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The Loudness War is over
March 25, 2011 4:12 PM   Subscribe

The music industry Loudness War is over. Research into actual sales rankings, Radio Impact, Listener ratings and Hearing loss, all show better results for music with a higher dynamic range.
posted by Lanark (61 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
WHAT'S THAT? LOUDER, YOU SAY? OK!
posted by wierdo at 4:13 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


THERESALADYWHOSSUREALLTHATGLITTERSISGOLDANDSHESBUYINGASTAIRWAYTOHEAVEN!
posted by i_have_a_computer at 4:18 PM on March 25, 2011


thank f&*^^$) Eru
posted by zombieApoc at 4:19 PM on March 25, 2011


11
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:20 PM on March 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


Here’s the venerable Stairway to Heaven – with a dB range of -40 dB to about -5dB for a range of 35 dB. That’s a whole lot of range.
posted by Lanark at 4:20 PM on March 25, 2011


Steve Albini's production on Pj Harvey's "Rid of Me" FINALLY JUSTIFIED BY SCIENCE
posted by radiosilents at 4:21 PM on March 25, 2011 [15 favorites]


Thank god for this! But I'm still sad about all the recordings in the past few years that have been diminished to some extent by this approach.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 4:22 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


If only the actual people responsible for mixing and mastering music were paying attention. But they aren't. So while the loudness war may be over, it's the discerning music fan and their ears who are the loser, while loudness simply takes over all territories.
posted by hippybear at 4:23 PM on March 25, 2011


wait, what? There are sales rankings for 9 out of 21 albums, and they didn't even bother to adjust for genre. They have Motorhead and Metallica vs. Michael Jackson. Doesn't make much of a point.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 4:28 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Um, duh.
posted by doctor_negative at 4:29 PM on March 25, 2011


Perfect, since today is FRIED EGG! FRIED EGG!
posted by msbutah at 4:32 PM on March 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


Somewhere Steven Wilson is grinning smugly. Porcupine Tree albums come with little notices warning that they might be a little quieter than what you were expecting.
posted by Schlimmbesserung at 4:33 PM on March 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


thank jesus. thank lofi jesus.
posted by es_de_bah at 4:35 PM on March 25, 2011


This could be because now that iPods are ubiquitous, people are listening to the radio less. Lack of dynamic range was driven by radio more than anything else.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:36 PM on March 25, 2011


Radio, CDs, and club music.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:37 PM on March 25, 2011


wait, what? There are sales rankings for 9 out of 21 albums..
posted by kuujjuarapik


The Vimeo video (Hearing loss link) has more detail on sales, starting about 11 minutes in. Four studies were done, they don't show any correlation between loudness and increased sales.
posted by Lanark at 4:38 PM on March 25, 2011


Wasn't that the awesome thing when you first listened to this? First it's quiet, then it's LOUD!
posted by squalor at 4:41 PM on March 25, 2011


Producers, mixing engineers and mastering engineers are all acutely aware of this, just so you know.
posted by unSane at 4:42 PM on March 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Um, duh.

Are you calling me dumb? No really. If the guy wants to make a point that loudness has nothing to do with sales he should prove it. I keep following his links to the "research" and I have not yet found one data point regarding sales except for the iffy chart. Only one slide of his talks about the high dynamic range of The Eagles Greatest Hits being responsible for its high sales volume, and extrapolates that loudness is the reason for the decline of the record industry. That's a big statement and I'd like to see it backed up with some more solid data. Because as it stands it's just another fucking opinion.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 4:43 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Loudness War is over

Chigaimasu.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:44 PM on March 25, 2011


on lack of preview, thanks for the vimeo link, Lanark. I'll watch it sometime tomorrow.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 4:45 PM on March 25, 2011


I think the loudness war is part of the reason vinyl has made a resurgence in the past few years. LPs are incapable hard clipping and they're usually still made with a non-crushed mix, though sometimes the CD mix is used.
posted by gngstrMNKY at 4:45 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


What people like is neither loudness nor dynamic range. What they like is whatever stands out from the stuff around it. If everyone else is dynamic, be loud. If everyone else is loud, be dynamic. The grass always sounds better on the other side of the fence.
posted by DU at 4:54 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fingers crossed that dynamic range comes back into fashion, both because I like the music better that way myself and so all the audiophiles I know will quit complaining.
posted by immlass at 4:55 PM on March 25, 2011


Surprising that the FPP doesn't mention the fact that today is Dynamic Range Day (which is mentioned in the radio link, and I think it is exactly a national holiday.)

I agree that the sales ranking graph seems to lack a lot of things that would make it convincing - for example, comparing albums released during the same year, in similar genres, correlating statistically significant numbers of albums, etc. The graph looks pretty, though! The vimeo link has better and more convincing studies, but statistics can lie in a good cause as well as bad and I am hesitant to endorse those studies unreservedly.

The real news here seems to be that appropriate compression and limiting levels vary depending on the format in which we listen to music, and that we are beginning to have the ability to control volume dynamically within different systems. Radio stations as mentioned already severely compress music before broadcasting (although I'll bet internet radio doesn't). iTunes and other digital music players are gaining the ability to process music so tracks are the same perceived volume (although whether that is a good thing depends on what you listen to.) Something I am very happy to see is compression in car stereos as well as the ability for a car stereo to change volume depending on the car's speed (in order to scale with road noise.)

When mastering an album one of the goals is to make the music translate across different stereo systems, so that it sounds good on a cheap stereo (and laptop speakers nowadays) as well as a high quality stereo. Places where loudness is a good thing include car stereos (where we listen to radio mostly btw), headphones while walking (especially in a city) or exercising, dance music, etc. The ability to change the compression within the device rather than while mastering is really a big and potentially important change.
posted by ianhattwick at 5:09 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


*isn't exactly a national holiday (and I did proofread, dammit!)
posted by ianhattwick at 5:09 PM on March 25, 2011


And here just as I'm putting the last few sessions into recording an album that is planned to come out in standard and HDR versions (slightly different mixes, very different mastering).

Calling the truce on the Loudness War just stole my marketing gimmick plan.

(actually, not really a gimmick; narrow dynamic range has its place, i.e. in loud environments like cars or very quiet listening while going to sleep)
posted by chimaera at 5:11 PM on March 25, 2011


Wasn't that the awesome thing when you first listened to this ? First it's quiet, then it's LOUD!

Actually, the first time I listened to Smells Like Teen Spirit, I said "who's the idiot who ran Nirvana through all that compression?"
posted by The World Famous at 5:23 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


***Cranks ups Bone Machine by The Pixies***
posted by Threeway Handshake at 5:25 PM on March 25, 2011


WHAT?! SPEAK UP SONNY, I CAN'T HEAR YA!
posted by bwg at 5:34 PM on March 25, 2011


As a musician and audio engineer, the return of dynamic range makes me happy.

As a guy who listen to 90% of his music in the car, a car which does not keep out road noise even little bit, this makes me sad.
posted by toekneebullard at 5:58 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


The sheer number of people who are listening to music in public spaces means that the collateral damage in the loudness war has extended there too. A typical journey by train or by air (particularly on a discount airline) in the UK is an acoustic battleground between travellers who wish to listen to music on headphones and the designers or PA announcements who want those travellers to buy sandwiches and not die in a crash.

Oddly this seems to vary by country: I spent few days commuting on Danish train recently: all the announcements were made on video screens only and the train itself was quite quiet. This meant that those listening to music could turn down the volume and still hear - maybe even appreciate some dynamic range.
posted by rongorongo at 5:59 PM on March 25, 2011


And thus, we can rejoice.
posted by sonascope at 6:03 PM on March 25, 2011


Yes, The music industry's Loudness War is over! But what of the typewriter industry's Ink-Ribbon War, or the chastity-belt industry's Razor Teeth war?
posted by meadowlark lime at 6:04 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


The music industry loudness war is over.

ftfy...
posted by MeatLightning at 7:02 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


While you might be right, I do wish the fixedthatforyou-industry would just die.
posted by Dumsnill at 7:10 PM on March 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


@kuujjuarapik

Sorry, not aimed at you. Just responding to the whole idea that recordings sound better with more dynamic range. For me it was obvious from the get go.
posted by doctor_negative at 7:11 PM on March 25, 2011


Somewhere Steven Wilson is grinning smugly.

His work on the most recent King Crimson reissues is wonderous.
posted by mintcake! at 8:06 PM on March 25, 2011


I was going to watch that second video

and then I turned it off

I looked over to my girlfriend and saying "Oh man, that was about to be a *really boring* video"

she laughed
posted by rebent at 8:11 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Waitasec here. I thought the whole loudness war thing was won ages ago. It just seems wrong not to give credit where it's due to those three blokes who managed to do Everything Louder Than Everyone Else.
posted by Zack_Replica at 8:21 PM on March 25, 2011


she laughed

And that, friends, is what makes the world go round!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:30 PM on March 25, 2011


...in bed.
posted by swift at 9:06 PM on March 25, 2011


...in bed.

Hey, you didn't hafta go get all obvious on us, swift!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:59 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]




Zack_Replica: "I thought the whole loudness war thing was won ages ago"

Yeah Merzbow won (caution very loud and annoying).
posted by idiopath at 10:07 PM on March 25, 2011


I thought listening to music via headphones was pretty cool in the Sixties, but I've been listening to music through the air for the last forty years so I guess I'm pretty stuck in the Get Off My Lawn Crowd. I'm not an audiophile. Most musicians are not audiophiles. If you are a musician/audiophile - more power to you. You are smarter than I. But traveling the world of random John Cage sounds and every now and then putting on Beck or Natacha Atlas or Monk or sub-Saharan collections at home - shit, I'm sounding like a pretentious elitist snob - is enough for me. I don't need a constant soundtrack, especially a compressed soundtrack, in my ears alla time.
posted by kozad at 10:11 PM on March 25, 2011


Bob Mould, bless him, was both a major player in and a victim of the loudness wars. But he also gave us this, so that's a sainthoodsworth of blown speakers.
posted by mykescipark at 1:05 AM on March 26, 2011


I can't wait to find out what the Flaming Lips really sound like.
posted by mahershalal at 4:54 AM on March 26, 2011


The Rolling Stones' 2005 album A Bigger Bang had such a loudness issue that I could not listen to it more than once. The songs themselves were not horrible (a bit like Some Girls), but it was everything was cranked to 11. It was like Jagger mixed it on Pro-Tools or something. Many fans agree mix is a disaster.
posted by punkfloyd at 7:27 AM on March 26, 2011


A good Rolling Stones related loudness thread here on iorr.org.
posted by punkfloyd at 7:32 AM on March 26, 2011


Every time there's a Loudness War thread on MetaFilter I go and listen to a few of the bands/recordings implicated as the worst offenders/victims, and if they're heavy on electric guitars it just sounds like somebody singing over a lawnmower (and not in a good way). My problem with a lot of modern pop/rock/whatever music* is not so much the music itself as the bright, loud, sterile production.

* I'm an old fart, and I know the vast majority of it is not made with me in mind...which is fine and as it should be, but still.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:51 AM on March 26, 2011


I don't need a constant soundtrack, especially a compressed soundtrack, in my ears alla time.

Dude, no offense, but you're closer to the audiophiles I know than a lot of people. Most of them are complaining that we spend too much time experiencing music as noise and not enough time listening to it as LPs and paying attention to it, as $DEITY clearly intended.
posted by immlass at 7:52 AM on March 26, 2011


Most of them are complaining that we spend too much time experiencing music as noise and not enough time listening to it as LPs and paying attention to it, as $DEITY clearly intended.

I don't know about intentions, but complaining everything is dynamically compressed, to me, is more like going to a bar and ordering a beer, and they put ice cubes in it. Beer's supposed to be cold, yes, but there's better ways to make it cold without ruining it for the people who enjoy it. I guess I'm sorry you don't enjoy things that you listen to.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 8:39 AM on March 26, 2011


I'm pretty happy with my music, Threeway. I'm paraphrasing an argument I've heard made more or less seriously by audiophiles of my acquaintance. I'll admit I've realized I'd enjoy some of my music more if it had been mastered better/with more dynamic range, but I don't listen to anything (recorded, in my music collection) that I don't enjoy very often.
posted by immlass at 9:06 AM on March 26, 2011


The recording/mastering engineer behind Airwindows.com (Chris Johnson, IIRC) used to have a whole screed up about this, complete with album sales figures going back decades, and analysis of hit singles with sonograms and level plots. Eventually he took it down--supposedly for an update--and it never came back. I wrote to him once about it, and he said he hoped to redo it, but I wonder if he decided he was giving too much of the game away.

Here are the wayback versions. They are FASCINATING reading.


Airwindows: The Evergreen Albums (and artists)

Airwindows: Dynamics * (front page and intro for the album-by-album analyses)
Airwindows: Stairway to Heaven (intro entry -- how to read the sonograms)

*this page later replaced w/a sales pitch
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:08 AM on March 26, 2011


so all the audiophiles I know will quit complaining.

trust me when I tell you that nothing will prevent self-declared audiophiles from complaining -- without the complaining, they don't have an opportunity to demonstrate their superior listening/appreciation skills to you.
posted by modernnomad at 11:04 AM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


If your hearing range extended into the near-infrared frequency band, you'd be complaining, too.
posted by rocket88 at 11:37 AM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


infrared hearing tastes like ultraviolet
posted by Mister_A at 2:31 PM on March 26, 2011


That’s a whole lotta range.

ftfy
posted by chillmost at 3:43 PM on March 26, 2011


If it's too loud, you're not deaf and/or indifferent enough!
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:17 PM on March 26, 2011


So, not so much "loudness war is over" as much as "loudness war is over (if you want it)"
posted by anazgnos at 5:04 PM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Previously.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:25 PM on March 29, 2011


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