Saturday, January 17, 2009

#"Turn me up" vs the "LW"

The loudness war takes its victims every year. Lots of CDs are released with tracks limited to the extremes and with very high RMS levels. I've recently bought a couple of electronic music CD's. The music on both CD's is great, however the levels of one of them are pushed to the limits. I end up listening more to the less maximized CD - And I honestly enjoy it much more. The same artist from the maximized CD, was a favorite of mine in the days around 1998. His style hasn't changed much but the levels of his new music are just way too much.

Some thoughts on the 'War'
The 'loudness war' hasn't stopped for many years simply because, it always comes down to the end consumer. And the average consumer's needs for quality are not well defined. If you grab a 'squashed' CD and play to a group of ten people, there is a chance, that none of them will notice the levels and sound quality of the CD. The end consumer's needs are always a priority, but they want it really loud in most cases. Some people are more interested how the record sales will go, that the quality of their music.

Artist with no technical background will always try to compete for the volume of their CD. But what about the engineer's involvement into the process? I think engineers are the ones, who are supposed to explain to the artist, that they are losing quality when the mix is pushed hard. The engineer should always give options to the artist: "Would you like it loud, with tonal balance or would you like it well balanced, not that loud, but without losing quality"? If the engineer, always gives these options to the client maybe the client will start to understand and care more about his own record.

I'm more on the hunt to buy old records which aren't remastered, than taking my chances with modern music that is squashed ('in the face'/'wall of sound') nowadays.

After all, sound quality is not a function of loudness!

'But I like to do everything myself. What levels should I aim for?'
In practice there isn't a single answer to that technical question, simply because the levels you end up with are dependent from the material you are mixing. You shouldn't compare a techno track with a chilled ambient track. The most important bit - learn to distinguish, an unnecessarily loud mix from a well balanced mix. Then try to match the levels of the well balanced mix.

'My track sounds quiet and with less energy compared to other tracks'
Do not fall into the trap. First of all, mix the levels of your track to sound normal! Have you noticed that we use the volume knob of amplifiers less these days. Technically this is not a good thing and speaks bad for the quality of the music we are listening to.

'How do we stop the war?'
As most wars, were started by 'leaders' in the history of human kind. The 'loudness war' should be stopped by the people who originally started it - those who are famous in the music industry. The 'leaders' aka the famous people/groups/bands of POP, METAL, ROCK, HOUSE, R&B music and all other modern styles. Famous mastering engineers should officially declare 'I will not master this record' if the client wants it way too lound. If you get Madonna, Metallica, Benny Benassi, Beyonce and other to release their music with the levels taken into consideration maybe the whole industry will change.

Soon...maybe next year? Not likely, If you ask me. It would be a very slow process to bring back the dynamics. Stop the war now or it will stop the record sales.

'Turn me up'
If you are an artist, a producer, engineer or just a person who appreciates quality music you can support 'Turn me up'.

Famous engineer/producer Charles Dye is behind 'Turn me up' and the idea of the project is simple. First of all its a non commercial project. If you are an artist, who is soon about to release a CD to the market, you can register for a 'Turn me up' certificate and put their logo on your CD. By doing so you can go easy on the levels and not compete with other loud mixes. If you are a mixing/mastering engineer you can offer the ideas of 'Turn me up' to your customers and not use much limiting when working on the tracks.

You can visit their website and read some of the articles on the 'Loudness war' if you are interested.