Masterclass with Steve Albini

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I am only part way through this, watching a bit at a time as it is a long program, but it is thought provoking enough to warrant posting here IMO...

Ahh the power of analogue, now that takes me back, but a sensible eye on the future too maybe...

Masterclass with Steve Albini


Duration 1 hour 57 mins

And here is a bit about Electrical Audio


Duration 8:09


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  • duotoneduotone Frets: 334
    Watched the 2nd video, cheers for that
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  • BloodEagleBloodEagle Frets: 4408
    The best recording engineer there is - has been making amazing sounding records for close to 30 years
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  • ChrisMusicChrisMusic Frets: 1118
    Thanks for your comment @BloodEagle ;, I totally agree with you.  He has far more insight to offer than just the recording engineer perspective too, and that is a unique perspective from his role and experiences over his career in the business.  He is obviously someone who thinks about the details of life, and cares deeply about his chosen path.  Even better, he is happy to share that experience in an unguarded way.

    Cheers @duotone , the first video is well worth watching, I left it open in a tab on my browser, and just came back to it in 20 or 30 min chunks when I was in 'the mood', I would highly recommend doing something similar as there is so much good information to take in, without hitting overload.

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  • Very interesting. He's demonstrably wrong about a few things in the first 7 or 8 minutes (re: stuff that's proprietary etc). Almost none of the source formats for storing audio are proprietary (eg WAV, OGG etc), and while most DAW project formats are proprietary, that's largely just the plugin settings - and you don't get those with tape formats either. Tapes also degrade, so it's unlikely that most of the stuff that he's recorded will still be around in 100 years anyway (to take his example).

    Still, that aside...interesting guy :)
    "Mains is ouchy if you get it up you" - Sporky
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  • Very interesting. He's demonstrably wrong about a few things in the first 7 or 8 minutes (re: stuff that's proprietary etc). Almost none of the source formats for storing audio are proprietary (eg WAV, OGG etc), and while most DAW project formats are proprietary, that's largely just the plugin settings - and you don't get those with tape formats either. Tapes also degrade, so it's unlikely that most of the stuff that he's recorded will still be around in 100 years anyway (to take his example).

    Still, that aside...interesting guy :)
    Assuming it's not overused and is stored correctly megnetic tape should not degrade. In terms of proprietary formats, he is really talking about project masters rather than audio formats. It's defo not clear at the start but he clarifies a lot in the end during the q and a. 
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  • CirrusCirrus Frets: 4475
    I seem to recall that Google uses magnetic tape for backups, a quick google (yeah...) gives me this;

    http://www.itbusinessedge.com/cm/blogs/mah/is-tape-still-relevant-for-smbs/?cs=45557

    There IS a good argument to be made that tape is a more secure long term storage medium - sure, there are problems with sticky tape shedding etc, but I think it's quite telling that things like the Beatles' masters can still be played as long as they're properly treated beforehand.

    In contrast, if a hard drive lasts 5 years we tend to be happy. In the amazing world of digital, we often forget that the hardware is mass produced, usually cheap as possible. And there are still age related considerations; the platters of unused hard drive are liable to seize up. If a solid state drive's control chip breaks, the data is much harder to recover. CD-rs I burned when I was 18 don't play any more with any kind of reliability, because the physical artifact degrades. I have two DAT tapes from my uni days - I also remember using a VHS 16-track ADAT recorder. Unless I remembered to take old files with me as I've moved through desktops, laptops and tablets, those files are lost to me. Obviously this last one is down to personal organisation but when you're dealing with artists, it's a real issue.

    And that's just the hardware side. Look at software. Look at planned obsolescence. Look at security licenses for plugins. I see forum posts all the time about, say, an Ilok that has been lost or just stopped working in the middle of an important session. About software authentication that breaks, and leaves people desperately calling tech support to see what's going on. About software that has support discontinued, and then a few years later you find yourself with an operating system that will no longer run it.

    Personally, I have no confidence that the mix session I was working on at the weekend will be able to be ran by me in five years time. Even if I take my computer, put it in a box and don't use it - something will break. The hard drive will have failed, or one of the programs that needs a license will have broken either by accident or design and fail to open. If I keep using the PC and stay on the upgrade path, eventually something will break in terms of backwards compatibility.

    Maybe it won't.

    But if I have clients paying me money, I'd definitely be paranoid about it. They say data's not safe until it's backed up in three physical locations, but most locations, in the long run, will have the same systematic flaws.

    Me, personally, I'm not a luddite and I think it just comes down to how much you care about this stuff. But I think Albini's views there are perfectly valid - if you use tape, real analogue gear, and have the skills to maintain it, then that's a very safe way of making sure you can re-create a mix session in the future. Unless you die.  =)

    I think, though, his views are borne of a certain attitude to the creation of the art, and he has interesting views about the place of the recordist in the whole process, and how the process does or doesn't influence the artist.
    Captain Horizon (my old band);
    Very (!) Occasional Blog
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  • digitalscreamdigitalscream Frets: 14596
    edited January 2017
    Very interesting. He's demonstrably wrong about a few things in the first 7 or 8 minutes (re: stuff that's proprietary etc). Almost none of the source formats for storing audio are proprietary (eg WAV, OGG etc), and while most DAW project formats are proprietary, that's largely just the plugin settings - and you don't get those with tape formats either. Tapes also degrade, so it's unlikely that most of the stuff that he's recorded will still be around in 100 years anyway (to take his example).

    Still, that aside...interesting guy
    Assuming it's not overused and is stored correctly megnetic tape should not degrade. In terms of proprietary formats, he is really talking about project masters rather than audio formats. It's defo not clear at the start but he clarifies a lot in the end during the q and a. 
    Four questions:

    1 - How many machines capable of playing those tapes existed 30 years ago?
    2 - How many exist today?
    3 - How many will exist  - to take his example - in 100 years?
    4 - How easy do you think it'd be to integrate an open source algorithm into a music player in 100 years' time, compared with building a tape machine from scratch?

    The code to playback WAV and FLAC formats is open source and stored in hundreds of thousands of places - if not millions - and is trivial (for somebody with basic programming skills) to integrate into any system; even if every copy of that code was lost, the specification exists in just as many places. A file stored on any medium is 100% representative of how it was stored; as long as you can retrieve it, there will be no degradation in quality, and permanent storage is trivial in many ways (eg flash memory), not to mention the fact that most online storage is both redundant and error-correcting.

    Contrast that with the expense of preserving tapes correctly - permanent temperature and humidity control, making sure nobody walks past with a strong magnet in their pocket etc ;)

    Beyond that, it's absolutely trivial to store such data in more than one place, or even many places (both physically and virtually) and costs practically nothing. Try doing the same with magnetic tapes - find another facility with the same environmental controls etc, then ask how much they charge...

    My point is that his arguments are those of somebody who actively doesn't want to understand what he's arguing against (as he himself admits), and that annoys the snot out of me; he has a certain authority associated with his words, so when he speaks he has an obligation to at least make an effort to understand instead of spreading ignorance.

    @Cirrus - yes, Google (and many other companies) still use tape backups, but they're refreshed very frequently such that the longevity of a single tape isn't an issue. My experience of tape-based backups from around 10 years ago is that roughly 40% of tapes are damaged to the point of being useless by the time you come to need them (admittedly, Murphy's Law is involved here at some point along the line). Whether it's mechanical failure in the player, tape quality or some other catastrophe...they're not as reliable as people tend to believe.

    My personal gripe with his attitude on this particular issue, I do like his views on pretty much everything else :)
    "Mains is ouchy if you get it up you" - Sporky
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  • CirrusCirrus Frets: 4475
    I totally appreciate your points @digitalscream , I guess I just judge his comments purely in relation to the act of recording and mixing bands and the rate of change in pro digital audio.

    I also think that having a position on this gives him a USP, so from a business standpoint it makes sense - though I'm sure he's genuine and not cynically peddling a line, he definitely has a lot of visibility because of his views.
    Captain Horizon (my old band);
    Very (!) Occasional Blog
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  • So Ive been listning to the Unstoppable Recording Machine podcast today and Joey Sturgis talked about this for a bit. His approach is intersting in that it basically accepts that you probably wont be able to open the session files themselves so he structures his projects via buses such that if you render stems of all tracks you get every combinations of DI/processed stems rendered out in wav (which lets face it isnt going anywhere).


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  • solarsolar Frets: 91
    Super interesting video, thanks for the link.

    He touches on the archiving thing at the end - his point is that an analog tape machine could theoretically be re-constructed in some post-apocalyptic world (and gives an example of a tape machine that was built from plans in a garage in Soviet Russia). In such a situation, it would be totally impossible to build, from scratch, something capable of understanding a WAV file, no matter what medium it was stored on.
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  • digitalscreamdigitalscream Frets: 14596
    edited February 2017
    solar said:

    He touches on the archiving thing at the end - his point is that an analog tape machine could theoretically be re-constructed in some post-apocalyptic world (and gives an example of a tape machine that was built from plans in a garage in Soviet Russia). In such a situation, it would be totally impossible to build, from scratch, something capable of understanding a WAV file, no matter what medium it was stored on.
    Really? A tape couldn't be destroyed by the apocalypse, given that the cause of the apocalypse is likely to be a nuclear explosion...which causes massive electromagnetic disturbances? ;)

    My point is that even in 20 years, there will be almost no analogue tape machines left. There will, however, be millions upon millions of computers, all of which are capable of reading WAV files. His argument is ludicrous, born of the fact that he fundamentally doesn't understand the technology.
    "Mains is ouchy if you get it up you" - Sporky
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  • CirrusCirrus Frets: 4475

    My point is that even in 20 years, there will be almost no analogue tape machines left. There will, however, be millions upon millions of computers, all of which are capable of reading WAV files. His argument is ludicrous, born of the fact that he fundamentally doesn't understand the technology.
    Put it another way, though.

    In 20 years, a band that's recorded a record on analogue tape will have a tape of their session. I'd be surprised if there weren't still some tape machines around.

    A band that's recorded digitally, will, if they're lucky, have a session which consists of a subfolder of hundreds of little wav files that contain snippets of audio. Assuming, that is, they have maintained their backups over two decades against failing hardware etc. The only way to assemble them back into the right arrangement, short of forensic work, will be if you can open the DAW session file.
    Captain Horizon (my old band);
    Very (!) Occasional Blog
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  • digitalscreamdigitalscream Frets: 14596
    edited February 2017
    Cirrus said:

    A band that's recorded digitally, will, if they're lucky, have a session which consists of a subfolder of hundreds of little wav files that contain snippets of audio. Assuming, that is, they have maintained their backups over two decades against failing hardware etc. The only way to assemble them back into the right arrangement, short of forensic work, will be if you can open the DAW session file.
    Or somebody with a brain and a tiny amount of foresight could render out all the stems to parallel tracks, such that playing them all simultaneously reconstructs the track - just the same as you would with a tape. I figured this was exactly what everybody did with their recording session backups?

    You can also store it in as many places as you like, for trivial cost.

    With Reaper, for example, you could trivially do this for every version of a take. That ain't happening with tape.

    In any case...the other problem with the "apocalypse" scenario is that proper tape storage without degradation requires pretty strict atmospheric controls, which ain't likely to be there in any situation where computers aren't also there ;)

    Cirrus said:

    In 20 years, a band that's recorded a record on analogue tape will have a tape of their session. I'd be surprised if there weren't still some tape machines around.
    You don't just need a tape machine, though - you need a fully-functioning, well-maintained tape machine which you can be sure won't stretch, damage or destroy the only copy of your session that you own.

    There might be a few thousand of them kicking around now, just 15 years after digital recording started taking over. 

    Sure, if you can't find one, just build one as Albini says. The build of the new one would have to be identical to the one used to record it. What head spacing would you use? Do you know how the tracks are physically laid out on the tape? How fast should it play back?

    Just like the WAV, you'd need specs. The problem is that the specs for a tape machine which is no longer required by the bulk of society (to the extent that even now they could quite accurately be described as "equivalent to unicorn poo") are self-evidently going to be lost long before the specs for something which is used by every computer (approx. 2 billion of them) and every mobile phone (about 6 billion of them...yes, really) in the world.

    Sure, you could just figure it out by experimentation, but you're likely to destroy at least one tape copy of something in the process.

    Even as a thought experiment, his scenario is absurd.
    "Mains is ouchy if you get it up you" - Sporky
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  • Very interesting and revealing comments about Page and Plant here.

    I could listen to him all day.

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  • ChrisMusicChrisMusic Frets: 1118
    Nice one, thanks for posting that video @MagicPigDetective ;

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  • ChrisMusicChrisMusic Frets: 1118
    The "protecting intellectual property" argument covers formats, storage media, retrieval, and legal issues.

    It applies in most fields, especially with the proliferation of digitisation of original material, or as digital originals.

    There is another thread which explores some of these issues more...

    http://thefretboard.co.uk/discussion/95238/future-proofing-our-intellectual-property#latest

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  • StuckfastStuckfast Frets: 583
    Albini is an interesting and smart guy, but there are definitely things about which he protests too much. Notably his "don't call me a producer, I'm just the engineer, I just do what the band asks me to do" schtick. He definitely has A Sound.
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  • octatonicoctatonic Frets: 21882
    Very interesting. He's demonstrably wrong about a few things in the first 7 or 8 minutes (re: stuff that's proprietary etc). Almost none of the source formats for storing audio are proprietary (eg WAV, OGG etc), and while most DAW project formats are proprietary, that's largely just the plugin settings - and you don't get those with tape formats either. Tapes also degrade, so it's unlikely that most of the stuff that he's recorded will still be around in 100 years anyway (to take his example).

    Still, that aside...interesting guy :)
    Assuming it's not overused and is stored correctly megnetic tape should not degrade. In terms of proprietary formats, he is really talking about project masters rather than audio formats. It's defo not clear at the start but he clarifies a lot in the end during the q and a. 
    This is true but also it is pretty rare that tape is stored perfectly well for decades.

    I started out with tape and there is a lot to recommend it but the whole industry works on being able to recall settings forever.
    I'd love to have the luxury of being able to work in analog and treat each mix as a performance but it simply isn't possible.

    Albini can because he has a unique position in the industry- sure, he created it (and I very much respect him and his position on this) but for the rest of us jobbing producer/engineers it isn't a practical reality.

    "And what would humans be without love?"
    “RARE, said Death.”

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