Loudness Wars

By Nick Landis on Monday Apr, 11th 2011
SINCE THE 1990's AND THE ADVENT OF BROAD DISTRIBUTION OF DIGITAL AUDIO, POPULAR MUSIC HAS STEADILY BEEN CREEPING LOUDER AND LOUDER.  DIGITAL AUDIO MUST BE COMPRESSED AFTER PEAK AMPLITUDE IS REACHED (AT 0DBFS) TO BECOME LOUDER.  HAVE YOU EVER RECEIVED AN EMAIL OR TEXT MESSAGE THAT LOOKS LIKE THIS?  It's just a bit obnoxious, isn't it? Why does it happen?  To the average listener, louder sounds better.  Even if the source material is identical, and you play one just a little louder, the listener will be drawn to the louder version as sounding better.  Due to this psycho-acoustic effect, musicians, producers, record label executives, mix engineers and mastering engineers have been forced to squeeze the life out of what once was a beautifully dynamic recording. Louder mixes make for a fatiguing listen.  Have you ever noticed that you don't listen to an entire album start to finish like you used to?  That may partly be due to the loudness and dynamic compression on the more modern albums.  Music is made of rhythm, harmony, melody and dynamics.  Why limit your musical expression to just 3 of your tools?  What's the point? I tell people, "Everything I've ever put a CD into has a volume knob for a reason."