Fighting The “Loudness Wars”

In the last twenty-five years, the music industry’s loudness wars has led labels to record, produce and broadcast music at progressively increasing levels of overall loudness. The video above highlights the effects of over-compression to make “louder” records.

Turn Me Up! is a non-profit music industry organization campaigning to give artists back the choice to release more dynamic records:

To be clear, it’s not our goal to discourage loud records; they are, of course, a valid choice for many artists. We simply want to make the choice for a more dynamic record an option for artists.

Today, artists generally feel they have to master their records to be as loud as everybody else’s. This certainly works for many artists. However, there are many other artists who feel their music would be better served by a more dynamic record, but who don’t feel like that option is available to them.

While Turn Me Up! has a valid goal, the idea that compression for loudness is a bad thing is an over simplification. 

MUch of the electronic music created today uses extreme compression both functionally and as a creative effect.

If you’ve ever listened to a classical CD in your car, you know that recordings with less aggressive compression lose their nuances when played back in noisy environments. If you turn up a very dynamic performance in your car so that you can hear the quiet parts, the louder parts could get played back at levels dangerous to your hearing. 

I’d like to see extreme compression move to playback device: put a “loudness” button on car stereos. This would let musicians use dynamics expressively, while also letting listeners keep the functional aspect of compression. 

Let me know what you think!

via Torley’s comment on this story.

3 thoughts on “Fighting The “Loudness Wars”

  1. The video is a little silly. It’s an example of lazy master compression, not compression itself. That video is directed more toward channeling the anti-record company zeitgeist of mainstream consumers, who have no idea of what compression is, than affecting producers’ use of compression. I can’t imagine a real producer taking a track, applying a brickwall limiter and cranking it up like that without taking hours to sculpt it.

  2. Mafoo –

    I don’t think you can blame it on the mastering – a lot of record companies won’t accept CDs if they aren’t “loud” enough.

  3. a lot of record companies won’t accept CDs if they aren’t “loud” enough.

    True, which is one of the many reasons record companies and broadcast radio stations are dying. Still, there are plenty of examples of competitive albums – in terms of “loudness” – that manage to retain their perceived dynamic range. Nigel Godrich’s Radiohead albums are a great example of this.

    Personally, I spend more time than I want to mastering my tracks to be as-loud-as-possible, but in doing so I learn to be a better producer and masterer(erererer), finding creative and more nuanced ways to create perceived loudness.

    The “Loudness War” may be a good way to hook people into an cause using agreeable oversimplifications – such as the above video – but there is much much more to the story than Evil Record Companies Are Squashing Your Favorite Music.

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