Posted in music on August 22, 2006

Dylan on Rolling Stone"I don't know anybody who's made a record that sounds decent in the past twenty years, really," the 65-year-old rocker said in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine.

Dylan, who released eight studio albums in that time, returns with his first recording in five years, "Modern Times," next Tuesday.

Noting the music industry's complaints that illegal downloading means people are getting their music for free, he said, "Well, why not? It ain't worth nothing anyway." [REUTERS]

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Does he mean it, or this just a carefully calculated controversy timed with the release of the self-regarding old money-machine's new album?

Hasn't he heard the new Kevin Federline yet?

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Comments (87)

he performed ball and biscuit with jack white...does this mean he didn't dig the stripes' albums?

Posted by Anonymous | August 22, 2006 12:55 PM

I think he is somewhat complaining about the acutal sound of the recordings. That everything sounds cheap and digital. But it does seem that he is some what trying to stir up some controversy.

Posted by danfun | August 22, 2006 12:58 PM

Does that mean he thinks his son's (wallflowers) music is crap?

Posted by bill | August 22, 2006 1:03 PM

He may be generalizing. And it's no secret that there IS a lot of crap out there... including the wallflowers.

Posted by Al bo Bal | August 22, 2006 1:12 PM

He's definitely referring to the recordings themselves, not the songs or instrumentation. This quote is totally taken out of context, and in fact, he's spot-on. Read here:

http://www.prorec.com/prorec/articles.nsf/files/8A133F52D0FD71AB86256C2E005DAF1C
http://mixonline.com/mag/audio_big_squeeze/
http://georgegraham.com/compress.html

Posted by Patrick | August 22, 2006 1:13 PM

It's great that RS put Vincent Price on the cover.

Posted by musicsnobbery | August 22, 2006 1:15 PM

This quote does make me believe he is talking about "sound" a little more than content

"Dylan said he does his best to fight technology, but it's a losing battle."

Posted by danfun | August 22, 2006 1:17 PM

maybe he should stop playing records on his turntable and buy a cd player...

Posted by Anonymous | August 22, 2006 1:22 PM

I was already to snark <img src="http://simpsons.com/grandpa_simspon.jpg">

...but then, yeah, freaking Reuters and their misleading headlines.

Posted by yeti | August 22, 2006 1:23 PM

all ready, rather.

Posted by yeti | August 22, 2006 1:24 PM

this is your brain after doing drugs too long...

Posted by Anonymous | August 22, 2006 1:26 PM

Who ever made that cd comment should go fuck themselves. They probably spin their wallflowers cd on repeat and masturbate to Rolling Stone Vincent Price covers

Posted by blueberryjamsrunfree | August 22, 2006 1:38 PM

Who ever made that cd comment should go fuck themselves. They probably spin their wallflowers cd on repeat and masturbate to Rolling Stone Vincent Price covers

Posted by blueberryjamsrunfree | August 22, 2006 1:39 PM

i was gonna say it looks like bob's trying to bring out his inner dali with that 'stache, but musicsnobbery's got it right: dead ringer for vincent price.

Posted by putty | August 22, 2006 1:39 PM

Yes it's recording sound he's refering too..."Even these songs probably sounded ten times better in the studio when we recorded 'em. CDs are small. There's no stature to it."

This is more a reflextion of the bullshit of journalism today. It's just like those news "teasers" you see on TV "Why the playground could be killing our children. The details at 6pm"

Posted by Anonymous | August 22, 2006 1:41 PM

bob dylans' living corpse hasn't made a decent record since 8-tracks were in style.

Posted by Anonymous | August 22, 2006 1:52 PM

i would love to see dylan doing ball and biscuit w/jack white. Is there a video of this anywhere? Already checked YouTube...

Posted by Anonymous | August 22, 2006 1:57 PM

Hey blueberryjamsrunfree, you probably have the paris hilton cd on repeat and wack off to boy george pictures.

Posted by Anonymous | August 22, 2006 2:03 PM

He's probably only heard mainstream crap, in which case I mostly agree with him...with a few exceptions.

There has been a downward trend in the mainstream for years. Once upon a time, mainstream youth culture churned out music with staying power. Not so sure if the hits of today will stand the test of time, but I can't say that the rock and R&B songs of today hold a candle to the classics of the 60s and 70s and even, to a lesser extent, the 80s.

Sometime in the early 80s, gated drums, synth bass and slick vocal production started sucking the heart right out of music. A trend that's making even punk rock sound like Celine Dion.

Posted by bryce | August 22, 2006 2:06 PM

It is hard to understand who he is implying. Maybe if he takes the marbles out of his mouth, we can understand him better.

Posted by Anonymous | August 22, 2006 2:23 PM

Can someone say luddite?

Posted by Anonymous | August 22, 2006 2:33 PM

Ha. Like Bob Dylan is into real music anymore. Does anyone really think he can name any of the bands that any of us listen to? He's probably talking about what he hears on the radio... which is where good music USED to be played.

You have to remember, pop was actually good 30 and 40 years ago.

Posted by Erik | August 22, 2006 2:42 PM

The title of this segment should read "Modern music says Bob Dylan is worthless"

Posted by Anonymous | August 22, 2006 2:46 PM

dylan's not much more of a luddite than jack white. they both find more soul in recording methods and ways of performing that emphasize immediacy and rawness. dylan decries, rightfully so, a lot of the mechanized, sing-by-numbers production, stiffness & songwriting of modern rock/pop. Is he being extreme in saying it's all worthless? Sure.

but rather than address his comments with serious commentary most of you dinks are content with ad hominem zingers [vincent price, etc]. who comes off sounding more invested in the question of where music is going, and why it matters? Dylan, with his crankiness and unpopular opinions, or a bunch of sniggering blog-readers failing to meet his criticism head on?

Anyway, i love dylan, but he's being a bit of a controversial wank here. I guarantee he values more than he wants to admit that has come out in the last 20 years, but for the sake of sensationalism, and in a tantrum-fit of humbuggery, he exaggerated his distaste -- AND/OR the music journalists capitalized on his opinions to generate interest.

Posted by Anonymous | August 22, 2006 2:59 PM

Dylan is a master PR man who's drumming up press for his new release. dylan aint no fool so dont get it twisted.

Posted by AngryCitizen | August 22, 2006 3:02 PM

get out of the road if you can't lend a hand, BITCH.

Posted by Anonymous | August 22, 2006 3:18 PM

The title of this segment should read "Modern music says Bob Dylan is worthless"

Posted by: at August 22, 2006 02:46 PM

I don't understand how anyone could actually think Dylan is worthless in regards to modern music. Since so much music continues to be inspired by his song writing.

Posted by danfun | August 22, 2006 3:20 PM

WHEN THE MOST HYPED MUSIC IS COMING OUT OF CANADA, YOU KNOW THAT THERE IS NO DECENT MUSIC OUT THERE!!!!!!! SERIOUSLY, CANADA?!?!?!?!

Posted by Anonymous | August 22, 2006 3:27 PM

My grandfather says the same shit.

Posted by Bryan | August 22, 2006 3:31 PM

wait, i'm confused. when did pretentious white kids start to hate bob dylan?

Posted by miyo | August 22, 2006 3:33 PM

Bob Dylan has earned the right to say whatever he wants about anything he wants

Posted by Klaus_Kinski | August 22, 2006 3:36 PM

GET OFF MY LAWN!!!!

Posted by Bob Dylan | August 22, 2006 3:47 PM

Dylan does not think modern music is worthless, and here's a few supporting facts to back that argument up:

*He names checks Alicia Keys, of all people, in the first song off the new album

*He sang with Norah Jones at the Amazon.com 10 year anniversary party

*He played an LL Cool J song("Mama Said Knock You Out") on the Mothers theme show of his XM satelite radio program.

*Yes, he played "Ball and Biscuit" with Jack White

Dylan is attacking the actual tangible sound of recording, and he's right. There was a story somewhere a few months ago which talked about how all the sound on modern albums is being mixed at the same level, without variation, which to Dylan's ear sounds like static. He's not the only person who thinks so.
What did Neil Young say? "Asking a musician to put his music on CD is like asking Picasso to fax you his art work."
Is that just because they've been playing music at high volumes their whole life? Maybe. But even I, at 23, can tell the difference in quality of mixing between the warmth of 40 year old record, and the artificial clumsiness of an mp3. Maybe Dylan should JUST release on vinyl, like the hardcore punks do. After all, he was one of the first.

Posted by Arya | August 22, 2006 3:50 PM

There's really nothing pretentious to disrespecting Bob Dylan. He says the music sounds like static to him, and it probably does. Not sure what to do about that.

Posted by Bryan | August 22, 2006 4:03 PM

^^ see, now that is the commentary i would expect to come across...

Posted by miyo | August 22, 2006 4:49 PM

I've never heard the song "ball and biscuit" but it sounds perverted... strangely and gloriously perverted. Anyone want to meet up sometime to "ball and biscuit?" Now that I think of it, that's kinda gross that Bob Dylan did the "B & B" with Jack White. I bet Dylan has saggy biscuits. Ummm, I digress.

Posted by Anonymous | August 22, 2006 5:03 PM

I don't enjoy listening to Bob Dylan. I find him boring and he gives me a headache. Why was he "good" again?

Posted by Anonymous | August 22, 2006 5:06 PM

Why do I feel like every time Bob Dylan puts out an album he's interviewed somplace where he says something like this...
This definitly isn't the first time this has come out of his mouth...

Posted by Terrence | August 22, 2006 5:13 PM

i thought he was dead

Posted by Anonymous | August 22, 2006 5:15 PM

"Dylan has saggy biscuits"... hahahaha

Posted by Anonymous | August 22, 2006 5:41 PM

Fuck Bob Dylan. Fuck him right in the ear.

Posted by rt | August 22, 2006 8:02 PM

I stand by the luddite comment. Learn to embrace technology and new sounds, make them work to your advantage...Seriously, criticizing modern production techniques, he might as well be booing an electric guitar.

Posted by Anonymous | August 22, 2006 8:34 PM

Those quotes are completely out of context

Congratulations on being the Fox News of music blogs

Posted by Anonymous | August 22, 2006 8:51 PM

"Bob Dylan has earned the right to say whatever he wants about anything he wants"

First of all, anyone located in the U.S. (not just residents or citizens) is granted freedom of speech by the Constitution. Second of all, rights aren't earned, privileges are.

Posted by your civics teacher | August 22, 2006 10:44 PM

money grubbing little crybaby

is this what he has to resort to in order to get his name in the press before album release day?

what an irrelevant fuck.

Posted by Anonymous | August 22, 2006 10:50 PM

I dunno...I thought Time Out Of Mind sounded pretty good.

As for good sounding non-Dylan albums...well, pretty much anything graced by the hand of Mutt Lange, obviously. Is Bob not moved by Def Leppard's Hysteria or Shania Twain's Come On Over?

Posted by Glenn | August 23, 2006 12:09 AM

Reel 'em in Bob...

Posted by steve | August 23, 2006 7:54 AM

"Bob Dylan has earned the right to say whatever he wants about anything he wants

First of all, anyone located in the U.S. (not just residents or citizens) is granted freedom of speech by the Constitution. "


wow. i feel like i am in a time warp and just fell onto the playground of my elementary school.

"this is america. it's a free country and stuff."

are we still using that argument to justify stupid crap that people say?

Posted by Anonymous | August 23, 2006 10:25 AM

most of the crap that comes out nowadays does suck...but Dylan shouldn't speak in absolutes, because once in awhile something truly brilliant comes out and blows us all away.

Posted by Steve-O | August 23, 2006 10:49 AM

What's that Bob? I can't understand you. Take the marbles out of your mouth. Still can't hear you. Maybe you need to come down off of that pedestal you put yourself on. Nope still not hearing you. I got it. You're overopinionated and just not open minded .

P.S. The Victoria's Secrets adverts didn't sell you out enough. It's time to make a Coke jingle.

Posted by Jamon Con Queso | August 23, 2006 11:29 AM

I don't know any record Bob Dylan's made in the past twenty years that sounds decent, really.

Posted by youcanquoteme | August 23, 2006 11:33 AM

Just wait 20 years and see if the shit you listen to today has 1% of the impact or staying power of Dylan's music. Only then can this stupid argument me resolved.

Posted by klaus_kinski | August 23, 2006 11:34 AM

Isn't what Bob Dylan saying what 65 year olds in the 60s said about Dylan?

Posted by Anonymous | August 23, 2006 12:12 PM

53 comments and only one person actually read the link.

Dylan isn't saying modern music sounds bad.
He is saying that modern recording techniques sound bad. These are two very different things.

Reading comprehension, people.

Posted by Anonymous | August 23, 2006 12:36 PM

Dylan has never liked the press and goes out of his way to tweak them. He's also been a crotchety jerk since he was 19 years old. Even though he seems to be lowering the facade a bit in his old age, you still can't take anything he says in an interview at anywhere close to face value. That being said, he's talking about recording technology, not musical quality, and I'm sure the majority of musicians from the vinyl generation would agree, whether they can actually tell the difference or not. Dylan's always been finicky about the sound of his albums (which is sort of odd, since some of them sound not very good), so this isn't anything out of character. And it certainly shouldn't be grounds to dismiss him as a significant musical figure.

Posted by justin | August 23, 2006 12:50 PM

"53 comments and only one person actually read the link.

Dylan isn't saying modern music sounds bad.
He is saying that modern recording techniques sound bad. These are two very different things.

Reading comprehension, people."

Well, speaking of reading comprehension...clearly you also needs lessons. As there are MANY comments that grasp it fully. I'm standing by my comment that this is something crotchity old men say about music...whether they be crotchity in the 60s or crotchity in the 00s...my grandfather used to say the same thing about all music for the past 40 years of his life; yep, that includes Dylan.

Posted by Anonymous | August 23, 2006 5:04 PM

just out of curiosity, i would love to hear what kind of bands/music people who absolutely can't stand Bob Dylan do actually like. any of you haters willing to risk snarky ridicule?

Posted by lee | August 23, 2006 5:23 PM

just out of curiosity, i would love to hear what kind of bands/music people who absolutely can't stand Bob Dylan do actually like. Any takers??

Posted by lee | August 23, 2006 5:24 PM

Paris Hilton...she's hot...

Posted by i'mhot | August 23, 2006 5:25 PM

I didn't see the rolling stone interview, but I just thought I'd give a relevant David Lynch quote that has burned into my brain: "What kind of country is this where human scum can run across my lawn, and I go to jail if I shoot them?"

Come on, can the poet of his generation match that?

Posted by godoggo | August 23, 2006 5:41 PM

Poet of the new generation:

PARIS HILTON LYRICS

"Stars Are Blind"

I don't mind spending some time
Just hanging here with you
'Cause I don't find too many guys
That treat me like you do.
Those other guys all wanna take me for a ride
But when I walk they talk of suicide
Some people never get beyond their stupid pride
But you can see the real me inside
And I'm satisfied, oh no, ohh

Even though the gods are crazy
Even though the stars are blind
If you show me real love baby
I'll show you mine
I can make it nice and naughty
Be the devil and angel too
Got a heart and soul and body
Let's see what this love can do
Maybe I'm perfect for you

Ohh, ohh, ohh

I could be your confidante
Just one of your girlfriends
But I know that's not what you want
If tomorrow the world ends
Why shouldn't we be with the one we really love?
Now tell me who have you been dreaming of?
I and I alone, oh, no

Even though the gods are crazy
Even though the stars are blind
If you show me real love baby
I'll show you mine
I can make it nice and naughty
Be the devil and angel too
Got a heart and soul and body
Let's see what this love can do
Baby I'm perfect for you

Excuse me for feeling
This moment is critical
Might be we feel it
It could get physical, oh no, no, no

Even though the gods are crazy
Even though the stars are blind
If you show me real love baby
I'll show you mine
I can make it nice and naughty
Be the devil and angel too
Got a heart and soul and body
Let's see what this love can do
Oh
Let's see what love can do (Oh)
Maybe I'm perfect for you

Maybe I'm perfect for you (Oh)
You (Oh)
Maybe I'm perfect for you

Even though the gods are crazy (Oh)

Even though the stars are blind (Oh)

Even though the gods are crazy (Oh)

Even though the stars are blind (Oh)

Posted by bestlyricsever | August 23, 2006 5:45 PM

"The records I used to listen to and still love, you can't make a record that sounds that way," said Dylan, 65

http://www.cbc.ca/story/arts/national/2006/08/23/dylan-stone.html

Here's the related story... from Canada. And I don't really get the resentful comment towards the influx of Canadian bands onto the scene.

Posted by _ | August 24, 2006 10:22 AM

Additional Dyaln tourdates

10/11 Vancouver BC Pacific Coliseum Kings of Leon
10/13 Seattle WA Key Arena Kings of Leon
10/16 San Francisco CA Bill Graham Civic Kings of Leon
10/17 San Francisco CA Bill Graham Civic Kings of Leon
10/18 Sacramento CA ARCO Arena Kings of Leon
10/20 Los Angeles CA The Forum Kings of Leon
10/22 San Diego CA Cox Arena Kings of Leon
10/24 Denver CO Fillmore NO SUPPORT
10/25 Lincoln NE Pershing Auditorium Kings of Leon
10/29 St. Paul MN Xcel Energy Center Foo Fighters (Acoustic)
11/2 Detroit MI Palace of Auburn Hills Foo Fighters (Acoustic)
11/7 Toronto ON Air Canada Centre Foo Fighters (Acoustic)
11/8 Montreal QU Bell Centre Foo Fighters (Acoustic)
11/9 Portland ME Cumberland County Civic Center The Raconteurs
11/11 Boston MA Agganis Arena The Raconteurs
11/12 Boston MA Agganis Arena The Raconteurs
11/13 Uniondale NY Nassau Coliseum The Raconteurs
11/15 Amherst MA Univ. of MA Mullins Center The Raconteurs
11/16 East Rutherford NJ Continental Airlines Arena The Raconteurs
11/17 Fairfax VA Patriot Center The Raconteurs
11/18 Philadelphia PA Wachovia Spectrum The Raconteurs

Posted by danfun | August 24, 2006 1:32 PM

Anyways, one would think that he'd have the wherewithal to use any equipment he wants, old or new. It wouldn't be unprecedented. Hell, he could even put it out on vinyl, if he wanted to be a dick about it. It's not like he needs the money.

More importantly, regarding Paris Hilton's alleged hotness: as celebrities go, she's alright, but she's no Sofia Vergara. She brings to mind yet another quote, this by a friend, in response to my objection to his characterization of a certain punk rock chick as "ugly": "she just has that slutty quality that's so attractive."

Posted by godoggo | August 24, 2006 1:34 PM

Thanks for the link.

Anyways, one would think that he'd have the wherewithal to use any equipment he wants, old or new. It wouldn't be unprecedented. Hell, he could even put it out on vinyl, if he wanted to be a dick about it. It's not like he needs the money.

More importantly, regarding Paris Hilton's alleged hotness: as celebrities go, she's alright, but she's no Sofia Vergara. She brings to mind yet another historical quote, this by a friend in response to my objection to his characterization of a certain punk rock chick as "ugly": "she just has that slutty quality that's so attractive."

Posted by godoggo | August 24, 2006 1:39 PM

Thanks for the link," referring, of course to the news story a couple of posts above.

Posted by godoggo | August 24, 2006 4:08 PM

"10/24 Denver CO Fillmore NO SUPPORT"

HUH?

Posted by Anonymous | August 25, 2006 4:33 AM

If you have a problem with what amounts an obvious but necessary observation about "the industry" from Bob Dylan, who doesn't give a crap about skewing his words to sell records or please you, then you are irrelavant and have no "priveledges," but you expectedly create static anyway.

But why devote anymore brain space to you, lest you blow me away with your new style ultra-relevance?"

Maybe because Bob Dylan successfully combatted ignorance and lead pop/rock music to its greatest relevance, unmatched.

Thanks for the great insight to those who read and backed up their point with facts. I learned something.

Wait..here comes a big, creative F.U. from sombody...maybe even in my ear. Lose the ego and you might take your first step in new territory...the rest of the world.

Posted by joker | August 25, 2006 11:59 AM

Posted by: danfun at August 22, 2006 03:20 PM

WHEN THE MOST HYPED MUSIC IS COMING OUT OF CANADA, YOU KNOW THAT THERE IS NO DECENT MUSIC OUT THERE!!!!!!! SERIOUSLY, CANADA?!?!?!?!

I will take 'Funeral' over 'Time Out of Mind' any day. I understand Dylan's relevance to modern music, but at the end of the day, he is still just a guy with an opinion like the rest of us.

Posted by Joseph | August 26, 2006 12:21 AM

"just a guy with an opinion like the rest of us"? You wish. I know that in this matter, at least, he knows something about what he's talking about. You and everyone else who has commented here, I don't know from a hole in the ground.

Posted by Anonymous | August 26, 2006 4:04 PM

I am actually a Dylan fan, but I hasten to base the quality of modern music on one man's opinion. Dylan or whomever else. If you do, great. So like I said, just a guy with an opinion. Sure you can learn from it, take it for what it is. But it seems nobody even know's what the hell he exactly means by his comments at the end of day. Is he talking about the quality of the bands or the recordings, it seems to be the recording (and I can agree is some respects). Or is it just a marketing ploy? Besides that, how many people here actually listen to the music that has influenced Dylan?

Posted by Joseph | August 27, 2006 6:36 PM






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Audio Recording & Reproduction: Practical Measures for Audio Enthusiasts

by Michael Talbot-Smith


I’m a big Rush fan.

Yeah, I know. Me and 50 million other drummers.

I’ve been listening to this band since they showed up on my radar in the late 1970s, and have always followed their tours and new albums. I admit that I fall into the camp of wistful fans who yearn for a return to the art-rock glory days of the band (which pretty much makes me an old burnout) but I still like to hear the new stuff and see what these dudes are up to. And, Rush’s return to a more guitar-oriented (and acoustic-drum-oriented) sound has reignited some of my interest in their performances. Rock music is all about the guitar, and few people are as interesting to listen to as Alex Lifeson. And don’t even get me started about Neil Peart.

The other interest I have in this band is that they have always been at or near the forefront of recording technology. They were one of the first bands to jump into digital recording, where they definitely learned some tough lessons, but the engineering work done on their CDs has usually been top-notch. I can almost always learn something about engineering from listening to the production of a Rush CD.

So you can guess that it was with much anticipation that I awaited my first real listen to the band’s newest CD, “Vapor Trails”. Reviews heralded this album as one of the hardest-rocking Rush albums in some time, with a strong focus on guitars, powerful drumming, excellent bass work, and some of the best songwriting to come from the band in years. And, in listening to the CD, I found all of these things to be true. This is easily my favorite collection of Rush songs in years, maybe decades. It’s incredible work and I earnestly hope it reflects a new and sustainable direction for this great band.

However there was one fact that the reviewers had all left out: this CD sounds like dogshit.

Perhaps you think I’m being a little strong. I think not. This is without prefix or suffix the worst sounding Rush CD ever made. In fact it is so bad that I cannot listen to more than a few songs before I just have to turn it off.

What’s the cause of this sonic catastrophe? There’s no secret here: loudness. Vapor Trails is just the latest CD to fall victim to the current craze of LOUDER IS BETTER production. Rush is not alone. Most of the current crop of rock CDs have been punished by the LOUDER IS BETTER process, and I know I am not alone when I say, once and for all, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

Where the damage was done on the Vapor Trails CD is impossible to say for sure. Usually, LOUDER IS BETTER is inflicted by the mastering engineer. It is relatively evident from an investigation of the audio on Vapor Trails that the problems arose in mixing or mastering, not in tracking. However the audio on this disk is so bad that had I been the record label, I would have sued the responsible party for malpractice. Unfortunately, I know all too well that the record label is almost certainly the culprit in this crime, and the band and its fans the victims.

The Label is the Culprit

Record labels have never really understood what makes a record “sound good” and frankly, few even care. Many of the people who sign artists don’t understand their music at all. Instead, they are able to pick up on musical trends, and replicate those trends across the ranks of their artists. Artists that fit into the trend are fed, the rest are starved.

Over the past few years, record labels have increasingly attempted to dictate to the artist and producer the target volume level of the CD. For some reason, record labels have it in their head that “LOUD” equals good, and therefore, “LOUDER” equals better. Not caring to understand even the basics of audio, these morons simply demand more volume (typically from the mastering engineer) and really don’t understand – or care – about the consequences of their demands.

Mastering engineers are caught in a Catch-22. If they do not deliver a product that is appropriately LOUD, then they are consdered inept by the labels and are shunned. If they refuse to destroy the artist’s music, then they aren’t being “team players” and quickly fall out of favor. But if they provide what the customer demands (and remember, the label, not the band, is the customer) then they ruin a perfectly good piece of music, and they know that sooner or later, people are going to figure out why the sound is so horrible, and then the mastering engineer will be blacklisted for having followed orders.

Having said all that I really don’t know what I would do in their shoes. If someone offered YOU the opportunity to master a Rush CD, and then told you that you would have to destroy the sound quality in order to get the job, how would you respond? It isn’t a clear or easy choice.

However what is clear as day is that this CD sounds like dogshit. I cannot say this enough. My God, this thing sounds terrible. It is hands-down the worst sounding CD I own.

Perhaps a brief education about the history of the problem is in order.

A Little History Lesson

Everyone has heard the CD That Is Too Quiet. This is usually your (or your buddy’s) first demo. You pop it in and you can barely hear the music. There are many reasons for the CD That Is Too Quiet, and it isn’t my intention here to go into them all. But we’ve all heard (or made) the CD That Is Too Quiet and regretted it.

Professional engineers, particularly the ones working with digital in the early days of that medium, made some CDs That Were Too Quiet. Usually, these guys had lots of skill and great intent. You get the whole CD laid out in the DAW, and you’ve been careful with your gain structure, and there’s lots of headroom. In one or two places, there’s a freak transient that comes close to 0 dB, but overall the peaks are hitting near –9 or lower, and there’s tons of dynamic range. In general these professional CDs sound pretty good – sometimes excellent - but the average level of the audio is relatively low.

Most older recordings tracked and mixed to analog didn’t suffer these problems. The reason was that traditionally engineers would saturate the analog tape by running it hot, essentally using the tape as a peak limiter at every stage of the process. As a result there are usually no errant peaks in an analog rock recording, and for this reason most rock records are still recorded to analog tape.

The problem with the CD That Is Too Quiet is this: when you put the CD into the CD changer, it’s YOUR music that nobody hears. Well, folks, if you’re a record label exec, that’s the ONE problem that you know just cannot be allowed to stand. Quiet CDs became synonymous with Amateur Recordings, and Loud CDs became synonymous with Professional Recordings.

Understandably, nobody wants to have the quietest CD in the CD changer. Nobody wants to have the one CD that doesn’t get heard. The problem with the LOUDER IS BETTER approach is simply that with any medium – digital or analog – there is only so much signal that will fit in the space provided. Beyond a point, you cannot gain anything without losing something.

Why Be Normal?

The idea behind peak limiting of digital audio started simply enough. Before people got the idea to use a peak limiter on their digital audio, the process of normalizing was used. Normalizing is a strange word that simply means “increase the volume of the signal by whatever amount is needed to bring the highest peak up to 0 dB, full-scale. Normalizing audio during a CD transfer is simply an easy way to get the audio as loud as it can be without changing the dynamics whatsoever. From an audiophile point of view it is the proper technique to get the hottest signal on CD with no distortion of the signal at all.

However, as we’ve discussed, if you have just one transient that jumps out of the signal, then you really can’t get much extra volume out of the signal. Here’s where limiting comes into play: if we just tame the small number of peaks that are eating up the dynamic range of the signal, then we can get the entire signal hotter. Used properly, this results in an imperceptible change to a small number of peaks in the signal and the whole signal can be made louder, sometimes considerably so. This approach achieves the maximum volume while still preserving virtually all of the original signal.

People discovered that with modern limiter technology, you could pretty much ride ALL of the peaks, and squeeze another few dB of gain out of the signal. This approach definitely changes the sonics of the signal because the peaks are being limited throughout the song. However, depending on the source material and your personal taste, this approach to limiting can sound pretty good as long as it is kept in the range of reasonableness. A lot of CDs have been mastered using this approach to limiting, and most of them still sound pretty good.

However, the latest trend is LOUDER IS BETTER. This approach basically ignores any distortion caused by limiting and seeks to make the audio as loud as possible. The idea is to peg the meters and keep them pegged. As a result the signal is just ruined.

WHY IS THE LOUDER IS BETTER APPROACH THE WRONG APPROACH? BECAUSE WHEN ALL OF THE SIGNAL IS AT THE MAXIMUM LEVEL, THEN THERE IS NO WAY FOR THE SIGNAL TO HAVE ANY PUNCH. THE WHOLE THING COMES SCREAMING AT YOU LIKE A MESSAGE IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. AS WE ALL KNOW, WHEN YOU TYPE IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS THERE ARE NO CUES TO HELP THE BRAIN MAKE SENSE OF THE SIGNAL, AND THE MIND TIRES QUICKLY OF TRYING TO PROCESS WHAT IS, BASICALLY, WHITE NOISE. LIKEWISE, A SIGNAL THAT JUST PEGS THE METERS CAUSES THE BRAIN TO REACT AS THOUGH IT IS BEING FED WHITE NOISE. WE SIMPLY FILTER IT OUT AND QUIT TRYING TO PROCESS IT.

I bet you couldn’t even finish reading that paragraph. Get the idea? If louder was really better, then all print media would be printed like the above paragraph.

Editor's note: immediately after printing this article, Senior Editor Bill Park mentioned in a Discussion Forum thread that one point that had not been made in this article was the psychological effect of LOUDER IS BETTER on the listener - that people tend to either turn the music off, tune the music out, or get away from it. Of course, that is precisely the point of the paragraph above in all caps. Bill had actually fallen victim to the point he was trying to make - the all-caps paragraph was so overwhelming to his brain that he either couldn't stand to read the whole thing, or his brain failed to process the message. The irony of this is just amazing, and clearly proves the point that Bill was trying to make: LOUDER IS BETTER means that people actually fail to even hear the music.

Case Study

I went back through some of my collection of Rush CDs to see if my theories held true. What I found was pretty shocking, but not surprising. It turns out that Rush is just a microcosm of what has been going on in music for the last five or so years.

Here is a side-by-side picture showing a sample of audio from five different Rush CDs. On the top is the latest CD, Vapor Trails (2002). Below that, going back a few years, is a sample from the Counterparts CD (1993). Going back a year is a sample from the Roll The Bones CD (1992). Next is 1985’s Power Windows, the first Rush CD to be recorded entirely digitally. On the bottom is a sample from the Grace Under Pressure CD (1984) which immediately preceded Power Windows and was recorded to analog.


A numerical analysis of these tracks offers more insight into the same information:


Peak
Amplitude # Clipped Samples RMS (average) Power
Vapor Trails 0 dBFS 110 -9.5 dB
Counterparts 0 dBFS 5 -14 dB
Roll the Bones 0 dBFS 5 -17 dB
Power Windows -.3 dBFS 0 -18.5 dB
Grace Under Pressure -.3 dBFS 0 -18.5 dB

a 10-second representative sample was used from each CD in computing these statistics

Power Windows and Grace Under Pressure are classic examples of the Normalization approach to CD transfer (note: I have no earthly idea how any of the CDs were actually mastered, but they still serve as excellent examples of the various approaches to mastering I will discuss). Both Power Windows and Grace Under Pressure show no signs of brickwall peak limiting. Most of the peaks fall well below 0 dBFS, but each one had one peak that hit -.3 dBFS. In the mid-eighties, -.3 dBFS was considered the loudest signal that was safe to put on a CD, since some CD players at the time would treat a 0 dBFS sample as an error. It seems apparent that these two CDs were normalized immediately before transfer to CD master and were not processed with a brickwall limiter.

Roll the Bones shows some signs of peak limiting, but the limiting was a very safe approach. Most of the peaks are just a little below 0 dBFS, but several of them do hit 0 dBFS. However, investigating those samples shows that most of the transient is preserved, leading me to believe that the limiter was used primarily as a safety device, rather than with a deliberate attempt to knock the peaks off of the transients. A little gain was achieved vis-a-vis the older songs: the Roll the Bones sample is 1.5 dB louder than the samples from Power Windows and Grace Under Pressure.

Counterparts is indicitive of an aggressive approach to limiting that still seeks to preserve as much fidelity as possible in the signal. Here it is pretty clear that the limiter was used to shave off a few dB from most of the peaks. Although the analysis software reported that the Counterparts sample and the Roll the Bones sample both had 5 "clipped" samples, investigation of the peaks shows a more consistently limited signal on the Counterparts CD. Not surprisingly, this CD is noticeably louder than the older three samples used in this test. Counterparts is 3 dB louder than Roll the Bones and 4.5 dB louder than Power Windows and Grace Under Pressure. As you probably know, that means that you will perceive Counterparts to be twice as loud as those older CDs. And, while the trained ear will recognize the sound of Counterparts as having been processed with a limiter, the sound is still relatively open and more-or-less unmolested. Audiophiles will probably disagree with me here, but in the world of rock music, a little bit of peak limiting doesn't necessarily ruin the sound.

But what is going on with Vapor Trails? The numbers quickly report the truth we were hearing with our ears. The average volume is a whopping 4.5 dB louder than Counterparts. But where Counterparts was able to achieve a 4.5 dB volume boost with almost no increase in audible distortion, in the Vapor Trails sample almost every peak is clipped, many of them severely so. And, as we shall see, the limiting is so severe that the songs have no punch, and just slam out of the speakers like a loud blast of white noise.

What Price Volume?

Have a look at this and tell me what you see:

One of thousands of ruined kick drum transients from the Vapor Trails CD

What you are looking at is a serious square wave. Note in the top swing of the clipped wave how the high-frequency harmonics have had all of their peaks shaved off? This is why clipping sounds harsh. Now note how in the lower portion of that wave the bottom is just perfectly squared off? That's a pulse of white noise. Now note how all of the peaks in this signal are all hitting the top of the scale? This is why the CD has no punch. A powerful blast of the kick drum should be louder than the rest of the signal and should have a sharp transient on the front of the wave. In the case of this song, however, it just produces a quick blast of distortion and a dull thudding sensation.

If there was one or two places on the CD that had been tortured like this, it would be one thing. But that's not the case. Every peak on the whole album is wrecked. In fact I didn't have to try to find an ugly picture to illustrate the damage: the question was "which one do I choose?"


You're probably thinking, "You've got to be kidding!" But I'm not. These are just a few of the thousands of examples of the trashed audio on the Vapor Trails CD.

Now, anybody with any experience in audio should be able to look at these examples and immediately know, "That won't sound good." And, it doesn't. So the question is, why is this CD wrecked, and by whom?

Notice how, when the signal clips, the whole signal is being destroyed? If this had been caused by an error during tracking (say, the kick drum track was too hot) then there would still be detail left in the signal. Therefore, we know this distortion was caused either during mixdown or during mastering. I'd be willing to bet that it was caused during the mastering process. At least I hope it was during the mastering process. At least that way there's some chance that one day I'll be able to buy a remastered copy of Vapor Trails that's worth listening to.

But before you think I'm accusing the mastering engineer of incompetence, remember my earlier discussion. I doubt very seriously if any engineer actually wanted to do this to the music. No, only the decision of a record label executive could destroy music like this.

What a shame. What a crying shame.

Solutions

I can sit here and rant all day long. The real question is: what can be done about it?

The good news is that LOUDER IS BETTER is definitely a self-correcting problem. Because this stuff just plain sounds bad, and sooner or later (hopefully sooner) people are going to realize that the music doesn't "rock more" or "cut through better" but that it's just plain annoying.

Because the simple truth is that audio such as this does NOT cut through better. In fact, in all probability this song will be QUIETER on the radio than, say, Roll the Bones! How, you may ask, could this be possible?

The answer lies in the simple fact that the radio station uses compressors and limiters as well. The station's signal processors are also designed to get the hottest signal on the air. As such, they expect a certain amount of peaks in the signal. A broadcast processor that can't "see" any peaks is simply going to clamp down on the whole signal. In the end, the song is no louder (and maybe quieter) than other, more dynamic material - AND it is further penalized because it has no punch and is very harsh.

So to you record executives who think you have identified the magic way to ensure that your song is louder on the radio, think again. It just isn't so.

And as far as being the loudest CD in the CD changer, has it ever occurred to anyone just exactly how annoying that is? Let me tell you, you won't catch me loading Vapor Trails into MY changer with a bunch of older Rush CDs. It sticks out like a sore, bleeding thumb.

As I have said before, Rush is not the only band to fall victim to LOUDER IS BETTER. As a matter of fact I have had some of the CDs which I have engineered fall victim to LOUDER IS BETTER. I don't mean to pick on Rush, one of my favorite bands of all time. However, let's look at some facts.

More than most other bands, Rush has proved itself capable of consistently delivering music that pleases the fans. Rush's success has not come through a string of chart-topping hits, clever marketing, or sex appeal. Rush's success comes from its close alliance with its fans.

I wonder what would happen if Rush fans complained about the sound of this record? To my mind, the only thing that the record company mooks will pay attention to is audience disapproval. So I encourage you to write to your favorite bands and tell them that you will quit buying their CDs if they insist on trying to make them the loudest CDs you own.

Oh, and when you write them, WRITE IN ALL CAPS.



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Posted by Anonymous | August 31, 2006 9:42 PM

If Dylan doesn't like modern recording methods and mp3's, then why is he now shilling for iTunes and iPod?

Posted by Anonymous | August 31, 2006 11:10 PM

I just wish that some of you people knew how absolutely stupid you make yourselves sound with some of the comments you post. You know what? You people are so close minded and your worthless opinions are so shallow that you couldn't possibly ever have a thought of your own. Why don't all of you survive in the music business for over 40 years, put out over 40 records, win album of the year, and be respected and still touring before you think that anyone gives a damn about what you say! Almost everyone is missing the point here. You can't see the forest for the trees! And you don't want to! I work in the video production business. I think motion picture film looks a hell of a lot better than video. But guess where most of my money comes from? Video work. That's where the business is right now. Do you ever complain about your job? Ever? Does that mean that you don't go to work? I know red necks that just don't understand why anyone would ever drink a fine wine and spend $45 on a steak. Does that mean that the wine and steak aren't good and worth the money. No! It just means that I am talking to a small minded red neck.

Posted by Spencer | September 7, 2006 12:30 AM

By the way, this "awful" album is number 1 on the Billboard charts! So, who are you people?

Posted by spencer | September 7, 2006 1:06 AM

By the way, this "awful" album is number 1 on the Billboard charts! So, who are you people?

Posted by Spencer | September 7, 2006 1:07 AM

mexican stinky balls

Posted by Anonymous | October 16, 2007 6:57 PM

i completely agree!!!! and i'm only twelve

Posted by Anonymous | October 30, 2008 5:58 PM

i luv bob dylan hes my fav i go to every concert i can and have yrt to meet him an talk to him i will keep tryin bob is right it does sound like a bunch of noise bob is a truly one of americas greatest singer songwriters in our history thats why he is still making music today he has helped change and shape america thru his music i am proud we have been blessed with this truly talented and great muscician get a clue people and wake up ! peace out luv you bob dylan

Posted by mary jo | November 11, 2008 7:38 AM

not too bad
nice!! i can't express how much I love IT, oh yeah, the nation are pretty good too.

Posted by WOW GOLD | December 3, 2008 1:24 AM

bob is a old wrinkled penis.. nobody buys your shit either.

Posted by FucK bOb | December 7, 2008 8:03 PM

I wonder what would happen if Rush fans complained about the sound of this record? To my mind, the only thing that the record company mooks will pay attention to is audience disapproval. So I encourage you to write to your favorite bands and tell them that you will quit buying their CDs if they insist on trying to make them the loudest CDs you own.

Posted by bedroom furniture | March 9, 2009 9:36 PM

Nobody buys Bobs shit? I just bought three albums. The funny thing is that they all sound better than 99% of the crap out being put out there now. Generalizations can be bad, but if you hold out on a generalization because of 1% that sounds good, nobody will know what you are talking about anyway. It appears that most of the people who dis on old Bob seem to think the height of musicianship is Lady-Autotune,Britney Sneers, and Commercial hip hop. (Strong emphasis on commercial... there is good hip hop but it doesn't sell as many albums) Being catchy and having a polished but boring voice does not make your music good. It makes it rather boring. It is true bobs recent work isn't remarkable, but listen to Highway 61 Revisited and educate yourself, or stop talking. Period.

Posted by Joe | May 22, 2010 6:05 AM

Sorry, Dylan, I just lost a lot of respect for you. Modern music > Classic Music

Posted by Anonymous | July 1, 2011 3:20 PM

I really love Bob Dylan. He changed the music industry. I'm he's #1 fan. Thanks for posting.


Posted by Retirement | September 8, 2011 10:58 AM

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