meddling into the artist's end of the business), maybe it would be a good idea for us surround fans to keep up with both ends of the surround music world. I hope Mr. Massenburg doesn't mind! [​IMG]

    LJ
     
  9. LanceJ

    LanceJ Producer

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    Out of pure selfishness, I'm doing the bump thing. [​IMG]

    LJ
     
  10. Will_B

    Will_B Producer

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    Excellent transcript, LanceJ. Even those not interested in surround sound should read it, simply to hear how the industry is collapsing.
     
  11. charles white

    charles white Second Unit

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    My Pioneer laserdisc player run rings around my Pioneer universal disc player on red-book CDs.

    I have said before that most audiophiles should get a subscription to MIX magazine to understand the other side of the business.
     
  12. DaveDickey

    DaveDickey Stunt Coordinator

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    LanceJ,

    Very informative post. I've always assumed that big record companies can do just about anything they want. It now appears that's just not the case with multi-channel music.
    I guess it will just take longer than we hi-rez freaks want it to.

    I remain convinced that if everyone heard their favorite album in quality hi-rez, the demand for high resolution music would be enormous.

    Dave
     
  13. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Producer

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    I agree with you about the "hi-rez" part, but I don't necessarily extend that to surround remixes. Some are fantastic, many are bogus.

    I own a fairly large batch of hi-res releases (well over a hundred), and I should probably take a census of how many include surround mixes (all the DVD-As, naturally) and also how many of those surround remixes I prefer to the stereo mix. Surround remixes are always welcome by me, and I've only a few that I dismiss entirely as unlistenable, but the total number of surround remixes I have and prefer to their stereo counterparts remains a pitifully small percentage of my collection. After a year-and-a-half of collecting SACDs and DVD-As, I'm much less enamored of the multichannel thing than I was initially.

    As a matter of fact, unless one already has a multichannel audio system for home theater (or wishes to create one, with home theater as the foremost consideration), I'm not sure I'd recommend a surround system for music only. At least not for the software currently available, and the quality of the remixes. One would be much better served, IMO, in putting the same money one would spend for a full surround audio system toward a two-channel system.

    If I could change one thing about the hi-res music market today, it would be to delete the requirement that all DVD-As contain surround mixes. Lance lists many of the key problems in his initial post. I'd just like to add that even when all these hurdles are cleared and the work is done, very often it doesn't add that much value to the finished product (which aren't exactly flying off the shelves anyway). In certain instances, it makes sense to do a surround remix, but in many instances it doesn't. I'd rather have these latter titles in two-channel hi-res than not at all.
     

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