After the webcast last night I spent an inordinate amount of time pondering the points that were made against my mixing and mastering of Sin No More, especially the mastering.

There is a major issue in the audio world that has been studied and discussed for years. Recently it has made its way into more main stream consumer magazines such as Rolling Stone. The issue is basically this: some mastering engineers are making albums louder and louder as the years go by. This may not seem like much of a problem to Joe iPod Owner but it is most certainly a problem. Without going into too much detail the problem is that the methods used to make albums louder (namely compression and limiting) also serve to make them sound very one-dimensional and extremely un-musical.

The reason people want their records to be louder is so they can be heard when they’re played in a jukebox, or in a bar, or in a club, or in a noisy convention center – more on this later. And not just heard, but heard better than the song that played before yours.

This is in some ways similar to the steroids issue in baseball. If one person juices, that raises the bar. Now we’ve all got to juice – even though we are morally opposed to it – because we must keep up.

I decided that I would resist the temptation to juice the songs on the album I’m working on and it actually worked against me in front of a panel of professionals who were adamantly opposed to juicing.

Think about this. Have you ever noticed when you’re watching a TV show and a commercial comes on how you have to race for the volume control because the commercials are so much louder than the show? I have. Now imagine that you sit down on your couch and turn the TV on in the middle of a commercial break. You adjust the volume to a comfortable level and then when the show comes on you can’t hear what anyone is saying. Is this the fault of the audio engineer for the show? Or is it the fault of the audio engineer of the commercial who wants to make sure you hear about a new men’s razor with 17 blades and a laser site attachment?

This is basically what happened at the NAMM show. The volume of the PA was adjusted for the first song and then left where it was for the remainder of the show. So right off the bat the songs were being criticized for their aggressive limiting and distortion, but at least you could hear them. Then when my song comes up I was hoping and praying that they would see that I had tried to do the right thing by not playing the loudness game. They didn’t.

My song was mastered to the volume level of Jellyfish’s ‘Spilt Milk’, an album that is now 15 years old. I thought that album would be an excellent norm against which I could compare my own mastering. But it worked against me. The other songs were mastered loud enough to be heard over the commotion of a huge convention and mine was lost in the ambient noise making it appear that the vocal was almost non-existent, especially comparing it to the loudness of the lead vocals in the previous songs.

I’m not really griping. Like I said yesterday, I am very grateful to have been chosen. And this served as a great lesson and illustration of why mastering engineers make albums so incredibly loud today. It pays off even to a panel of experts who hate loud albums.