What Is The Loudness War
“The Loudness War is a sonic “arms race” where every artist and label feel they need to crush their music onto CD at the highest possible level, for fear of not being “competitive” – and in the process removing all the contrast, all the light, shade and depth – ruining the sound.” – Ian Shepherd
In order to achieve these super-high levels, the music has to be squashed up against the digital maximum level “ceiling” – reducing the difference between the peak and average levels in the music. In the process, the contrast between loud and soft moments (often referred to as the dynamic range) is dramatically reduced.
What Are They Doing?
In a nutshell: The Loudness War doesn’t sound good.
- Research shows there is no connection between “loudness” and sales
- People don’t notice loudness when comparing songs
- Dynamic music sounds better on the radio – here’s the proof
- Modern music playback methods makes loudness irrelevant
- Most listeners just turn loud music down!
So – “loud” music on CD has no benefit on the radio, online, on an mp3 player, or in your CD player. That’s why it can be called a legend – the “Loudness War” makes no sense, in the 21st Century.
And yet almost every new release is crushed to within an inch of it’s life.
The effect is now so extreme that we have reached a bizarre situation where Justin Bieber’s new CD is louder than Motorhead, AC/DC and The Sex Pistols!
So Why Do People Do It
- Fear of not keeping up with the Joneses
- Fear of not applying the “formula”, of not doing the same thing as last time
- Fear of an industry whose business model is changing forever
- Fear of criticism
- Fear of failure
And fear is a powerful, insidious virus that can infect everything it touches. Maybe you’ve heard before that it only takes one bad experience to wipe seven good ones from our memory of the day.
Well, there are seven stages in the traditional route of getting music to the listener:
- Recording engineer
- Mix engineer
- Mastering engineer
It only takes one person in that chain to succumb to the Loudness War to infect and fill the other six with fear – and suddenly a great-sounding mix is reduced to mush.
No-one wants to put their neck on the line.
We just have to face the fear – and share the facts. Can you remember when Radiohead released King Of Limbs and everyone said it was too quiet, even mocked their amazing album? When enough people have faith in the facts.