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Jack Endino Newsletter 3.0 (02/1998)


Recent Headline (Thursday December 18 5:24 PM EST) :
"B.B. King Gives 'Lucille' to Pope"

"VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - American blues legend B.B. King gave his beloved electric guitar 'Lucille' to Pope John Paul II Thursday in a gesture celebrating his meeting with the 77-year-old pontiff... 'Happy Christmas and thank you very much,' the pope said to King who was soberly dressed in a dark suit and tie."

(Imagine, Lucille in the Vatican archives! Take that, Cleveland!)

Looks like I steered everybody wrong in a previous newsletter about Mix Bookshelf as a source of books on all aspects of recording and the industry. They have just decided to get out of retail entirely and concentrate on publishing. Their website (only up a few months!) now directs people to another retailer of music-related books: http://www.musicbooksplus.com. I took a squint, it looks good, but I'll miss that printed catalog in the (snail) mail.

Just added a "links" section to my front page for weird links that wouldn't fit elsewhere in my website.

Other news: 7 Year Bitch has broken up. Gruntruck has too. So have the Presidents. Kerbdog too. Looks like the Posies also, soon, though their final album "Success" is just out on PopLlama. (Recall that their first album "Failure" was also on Popllama, many moons ago...) Love Battery was sort of missing in action, but I recently heard Mr. Finn might be returning to the drum stool there, since he now has no Presidential gig. Tad is still going strong, and is finally on the web at http://www.nwlink.com/~tad taddoyle.com. Mudhoney is about to mix their new album with Jim Dickenson. Valis will have an EP on Man's Ruin (Kozik's label). New Pearl Jam is out, and so far I've liked what I've heard. As for my own clients: watch out this year for records from Zeke, The Day I Fell Down, the Makers, Hai Karate, Bullyproof, Bell, Pushing Daisies, Ten Minute Warning, Crush Groove... there's probably others, sorry if I forgot you.


You should be hearing about DVD by now, a new digital disc format similar to a CD but with MUCH more data storage. Already the hardware manufacturers have agreed on a standard for movies ("DVD-Video") and the first discs are hitting the stores. The important point here is that MOVIES these days are created with multitrack surround-type soundtracks, and these DVD discs have enough storage to carry the original multitrack audio as discrete tracks rather than just summing to stereo like with current videotapes. DVDs are intended for a new generation of HOME ENTERTAINMENT CENTERS that have multichannel surround-sound like in theaters.

The most common format is called "5.1 channels". This means front left, front right (like good old stereo) PLUS front center, rear left, rear right AND a special subwoofer-only channel (that's the .1). To play it back, you need a 6-channel audio amplifier, five identical speakers set in this pattern and a subwoofer somewhere in front (or even under the viewer's chair). Better movie theaters have this setup, and the new "home entertainment centers" (that they want us all to buy) will be the same... so we'll all be watching movies at home, in 5.1 surround, using these DVD players.

(You may ask: why the front center speaker? Well, consider how we simulate "mono" in standard stereo: we put the same signal in left and right speakers, creating a so-called "phantom center". With a center speaker, we have two ways: all in the center, or all in left and right with NONE in the center... and they sound very different!.. and then there's variations in between.)

The interesting thing is that if you take away most or all of the video data from a DVD, you have enough storage capacity for 5.1 channels of very high quality pure audio, recorded at much higher sampling rates than with current CDs. (Up to 192 kHz!) The "powers that be" in the music business are seeing this ("DVD-Audio") as the next big format shift, the next shot in the arm for the biz, the future of popular music. We will, they believe, all be listening to surround-sound versions of our favorite music in a few years on our home-entertainment systems -- as soon as they can agree on a technological standard for it! (They haven't yet; a future newsletter.)

This means that studio mixing boards which up to now have been designed for stereo (or at best 4-channel) output need to be jury-rigged in some way to allow 5-way (or 6?) panning and outputs, and studio control rooms (acoustically designed for stereo) need to install 5.1 speaker configurations. And the masses need to buy these home entertainment systems... en masse. And the 5.1 channel mixes need to be combinable to straight stereo in some way, much like we often check stereo mixes for mono compatibility, so that the rest of us with our boomboxes and walkmans won't be left out.

Sound like DVD-Audio won't happen soon? You're right. That's a lot of studios to refit/redesign. Do you sit in one location listening to albums without moving? If you don't sit in the middle of the sound field, the benefits (and they say it is pretty cool) of surround sound will be lost. Wanna buy three times as many speakers for your stereo? Unless you've got thrice the bux they'll be crappier speakers than you've got now, but boy, you'll sure get a great surround effect if you don't walk around the house. (A control which will probably be very useful on the home DVD-audio player will be a sort of DVD-to-stereo fader, allowing you to go from straight stereo to 5.1 surround in a gradual manner depending on how you want to listen.) They'll make a killing on amplifiers/recievers too, what with 3 times as many amplifier circuits to power those speakers. And CDs? Guess what - the record companies get to go back and remix 'em for DVD and rerelease their entire back catalogs AGAIN, just like when they killed vinyl! (Notice how they've managed to stall consumer CD recorders just long enough to where a new format will make them pointless.) And will they get the original artists involved in these DVD 5.1 surround remixes? Nope - too messy, they'll just get company engineers or staff producers to go in and do it. Wait and see.

Will it happen? Bet on it, they're gonna cram this down our throats just like (heh) mini-disc and DCC. (By the way, Sony's gonna try again to cram minidiscs down our throats this year, this time as a replacement for the analog cassette. Watch for total-saturation advertising soon.) Whether DVD-Audio will be more than a niche market remains to be seen... as I noted above, people will have to change their listening (and spending!) habits. What is forgotten is that (sadly) pristine audio quality just doesn't matter that much to consumers; what they are paying for, and what makes money for the industry, is HOOKS, not sonic accuracy. Think of cassettes, and AM radio. Most people pay for songs, not sound. [2013 note: This was rather prophetic cynicism on my part: people do indeed pay for "hooks" but they also pay for CONVENIENCE, witness the iPod, MP3s and all that followed. However, minidisc, DCC, DVD-Audio, SACD and for that matter 5.1 mixes all failed as mass-market pop-music formats.]

I just had an A+R man who thought he was way ahead of the curve ask me to make extra DVD mixes of an album I was about to mix. I tried to tell him it was impossible with what we had. He said, no, I've got an engineer friend in New York who does this all the time, talk to him. I did. What this guy told me to do was, after I'd made my stereo mix, to reassign all the various tracks and intruments to subgroups on the console, break it down into several different stereo and mono submixes (like "drums-stereo", "gtrs-stereo", "main vocal-mono", "backing vocals-stereo", "bass-mono"), and route these in pairs (etc) to a digital 8-track machine (or two, synched) as a "mixdown" machine. Then in a couple years when there's a need for a proper DVD mix, and we have the technology in the studios, we could sort of make a half-assed one using these digital submixes in various combinations faded between the front, rear and center speakers... rather than going back to the raw 24-track tapes. This seemed patently idiotic to me but I went ahead and did it, and it added about two hours onto the mixing process for each song due to various configuration difficulties with the SSL G-series board (not a small or low-tech board!) we were using. We were using so many channels and groups as effects sends and returns that we couldn't actually monitor what was going to the ADATs while we rolled 'em; we had to roll it, unpatch everything, repatch so we could listen back to the ADATs, listen and discover that because the subgroup outs on the board were not very precisely calibrated, our carefully made "stereo" subgroups were out of balance and we'd have to repatch and do it all again! It was a royal pain in the ass, and years from now when people are making proper DVD 5.1 mixes from scratch using the 24-track master tapes, DVD mixes made from submixes like these are going to be like "rechannelled for stereo" was in the sixties. (Not to mention, what the whole thing going thru an ADAT's analog-to-digital converters and back out again does to the sound.)


Another thing that's gonna be crammed down out throats soon is some form of high-definition digital television! Did you know that the FCC has decided that in 8 years we will all have to throw away our present television sets because all TV broadcasting in the country MUST switch to digital? On April 3rd, 1997, the FCC announced that by the end of 1999, at least 50 per cent of the households in the US must be able to receive HDTV signals (assuming people bother to buy the new TV sets), and by 2006 the current standard "NTSC" video signal will no longer be broadcast anywhere in the US. That's 3 or 4 hundred million TV sets, into the landfills. (And how many videotapes?) The word has come down from on high! The lords at the FCC have spoken! Broadcasters are scrambling to update their equipment to meet the deadline. Ready to update yours? (Source: Replication News, 5/97.)

Later Addendum, 10/00: Too many people complained, and in spite of a huge government spectrum giveaway to the broadcasters, digital TV still seems to be going nowhere fast. The internet has distracted everyone. The FCC relaxed the restrictions I spoke of above... who knows what will happen, or when.

Coda to Newsletter 3.0: I saw an interesting news article a while back, with a sort of "puzzled" tone; it seems someone took a survey and discovered that most people believe that our lives are controlled by the decisions of powerful elites. Gee, how could people get such an idea?

"The future's so bright I gotta wear shades..."

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