Making a Cross-faded Album in the Digital Age

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Question:

I have two tracks on the album that I'd like to have flow right into one another, but still be separate tracks. I think I will be mixing them together as if they are one track, so effects and EQ will match. When it comes time to send them to you, would it be best to send them both to you as one WAV file and let you know where to separate, or is this the wrong approach to begin with? 

Answer:

Ever since digital delivery (like iTunes) and streaming services took over the album flow concept has been getting watered down in leu of selling singles.  

What I have found is that most people are now not willing to sacrifice the singles marketing for the hip factor of cross-fades and seques. Its a shame in my opinion, because the creativity and flow of a record is one of the things that draws us to albums.   

So what to do in this digital age of music? I complained to Apple. 

A few years ago "Mastered for iTunes" was getting a lot of press and Masterdisk was right on the front lines figuring out how to make it work. So I took the opportunity to explain to Apple what I thought the problem was and how I thought they could fix it.  Fortunately, my Apple contact person has been a professional recording musician of note, and he knew exactly what I was describing. But, alas, The Apple is bigger than the mountain and can’t be moved by mere mortals.  

My question was, Why couldn’t there be two different delivery masters? One (in album format) would be for the consumer who buys the entire album. This grouping of songs would have all of the creative cross-fades and would be formatted just like a CD.

The other delivery master could be a collection of WAV files, each with it’s clean start and clean end. This would be useful when a customer purchased only one track, or a non-contiguous block.  

Seems like a simple solution. The artist/producer gets the flow they want, and the singles sales and marketing that they need. The problem for Apple is that they have a corporate edict (I'm paraphrasing here): There will be only one version of each song available at the iTunes store. Never two, not five, never twelve. They don’t want to confuse anyone. So the old system remains.  

You have to put in gaps between your songs or you may end up with awkward starts or ends. The gaps don’t have to be long, but they cannot be overlapped. 

I work with my clients, adjusting the fades and start points to a high degree of accuracy to make the best out of both purposes. Sometimes it’s best to chase the end of the first song so that the final fade out is not too long. This allows for good pacing between the songs, but eliminates the crossfade. 

It’s good to note that room tone cross-fades are almost always fine. The only exception is if there is DC in the recording, or if the hum level changes quickly. In that case you may get a pop at the stop and/or end of the track. I check every one of these play and stop positions to make certain they are clean. 

It’s a shame that the sequenced concept album is dying,  mostly because we don’t like what the individual play sounds like. On the flip side, vinyl sales are way up, and most listeners appreciate the story-telling concept of putting together a creative record side.  

Personally, I think we are collectively getting too hung up on the singes. People will buy the single, and, if it sounds like they are missing something because the next track cross-fade started, then maybe that means some will buy the next track too.

KJ