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The Loudness War

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Ever popped in a new CD of your favorite artist one day, only to have to turn it off a few songs into it? Have you ever wondered, "Why can't I keep listening to this?" Then you are just one of the many casualties in the "Loudness War." What is it, and what can we do to stop this? I suggest you read up on these articles and take a look at a YouTube video.






Just to summarize for those who don't know, big record companies believe that if their songs are the loudest, they will grab the most attention on radio stations, which will in turn generate more sales. When one company does that, it convinces others to compete, and they start cranking up the volume as well. As a result, it destroys dynamic range and robs listeners of the color and life that older vinyl records had. It also creates listening fatigue. Imagine trying to read an entire paragraph in all capital letters. After the first sentence, you can't read anymore. Now imagine that happening every time you tried to listen to your favorite albums.

The only way companies will stop doing this and start recognizing that this really doesn't help record sales is for consumers to complain. However, the average consumer won't recognize this, and the lifestyle we live in with competing noises such as loud traffic doesn't help us perceive this terrible injustice. Slowly, but surely, all of your favorite artists will be ruined by this stupid craze, if they haven't been already.

Sad, isn't it?

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Even the Yahoo tech blog has covered this: http://tech.yahoo.com/blogs/null/33549

Never mind that today's factory-produced starlets and mini-clones just don't have the practiced chops of the supergroups of yesteryear, pop in a new CD and you might notice that the quality of the music itself—maybe something as simple as a snare drum hit—just doesn't sound as crisp and as clear as you're used to. Why is that?

It's part of the music industry's quest to make music louder and louder, and it's been going on for decades, at least since the birth of the compact disc. Click the link for a nice little video, a mere 2 minutes long, which explains it in detail, with audio cues that you'll be able to hear in crisp detail.

The key to the problem is that, in making the soft parts of a track louder (in the process making the entire track loud), you lose detail in the song: The difference between what's supposed to be loud and what's supposed to be soft becomes less and less. The result is that, sure, the soft parts of a song are nice and loud, but big noises like drum beats become muffled and fuzzy. But consumers often subconsciously equate loudness with quality, and thus, record producers pump up the volume. Anything to make a buck.

The bigger problem is that this is all unnecessary. Stereo equipment is more powerful today than ever, and last time I checked, every piece of music hardware had a volume knob.

Don't take my word for it: Pop in the first CD you bought and play it at the same volume level as the most recent one you bought. You might be shocked by what you hear.

Anyone still wondering why the music business is suffering?

Maybe all of this noise is the reason people think bands today are crap.

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Ironically, I'm listening to Rush and the first article Flyers1967 listed was centered around Rush. The author is correct, Vapor Trails IS louder. I'm not such a technical audiophile, but this is fascinating info. My wife used to work in a local sound studio for a 'hold music' company, I should show this stuff to her.

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Nice post. Very informative and I'm not the least bit surprised, now that I've thought about it. Upsetting, for sure. Especially since I don't buy into 99% of the stuff being released today.

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After reading this stuff, I decided to look into it myself with my own stuff. Having never thought about it, I never really noticed, but after comparing some stuff that came out on CD in the mid 90's to stuff that recently came out, gotta say there was a difference in it. Still not gonna stop me from buying the stuff, but I would rather hear it as the artist intended and not how the record studio intended.

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As a music industry insider i can tell you that this is the truth.

It comes down to the way the music is "Mastered" before the product goes to production.

Not all record companies "Master" in this fashion.

In defense of the industry and those looking to get a "competitive edge" i will say this:

Technology; though a powerful and creative tool, has been the great equalizer in the music industry.Musicians no longer need to shell out top dollar to have music recorded and released. With the software ( i.e ProTools) available everyone can be the next Brendan O'Brian, Van Dyk Parks, Brian Eno or Rick Rubin.

Unfortunately this also creates a market oversaturated with bad music. The reason your record isnt out there may not be because every label in the world sucks but because your music does.

The record companies, seeking to maintain their stranglehold are trying to find anyway to keep buyers keen on their artists and find competitive advantages over their competitors.This does not justify the act, nor does it necessarily make the music beter ( or worse) but it may give you some insight.

If everyone played like Sid the Kid would his merchandise and equipment be valued in the same fashion? or would he just be another player?

If everyone album sounded like "In through the Out Door" or "Ten" or "Whats Going On" or even "Siamese Dream" would we continue enjoing all the nuances these great records offer us?

Just a scattered rant.


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This type of mastering is known as "brickwalling". Memory Almost Full by Paul McCartney is an example of this. If you try to listen with headphones, good luck. Vapor Trails by Rush, mentioned earlier, is another example. It's mastered so loud that it's full of distortion. That's not to say all recent CDs were mastered this way, Rhino's Pretenders re-issues, for example. A good site for this type of discussion is www.stevehoffman.tv . Steve Hoffman is a mastering engineer who masters audiofile gold CDs and LPs. The discussion on this site is sometimes informative, sometimes ridiculous, sometimes funny, . . . You get the picture.

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