Loud or not loud? “It always ends up on loud or not loud”, says Stefan Betke of Berlin’s Scape Mastering whose client list of the last twenty years is a veritable whos-who of electronic music pioneers. To name ten: Richard H. Kirk, Mathew Jonson, The Orb, VCMG, Kanding Ray, John Tejada, Thomas Fehlmann, Richie Hawtin, Barker and Biosphere. Some readers will recognise Betke as the man behind Pole.
For a mastering engineer taking instruction from a paying client, the customer is always right (even when they are wrong). Artists and their labels get what they pay for: an engineer like Betke might first create a master that reflects the submitted file’s dynamic range, only to hear the client grumble that the master fails to compete on perceived loudness when heard next to other tracks in a Spotify playlist or DJ set. Dynamic range compression is often then applied at the client’s behest to leave the first, more dynamic master unheard beyond the confines of the mastering studio.
The impetus for our video interview (below) came from British loudspeaker manufacturer ATC whose SCM 110ASL actives Betke has trusted as final arbiters of his mastering work in a thoroughly acoustically treated studio. On the opposite wall, a Neumann VMS70 lathe with which Betke cuts vinyl masters – look for “Pole @ Scape Mastering” in the dead wax. Handling digital and vinyl mastering, Betke reckons it’s a bit of a nonsense to compare a CD with a record (or even an MP3). According to the Dusseldorf/Köln native, we have different formats for different situations. Each has its unique benefits and challenges.
Betke’s insights make a nonsense of any digital vs. vinyl keyboard battle; and also a nonsense of those of us chasing ever-higher sample-rates in our digital source files. It matters not how high our hi-res audio if the master is dynamically crippled by the engineer before it is exported to 24bit/whatever on his workstation. Just don’t blame Betke. The loudness decision isn’t always his to make. That belongs to the artists and the labels — a commercial tool deployed to shift more units.
Further information: Scape Mastering