Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Music = fatigue ?

Now here's an issue that has been the talk among sound enthusiasts, mastering engineers, huge music publications and also, hopefully, bands and artists. It is the so called "Loudness War", and it talks about how modern mastering is damaging music, or put differently: Why modern CD's sound (please forgive me) awful. Mind you I'm not talking about modern music here!

Mastering music for CD purposes is not exactly rocket science, but requires skills. Although I'm sure that those skills are still present at every larger mastering facilities, I also fear that they are mostly put aside in repect for the record labels' or bands' own wishes; whom both want their CD to sound so loud it's ridiculous, just to be competitive with "everyone else".

The sad thing about this practice is that everyone who enjoy listening to music, but don't necessarily know anything about soundwaves and mastering, are the losers in this battle. Why labels and bands resist to take this into consideration is to me totally absurd. For example, the latest Metallica album was so loud that it contained continuos noise, ie clipping of the sound. This led to debates, and a storm of complaining and unsatisfied customers (fans!) who had gone out and spent money on this piece of junk. This is only one in a million examples, and it is a shame!

The facts:
When you, as a music lover more than anything, listen to a new CD, or an old remastered CD for that matter, you are more than likely to experience fatigue after extensive listening. The reason you do so is because the "sound-floor" in the music is raised in volume, so as to sound just as loud as a snare drum. The snare drum on the other hand is limited and cut, which means that it is clipping on every hit. They meet in the middle and squeeze the life out of 98% of all CD's (perhaps starting with Oasis back in 1993?) "When there is no quiet, there can be no loud" someone said, and were they right! The music sounds lifeless, dull, and just overall worse because of it.

When did the powers that be decide that listening to music shouldn't be a pleasurable activity??

Below you can see and hear a fine video by Matt Mayfield demonstrating how extreme loudness is killing music:

I am also a fan of (older) The Cure, and used to be a collector. Below you can hear the difference between the original 1990 CD-release of their fab live album "Entreat" versus the remixed and remastered 2010 "Entreat Plus" version. Just for the record: I'm glad I have the original CD and vinyl issues. . .

You might be wondering why I'm writing about this on, and to answer that question I'm publishing a picture of a soundwave from Painted Romans's upcoming album. The picture clearly shows how I have chosen to master it with the natural sound dynamics intact, although the sound in general can be described as close to lo-fi. . .

Soundwave of a Painted Romans track showing the full range dynamics:

The result makes you turn up your volume, hopefully without damaging your hearing or experiencing fatigue, because as Matt Mayfield says in his educational video: "You own the volume knob, not the record producer". . .

Revive the respect for CD-buying music lovers!

Happy listening !

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