Everyone thinks that this loudness war is a new thing. However, its roots go back many decades. People have been trying to achieve the loudest record of all the others at that period. When we are looking 20 years back, many record companies would send their new singles to radio stations. When producers listened to their record and they come to know that, their record is not loud as others. That is when they would hire a mastering engineer to increase the overall dynamics of the song compared to other loud ones. This is the time when the loudness war originated and infected the minds and hearing of people.
The CD loudness wars started shortly after the invention of the CD in 1982. Every new CD mastered tries their level best to sound louder than previous releases. Therefore, music has taken this new "hyper compression" trend. The CD increases the dynamic range that made the artists to embrace this format. Some of the record companies started putting disclaimers on CD telling that they cannot be responsible for any sort of damage done to the speaker system because of high dynamic range of CD. The period of 1990's considers as the golden age of mastering for many of the mastering engineers. Many of these records are still alive. All genres are addicted to the loudness madness. Hip-hop, R&B, and even Folk are making records that exceed the limit of 90 dB of dynamic range. Now days, record industry are competing for the loudest record. This affects the overall dynamics of the song wherein the soft part of the song seems to be loud and the loud part seems like it is all over the song squashed with each other making it bad to hear.
Revolution of loudness war and its impact
It's now a part of the music industry's quest to make music louder and it has been going on for decades, at least since the birth of the compact disc. The key to the problem is that, in making the soft parts of a track louder, you lose detail in the song: The difference between what is supposed to be loud and what is supposed to be soft becomes less and less. The result is that, sure, the soft parts of a song are nice and loud, but big noises like those drum beats become muffled and fuzzy. However, consumers often subconsciously equate loudness with quality, and thus, record producers pump up the volume.
I think this is unnecessary. Try buying a two album CDs and play both of them at the same volume level. You might be shocked between the two albums by what you hear. Try comparing with the same genres of two albums and then compare it with different genres of that time. It is all to do with cranking up the dynamic range that is destroying the song the way you want to hear. People have turned into a situation where they would pay for highly compressed records than a normal compressed record that has maintain the dynamic range, quality etc. Thus making us to hear with pleasure rather than rattling our eardrums. If you want to listen to the track louder, just crank up the volume a little more rather than compressing a lot by destroying its dynamics.
A large number of CD listeners have completely lost their interest in various high-end stereo players when surround home theatre systems have become popular. People have grown addicted towards loud music. In addition, the formats that we listen to music have changed, and this has formulated the loudness war. Vast number of people today listens to their music through mp3 on their computer, in the car stereo system etc. Audio programs like Pro Tools or logic help you to change the sound and make the singer sound so unnatural. Most of the engineers misuse this program in the mastering stage. There are engineers who use this program for the best use for the records and they know what the fans expect from those artists. With the help of new technological innovations, music does not sound to its best. The techniques of mixing and mastering are vanishing and a new era of loudness is infecting rapidly in the minds of the people. The compressed versions of the music sound better when they are compress a bit more to satisfy the loudness-ravaged fans, but also of the limited dynamic range. Where as in the early 1990's they were mastering records putting into consideration that they would be listened on a normal stereo system. However, today we have to take into consideration about different playback system that people uses.
Loudness revolution has brought with the advent of new technology in the studio. With the help of good quality, compressors have made us know about compression and loudness in a wider way. At the time of analogue processors period, they were stuck with a varied amount of compression, attack and distortion features whereas in the digital world, they had a brick wall limiter, which was great breakthrough for the engineers in the music industry. You cannot always say that the digital world had all the features and not analogue. They achieved a good dynamic record with the help of analogue compressors at that time. Even now, people prefer to have analogue compressors than digital. Some engineers prefer to get that raw definition in their record. In the end, it is the engineers' tastes and preferences of how he wants to master the record.
"The Red Hot Chili Peppers' Californication, branded "unlistenable" by studio experts, is the subject of an online petition calling for it to be "remastered" without its harsh, compressed sound."
Many of the people who think of loudness as their ultimate goal tend to lose their dynamic quality of the whole song. Listen to some of the recordings of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin etc from that age of time and the quality of work that portrays on the production. You can immediately hear to each detail: drums properly miked; vocals spot on; dynamic bass. These recordings still stand up as the best-mastered recording productions even in this period. The current generation of music exceeds above the optimum level of dynamic range that leads to distortion and rumble in the song needs to think of the fans who would listen to compressed song that has quality rather than dynamics.
Like the Release of Death Magnetic album was a big disaster. The fans came to know that the guitar hero version sounded much better than the CD album. They did not like the over compressed and distorted sound that came in the CD album. The fans demanded the band to re- mix the album. The mastering engineer Ian Shepherd for the Metallica album Death Magnetic compared the compression ratio between the CD and the Guitar Hero versions. He discovered that the CD was 10 decibels louder than the GH versions. This typically destroyed the dynamic range of the tracks.
Actually, there is a good part in compression also. It can also help in different stages of mixing or the way you hear it. whatever the instrument or different genre of music, the involvement of compressors help in hearing all the musical parts properly and also help the listener be close the musical world. This is what the mastering engineer's should opt for. Luckily, some engineers and producers show their work against loudness but with quality piece of work. Guns 'N Roses album Chinese Democracy was finally released for many hungry fans after long years of waiting. Bob Ludwig mastered the album with other engineers. Bob Ludwig is an engineer who has set the highest standards of excellence in recording and sound production over a period of years. He has mastered countless gold and platinum records. He also won numerous mastering awards for his immense contribution and excellence in the music industry. He is like a guru to all the other engineers out there. He actually created three versions of trial discs for the guns n roses record Chinese Democracy. The one had no compression at all which was meant for loudness sake. The second one had more compression whereas the third one with even more compression. However, none of these was as loud as what you hear in these days. Luckily, the producers of the album went for the full dynamics version of the song.He also stated. "I'm hoping that Chinese Democracy will mark the beginning of people returning to sane levels and musicality triumphing over distortion and grunge.I have already seen a new awareness and appreciation for quality from some other producers; I pray it is the end of the level wars."
In the end, there will always be those who actually like the sound of loudness in their record.Nevertheless, they should also understand that there is a possibility of making their records sound like true music. Today, artists prefer to master their records to be the loudest compared to other records in the music industry. However, many other artists feel that their music be enhanced for a better dynamic record. Mastering a record is practically the last thing to do and to make sure that it sounds better for the fans. Becoming a mastering engineer is not an easy task. It is a lifelong learning process where engineer develop their skills to enhance a true clear sounding dynamic music. Some artists prefer the engineer's way of mastering whereas some prefer what the artists want their mix to sound. Luckily, we have good singers with good mastering mix and sometimes-good singers with bad mastering mix. It is the choice of what we want to hear in the end.
Consider the dynamic level, which were in the period of late 80's and 90's. These records did not lack any loudness, quality, intensity, emotional feeling etc. You would not back down while hearing the whole album because they mastered not just to market it to the fans without knowing. Nevertheless, to know what the listeners want from the band's music is the originality, the feeling, and the pleasure to hear the song as if u were in their world.