You can have a song that was released on an artist album, and the same song released as a single (I'm talking about CDs in this example). These different versions of the same song can differ in overall length by seconds. It's the same for compilation album versions and instrumental versions. Some even sporadically go out-of-sync throughout the song.

Is it a product of the mastering process? Is it a product of the recording device? Or something else?

Over the years I have noticed this on a few different songs. One example I can think of off the top of my head is Tupac's song 'Hail Mary'. The album version, the single version and the instrumental version all fall out of sync and even seem to sporadically speed up and slow down.

  • Have you had the versions side by side in a DAW & examined the points they go out of sync? – Tetsujin Aug 4 '16 at 16:32
  • Of course @Tetsujin !! :] Thats what I mean, I line them up, sample for sample, but they go out of sync. But it's not even a smooth difference, it seems to cycle a bit with some songs. It's hard to explain but at the end of the song, there can be seconds difference. I had an incling as to what it might be, and DoritoStyle has mentioned it in his reply comment. – Marc W Aug 5 '16 at 1:10
  • Because this seems to focus on the decision to change the speed/tempo in a song, rather than the technical aspects, you may want to think about asking on Music Fans Stack Exchange. – Rory Alsop Aug 12 '16 at 9:23
  • Hi @RoryAlsop I apologise if the question is misleading to y0u, but as the question and the answer(and comments) alludes to, the effect I talk about is a seemingly unnoticed or ignored side effect of transfers to/from DAT during mastering/release. – Marc W Aug 13 '16 at 3:35
  • Sure, I get that. My comment is there because it is almost certainly not unnoticed or ignored, but deliberate - for various reasons – Rory Alsop Aug 13 '16 at 5:22

It's almost certainly a product of the mastering process as you say. Even if additional audio processing doesn't happen when a previous song is included on a later release the producers or engineers might decide to add or subtract silence around the songs.

In some cases, when songs are included on a mixtape or something like that, it could even be timeshifted to fit the purposes of the new releases, especially if they're trying to do any beat-matching between songs.

Barring any kind of conscious mastering decision, it's also possible that since Tupac was recording during the era of analog tape that the tape speed could have been minutely different during mastering each of those releases.

  • Nice try, but I'm not talking about silence here, and the releases in question are not part of a mix-tape type compilation. There's a possibility they may have been timeshifted to fit on an album, but I don't think that is the cause in this case. I have a feeling there is a different explanation. – Marc W Aug 4 '16 at 13:13
  • Silence was just an example, they could just have easily added their own fade-in/fade-out. I'll need to give those versions a listen to be sure, but it's fairly common for instrumentals to cut out silence if there's a break for a vocal solo of some kind (even just a few spoken words, etc.). It's also possible that since Tupac was recording during the era of analog tape that the tape speed could have been minutely different during mastering each of those releases. – user9881 Aug 4 '16 at 15:34
  • Yes, that's what I was thinking, not analogue, but DAT. The masters for All Eyes On Me were recorded on DAT, so I wonder if they can vary slightly with each transfer. I think the speed of the tape is directly related to sample rate, if so, I think this could be it. – Marc W Aug 5 '16 at 0:54
  • Hey Dorito. If you add analogue/digital tape to your answer, I'll wrap this up. – Marc W Aug 10 '16 at 15:46
  • I added my bit about tape. I'm doing some reading about DAT tape speeds and if I find anything good I'll add that as well. I'm initially hesitant since DAT is used to encode digital data and should be pretty pretty consistent once the data is read & decoded. It's not an area of expertise for me though! – user9881 Aug 11 '16 at 0:12

It depends on how the "length" is measured. Exactly where does a song "end" that is faded out at the tail (as most popular music seems to be)? Or classical music where the venue ambience is included at the end? Also it depends on whether they are measuring from the start to the start of the next song (i.e. including the inter-song gap). It doesn't seem particularly reasonable (or important?) to expect that the "length" is always going to be measured or reported uniformly.

  • Yes, this is true, but I'm referring to actual speed of the recording. As in, sync the songs up, sample for sample, and they go out of sync. By the end of a 4min song, the difference can be seconds. – Marc W Aug 5 '16 at 1:00

Sometimes labels re-record the same song for licencing purposes... it can mean, for example, they don't have to pay the backing musicians royalties - or they re-do something because it turns out a sample wasn't cleared. The main vocal might be patched back in from the original, or even re-recorded. It can arise when a track was initially released with low expectations of sales, but has to be hastily re-looked at once it finds its way onto "Hits 2016". I seem to remember Groove Armada coming unstuck with 'At The River', as an example. That might account for some of the things you're finding?

And yes, mastering engineers will play with things to make them work better on compilations, including speed.

And sometimes there are various different mixes of a track made at the time of creation, and they're simply not kept track of because nobody cares that much which one goes where. It could be as tedious as that.

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