The Dilemma

   By Guest Blogger   Categories: Mastering Audio

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Once a Senior Lecturer and now an occasional one, I feel, like many educators, the need to provide working practices that should be followed as if ABC. “The Rules’ if you like. From a student’s perspective, they seek this criterion based structure – a right or a wrong way. “If I EQ the bass drum like X, then I’ll get mark Y”.

I think back to the famous story about Geoff Emerick who risked getting sacked for placing a microphone actually near a bass drum in a Beatles session. He, like many before him, proved that breaking the rules can change universal working practices. So how can we account for ‘production’ example in the modern education of the professional and the listener?

For students I often play “Hand In my Pocket” by Alanis Morissette which I suspect was one of her best selling singles ever, but there are alleged ‘mistakes’ on the vocal mic capture (if you can call them that) throughout the early seconds of the track. These manifest themselves as clicks, pops, a shuffling sound and what later suggests to be a sharp drop-in. Some might even say this is an honest representation of the session – as it should be?

This example is great for teaching so-called ‘mistakes’ and testing students’ listening skills when in a decent listening environment. However, one dilemma still remains that despite all the track’s apparent faults – it sold bucket loads. So whilst students might be told that the track has ‘mistakes’, it still boosted Alanis Morissette’s career and the buying public did not care. I wonder, would the buying public care today in our mp3-accepting culture?

So on one hand, we instinctively set criteria, or ‘the rules’ by which to assess students by, but on the other there are tracks that simply ought not to sound good for a whole host of reasons, but they just do! The XX might be an example of this with their lo fi sound?

In the end, how do we measure good production with all its faults and imperfections? Some suggest we ought to become market driven. Meanwhile audiophiles and engineers like me constantly seek better sounding music. The fact remains that there is seemingly a whole host of the listening public who do not assess music in the hi-fi way, and may never do so.

Who should we and our students pander to? The audiophiles who still buy hard-copy music but not in large quantities? Or the mass market listening to free (or limited numbers of paid) mp3s using the speakers in their mobile phone or laptop?

The dilemma continues….

Blogger Bio

Russ Hepworth-Sawyer is a sound engineer and producer with many years’ experience of all things audio and is a member of the Association of Professional Recording Services and the Audio Engineering Society; a Fellow of the Institute For Learning (U.K.); and a Director of the Music Producer’s Guild

Through MOTTOsound (, Russ works as a mastering engineer, producer, writer, and consultant.

Russ lectures part-time for York St John University and Barnsley College Online and has taught extensively in higher education at British institutions including Leeds College of Music, London College of Music, and Rose Bruford College. He writes for Pro Sound News Europe, has contributed to Sound On Sound magazine, and has written many titles for Focal Press.

Photo by Roland via Flickr


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