Dr. AIX's POSTS — 24 October 2014

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It strikes me as odd that the only labels that are actively producing and releasing surround music are focused primarily on classical repertoire. This was brought to fore when all of the participants in the AES panel on DXD and DSD played classical music during their demonstrations. Morten Lynberg is well known for his recordings that employ an array of microphones in the center of an ensemble. Robert Friedrich (Five Four Productions), Jared Sachs (Channel Classics), John Newton (Soundmirror), and others (Pentatone) are all recording and delivering multichannel surround productions. And I’m with them. All of my productions have multiple surround sound mixes too.

I don’t know if my recording of the Zdenek Macal and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra performing Beethoven’s 6th “Pastoral” Symphony and Respighi’s “The Pines Of Rome” was the first classical DVD-Audio titles but I can tell you that it was the first with multiple mixes AND the first to use the LFE channel (the subwoofer). Classical music benefits from using more speakers. And some months prior to that we release the Brahms Piano Quintet in f minor in DVD-Audio.

But why are most of the surround recordings being produced these days in the classical genre? Why aren’t the pop/commercial engineers being asked to provide surround mixes as part of their deliverables to the major labels? The reason is the additional cost associated with making a mix in 5.1 surround and the fact that there is no demand for the end product. Additionally, the type of productions that 2L, Five Four, Channel Classics, Pentatone, and AIX release are recorded in live performance spaces with everyone present at the same time. Capturing the ambiance of the recording venue is easy under these circumstances and mixing a surround version of the session is as simple as putting the ambiance in the left and right surround channels.

Things are not so easy when it comes to the pop/rock releases. The added costs, format issues, lack of demand, and delivery challenges have taken surround music off of the table for virtually all major record labels. The recent Tom Petty “Hypnotic Eye” is a notable exception. I’d like to find out why Reprise Records decided to make a Blu-ray version of this titles available. Perhaps Tom and his engineer were the catalyst behind this high-resolution, surround BD disc that exists. Tom certainly has the clout to make it happen. But the disc disappoints.

It’s not really high-resolution and the surround mix is basically a 2.0 channel stereo mix played through more speakers. If you’re hoping that there would be guitars and drums and vocals spread all around you, you’ll be disappointed.

The cost of mixing a single track by a respected mixing engineer can range from $500 to $5000 per track. The number of hours isn’t taken into consideration. The track is done when the artist and producer given their approval. It would make the most sense to have a surround mix done at the same time as the stereo version, but rarely is this done. I spoke to Bob Clearmountain and he told me that he does a 5.1 mix to every album project that comes his way. He doesn’t charge for them and he doesn’t deliver them. I guess he’s hoping that the labels will come back sometime in the “surround music” future and want them…for an additional charge.

Don’t hold your breath.

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About Author

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

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