Hearing Loss, EQ and The Mix

NPR posted an interesting article and audio clip entitled, “The Loudness Wars: Why Music Sounds Worse”   http://bit.ly/7hFhGK

It got me thinking. When working with young audio engineers (20’s and early 30’s) in live sound situations, I can always tell the guys/girls who work in the clubs.  There always seems to be a ring in the system around 2+ K.  The 20 something engineers almost always set up a mic and computer right away and take out the ring and other problems using the software. The 30 something people tend to set up and use their experience and ears first then go to the software. When they use software to EQ the system, we surely get rid of the ring but until they use the software, ring, ring, ring.  They can’t even hear it.

I don’t usually listen to contemporary pop music from the “radio” more than I have to. I do listen to hours of my student’s music every day. There it is. HUGE high hats and cymbals in the mix. I mean, these instruments are like 30 inches in diameter if you aurally envision and compare them to the size of the other drums save the bass drum. Maybe it was the headphones or the speakers. Nope, always there. At first I thought it was my 1970’s trained ears and personal preference to a heavy handed 2 & 4 in the snare drum. I started listening to music my student’s listen to. There it is! Hi hats, shakers and other high percussion that pop. Don’t think I just guitar amps that go to 11. I’m a percussionist. I should be loving this. Nope. No way around it. I listened to music from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s and there it is. More and more highs creeping in the mix especially this past decade.

Think about this: Volume affects hearing. The first to go are the highs. Is this why cymbals and hi hats are so loud/hot in today’s mixes? Are the producers and engineers putting out contemporary pop music, basically, going deaf and is this affecting the quality of the EQ? Is it creating a new aural norm for today’s mixes?

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One Response to “Hearing Loss, EQ and The Mix”

  1. Cary Says:

    All very true. I tend to be skeptical about all sound ‘engineers’ in clubs, and especially freelance events. Too much deep bass, not enough clarity in the mid-bass, no presence in the mids, etc. etc. etc. It’s great for heavy metal and rap, but I just cringe every time I play (or hear) a jazz, conjunto or genre-bending date without taking my own engineer.

    You’re not imagining it: the prevalence of highs in percussion recordings these days is real. And the damage it does to music is real.

    Let’s take it on a track-by-track basis, and not disparage the highs as a class action. It is actually nice to hear intricacies in cymbal and snare work in contemporary pop and rock that just haven’t been heard in the ringy, roomy 60′ and 70’s sides or in the shotgun snares and booming toms of 80’s cuts. Current rock drummers such as Chad Sexton or Carter Beauford or Adam Topol just wouldn’t have the identities they have now if it weren’t for shimmery multi-cymbal timekeeping, crisp ghost notes from the snare, and subtle layers of hand toys widening the groove (which is not to say that a majority of modern pop music producers display subtlety – they don’t). Even Ringo Starr has earned respect since the Beatles remasters came out last summer, revealing inner beats and dynamics that nobody had ever heard before. How funky would the old Motown records be like if we could hear the drums the way Uriel Jones and Pistol Allen heard them?

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