All about producing and mastering audio for disc, the web and beyond

Friday, November 25, 2011

But really what IS loud

For years now my brethren in the mastering profession have been jumping up and down in defense of music and in self-defense, trying to raise flags about what is happening to music during the so-called Loudness War.

Indeed, the way that the RMS level have been creeping higher and higher as the dsp tools we have are better and better at hiding the distortions of limiting and compression, has caused immeasurable harm to the presentation of recorded music. It permeates all genres and affects pretty much ALL artists. It's frightening to think that we adapt to it, assimilate the new sound and begin to become numb to the effects.

There are developments on the horizon for creating a level playing field in the presentation and playback of music to the consumer that hold some hope that we might return to what Mastering folks might call 'sanity'....


I think that the story that has been told thus far about the loudness war, how it is motivated by the fear of A&R , PD's in radio and other decision makers might reject an artist, only tells one part of the story. I think there is something significant that is escaping everyone's attention. Perhaps it is being 'masked' the the gross issues of RMS volume, but beneath the surface I think part of what is happening is that the craft of producing recorded sound is suffering. I think the art of making a good, well balanced recording is eroding and I think that the real ART of making a truly loud record is being lost.

A couple of years ago I gave a presentation to my fellow faculty at Berklee entitled 'What IS Loud?'. I sought to deconstruct the idea of loud. Focused on frequency distribution, the art of arrangement in music, the art of dynamic control in mixing and it really looks like making a truly loud recording involves time, skill and even, yes, nuance.

I hope to slowly unfold this topic....especially if we end up with the new BS1770 standards for playback reference, I think it will become clear what loud and GOOD mean again.