Back to Top

Space Man

by Sam Ryder

It was something of a relief to see such a strong contender from the UK in this year’s Eurovision contest, following 2021’s embarrassingly weak outing. And I’d say Sam Ryder richly deserves his success, given the quality of his performance. What particularly impresses me is how well he manages to balance his falsetto against his chest voice. You see, falsetto is actually very difficult to pull off in a live situation, not only because it’s inherently quieter, but also because it tends to be tonally woollier and lacking in true midrange. Furthermore, the tonal concerns won’t usually be helped if the singer leans closer to the mic to compensate for the level loss, because you’ll just get more proximity-effect bass boost (when the tone will often already be low-end heavy) and perhaps a further presence-region emphasis (which won’t make much difference down at 1kHz, where the frequency energy is typically most lacking). In this case, however, if you watch Ryder performing live, you can see how wide open he keeps his mouth (and, I’m guessing, his nasal passages too), which gives the tone much more natural brightness and cut-through, so he doesn’t need to swallow the mic to make the musical line feel balanced. And the fact that he makes this feat look so easy is no small part of his achievement!

What I’m a lot less fond of, however, is how fatiguing this production is to listen to, especially during the choruses. It’s an anthemic, soaring song that I’d love to turn up nice and loud, but I can’t do that without effectively angle-grinding my cochlea. Part of the problem is that the mix has been absolutely mashed into the endstops in pursuit of loudness. I measured an integrated loudness of -4.7dBLUFS, with the short-term loudness during the final choruses hovering around -3dBLUFS, which is unnecessarily high even for the most mainstream outlets, and leaves the bass and kick drum sounding a bit aneamic by comparison with other chart releases. (In a sense I admire the snare-drum sound-design, given how well its super-saturated sustain manages to hold its position in the mix despite the mastering crush-fest, although that does further imbalance it against the kick, which has a lot less perceptual staying power.) But the mix also has quite a lot of 3-4kHz energy both in the backing parts and in the lead vocal, and that pushes the hardness of the mastering job’s distortion artefacts well into painful territory. I’d thought the widespread adoption of loudness-normalised streaming was supposed to be putting an end to this kind of thing? Oh well. Maybe in time for next year’s contest…