Genesis of sound and music carrier: Ummagma group reveals the cards
Summarizing the sound quality of the audio system, often our listeners are forced to guess and speculate what, in fact, “the artist wanted to say” on a particular phonogram. Today we have a unique opportunity. Meet-indie Duo Ummagma will tell you first-hand how music is created and an album is recorded.
Reference: Ummagma is Alexander Kretov and Shona McLarnon. In the project, Alexander is responsible for the iron, and Shona sings. In addition, McLarnon is responsible for a small but lively Agency, Shameless Promotion, which helps with PR for many musicians, including indie veterans like Christina Hersh or Stephen Laurie. The couple now lives in Peterborough, Canada, and has a child. On June 21, Ummagma will release the next work “Compass”.
— Thank you, Shona and Sasha, for the kind opportunity to review Compass before the official release date. I listened carefully to your new work; I was also interested in both versions of mastering-for digital distribution and for vinyl. I would like to invite you to discuss an important issue that concerns our readers.I really liked the “Compass” mix made for vinyl. It is made according to all the rules, very carefully. The dynamic highs of the signal have not been compressed, and the sound is very mobile. But the paradox is that only a narrow circle of owners of your record will know about this brilliant work.Everyone else, including CD buyers, will listen to a rougher mix for digital distribution — with peak clipping, potential clipping, and an average volume well above the -16 LUFS recommended by AES . It didn’t make sense to compare these mixes directly by ear because of the huge difference in volume.So I had to normalize the loudness of the CD master to the level of a vinyl mix, which fits perfectly into the requirements of AES. It was clear that for vinyl, you had a bass below 50 Hz, but in all other respects this version was superior to the main CD version — in dynamics, transparency of the sound, etc.
Two digital masters of the Caravan track: for the vinyl edition (top) and the CD (bottom)
Alexander: Thank you for your interest, detailed analysis and understanding of things. I will be happy to try to answer your questions.
— I know how fond musicians are of their instruments, how proud they are of their iron collection, and how much time they spend in the Studio. Aren’t you offended that all this civilization, the aquarium of sounds will then be flattened to match the capabilities of small Bluetooth speakers?Alexander: it’s true — we live in the era of radio and headphones. Such is the aesthetic, nothing can be done. I’m not a fan of extreme compression, especially if it’s only done in Izotop. But I can understand the fear of being crushed by shame and being in the twilight zone of losing bit depth, the fear of many styles of music being short of punch.On cheap players, this is noticeable! This is critical on small speakers and mobile devices! How many people use sound check? I don’t think. This is why hip-hop or rock, backed up against a wall of clippers and limiters, sounds more convincing. The film had no problems with bit depth, only signal / noise, but even then it was pushed to red flags for profit, but still they were forgiven — they were right.The problem of good dynamics begins at the first stage with the compression of everything that moves. And it all started with SSL tables, where each channel had a compressor, and a person could not resist squeezing everything that came in his way. So came the culture of compressed sound. This is a problem not so much of mastering, but of recording. Even if Bob Ludwig is put on the table with an anemic body, he is unlikely to breathe the energy of life into it.
— Many artists sell their music directly through Bandcamp, but at some point you can’t do without a label, right?Alexander: Bandcamp and iTunes are just stores. Now all the main platforms work directly with artists, and before this was not the case. iTunes does not invest anything and does not lose anything, just requires a percentage for server space. But release, promotion, and distribution are more difficult. It is work and the risk multiplied by the time. These are the things that convert art into a commodity.If you think this is not your way, then so be it. If you can handle it yourself, no problem. At the time, we were on three labels and made a choice in favor of ourselves. There is no single answer, and everyone has their own horizons. Getting on a label doesn’t mean anything. A good label can take everything, but leave you with the glory.- Now “Compass” is still being released on the Leonard Skully Records label. What has changed?
Shona: Ummagma was previously released through various labels, but if the label is not going to invest in your physical product and it doesn’t have a good PR Department, it’s not worth it. If all they do is send music to Spotify and iTunes, then now an artist can do it directly through online distributors such as Distrokid, CD Baby, Tunecore.Then you won’t need to transfer any rights and you will be able to view statistics faster (especially in Distrokid, where reports are displayed in real time and you can get paid immediately). So we are now doing all our own albums and singles.We decided to work with Leonard Skully Records from Manchester because they really like our music and they agreed to release the album on vinyl. The cost was significant, because there were 500 copies, not 100-300, like many bands that are even cooler than us. We have recouped the cost of printing our own CDs that we ordered in Ukraine.Our label has stock available for mailing to customers in the UK and Europe (which will reduce delivery costs). In addition, Leonard Skully will handle distribution in UK stores. And we have our own copies here in Canada that can be sent to North America — it will be much more economical for our fans.
– Shona is a promoter in her company Shameless Promotion. Did you take up PR because other offices simply didn’t meet your requirements?
Shona: it’s True that I started the company partly for this reason. I have been promoting for Ummagma and our friends Sounds of Sputnik for several years, and my work has definitely brought results. I came to this field with a different background than most in this field (that is, as a musician, not a label copywriter or journalist).I thought I had a better understanding of what a musician really wants from a PR person compared to the level of services provided by other promoters. I saw a niche… And then another niche, and another… so my Agency took several different niches that no other music PR company covers. So I am very proud of this project, which I created from scratch, thanks to our experience with Ummagma.
— How is your work structured, and who are your clients?Shona: I promote not only in the press, but also on radio, podcasts and playlists. I am not limited to one or two “zones” (i.e. countries), as they are called in the PR world — I have coverage in more than 60 countries at once. For example, we recently visited the largest Chinese TV provider IQIYI with 500 million subscribers.One of the things I love about this job is being able to help a lot of the musicians I grew up with: legends who started out on major labels in the ’70s and’ 90s, but are now independent artists. Among them are members of XTC, Bauhaus, Curve, Ride, Cocteau Twins, Stereolab, Ministry, Swervedriver, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, Orchestral Maneouvres in the Dark, the Mission, the Offspring, Cheap Trick, Throwing Muses, the Specials, The Wedding Present, The Church, the Damned, Duran Duran and Ice-T. I was just very lucky with the musicians that I had fun with present. But I don’t specialize only in famous artists — I work with everyone.
— It is obvious that the name of your band was given in honor of Pink Floyd, and at whose concert in Moscow did you meet each other?
Alexander: We met at a concert by Ivan Smirnov at Chistye Prudy in the early noughties. Those were good times. The name is also from there-it migrated from my first email to the project name. Of course, in honor of Pink Floyd!- “Compass” is not The first ummagma album, you have been active for more than ten years. For you, albums are a periodic fixation of creative search, or do you start “building a new house” every time?Alexander: Each song is the implementation of an idea at a given time. One day, in one evening we recorded five fish and they were very good. Three of them actually came to life. The new house is more about the design of the record. What follows, the cover, and so on. Here we connect all the concepts. I tend to fall into details, and often it gets in the way and irritates — no, to figure out tracking! The handles are always reaching for editing and buttons. In fact, everything is simple, except for catching the brain from the Internet.
— What is your recording Studio? What monitors do you use to record and control music?Alexander: last year, after we finished working on “Compass”, we moved to our new house, which, of course, found a place to build a Studio. It is located in the basement (ground floor) with an area of about 35 sq.m. it has all the necessary acoustic treatment: cotton wool, low-frequency absorbers, membranes, corner traps, wooden floor. I tuned the room to the ear, adding this or that material in different places, based only on its response in the resonant frequency.When the room became balanced, the walls were covered with acoustic fabric. The result is a room with minimal ambient, without combs-universal, but not dead. I took the noisy online UPS and PT computer to a separate machine room. Cable switching — simple ground, LED lighting, high-quality grounding.