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Why Modern Music Sucks: The Loudness Wars


Stashed in: Music, Robin Williams, Nirvana!, Upvoted

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The Loudness WarsAs Reddit user Consti mentioned in Reddit’s Today I Learned Community: “The audio levels in recorded music have increased since the early 1990s with many experts saying it leads to reduced sound quality and listener enjoyment. This is known as the ‘Loudness War.'”

In fact, record companies believe that “louder” songs will attract more consumers and bring in more profits.

“The Loudness Wars refers to the competition in audio mastering to get the loudest end product. Because the ear is typically drawn to the loudest thing it hears, it became popular to try to win out for listeners attention by being perceived as being louder,” Patrick Brown, audio producer, mixer, and owner at San Francisco’s Different Fur Studios, tells Upvoted.

How does loud music degrade the listening experience?After all, ear drum splitting heavy metal of the 1970s is considered classic, refined, and even elegant by music snobs. The opposite of commercial. In fact, rock music in general is synonymous with being loud. Just think of respected bands like Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, or Nirvana.

Here’s the thing: In spite of Kurt Cobain’s screaming vocals and wailing guitar, Nirvana’s music isn’t compressed at one consistent loud music level.

Instead, the music is dynamic. Some parts are soft. Some parts are loud. The music builds to a crescendo. You can hear the nuances and details of the instruments as specific sounds grow to fill up more space. This creates a very raw composition.

“Music isn’t meant to be at a consistent volume and flat frequency. It’s meant to be dynamic, to move, to fall and rise and to take you with it, physically and emotionally. Otherwise it literally is just background noise,” says mastering engineer Bob Katz in an interview with the Quietus

And as engineer Patrick Brown says, “Absolutely everything you hear on the radio is compressed. I would say that it has become the norm.”

I never thought of nuances in volume when I heard 'loud' music. Now I realize the difference between natually loud and intentionally 'compressed' music. Thanks.

If loud really does attract more consumers then we may never get nuanced music again. :(

Welcome to the jungle....

Now that you mention it, Guns n Roses probably did their part to bring this on.

As did Robin Williams.

"ANYTHING JUST PLAY IT LOUD, OKAY?!"

Dynamic music hasn't gone away, it just isn't well represented among "popular" musical genres.  Think of this as a plus -- once you learn to recognize an overly compressed sound you can identify corporate crap just about as easily.  In my opinion those who don't make music with an agenda to manipulate your ear all the way to the top of the charts are generally better at it!

Well said, Three Pipe. I resolve to be more mindful about what I listen to.

An example of a modern rock song with significant dynamic range is "When Good Dogs Do Bad Things" by The Dillinger Escape Plan w/ Mike Patton.  The first few minutes of the work has almost NO dynamic range, though.  Rather the point seems to be to take the compression listeners are familiar with and push it to the point of absurdity, completely filling the dynamic range as though to saturate and desensitize the ear for what is coming.  This song is, to me, a masterpiece of the idea of releasing tension and I have known it to cure headaches in certain people.  If you are willing to crank it up, sit still and experience the whole thing in silence, from beginning to end, I think/hope you will be rewarded. 

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