21 thoughts on “The Loudness War Is Here To Stay!

  • March 20, 2015 at 3:04 pm
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    I feel that as long as there are mastering engineers that think it’s their job to alter what leaves the studio there will always be a problem. Ian’s pretty good at what he does but he still seeks to colour or alter the final mixes beyond setting levels and ensuring a pure translation to the chosen format (taking into account any limitations of the media.). I don’t think the loudness war will ever be over because of the ignorance of the people responsible for distributing music, and as you have noted previously the same thing is happening in film. The truth is that my favourite bands have all released amazing music (Metallica/Megadeth/Shihad etc) that has been ruined by “mastering engineers” at the behest of “marketing departments” or “producers”. Keep fighting the good fight Mark, I really appreciate that someone somewhere is trying :).

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    • March 20, 2015 at 3:06 pm
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      Just to add – I forgot that musicians are just as likely to want to sound as LOUD as another current band, can’t forget to blame them too.

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      • March 21, 2015 at 10:10 am
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        Ture…but I’ve seen lots of artists that are clueless as to what’s happening to their records when delivered over the radio on on CD.

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  • March 20, 2015 at 11:22 pm
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    Such a shame, with the wonderful technology we have today such superb highly dynamic, exciting recordings could be made and reproduced. And it would be so easy to apply the appropriate compression needed on the playback end by devices such as ipods, smartphones, etc.
    What sense does it make to ruin all the music for everyone just so a jogger can hear well while running. 🙁

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  • March 20, 2015 at 11:45 pm
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    Well said. Mastering, especially in popular music, has become a pest. However, in practice, the full dynamic range of a CD is very very often impractical in very common listening situations (and I’m not talking about listening to music walking down a busy high street..). I’m an avid classical music listener and I read lost of listener reviews of CDs on sites like amazon. I’ve read over and over again reviews by people who appear very musically knowledgeable complaining about a CD being ‘problematically recorded’ because ‘one needs to constantly reach for the volume knob’, and vice versa. What does this tell you? What it tells me is that there can be too much of a good thing in practical situations and it also tells me that, for almost all practical (music consuming) uses, a 24bit dynamic range is useless and may be counrer productive, even if it has been utilized by the recording AND mastering process. I agree with you that the ideal solution would be for the necessary dynamic range compression to be applied at the consumption point and on the consumer’s discretion.
    Nik

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    • March 21, 2015 at 10:16 am
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      Right…so what are we to do?

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      • March 21, 2015 at 3:49 pm
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        Only way I can see is to somehow get the reviewers on our side. If reviewer X for mag-blog-whatever says in his review that band Y’s new release has some great music on it but the sound has been so distorted by the mastering engineer it’s very hard to listen to.
        I’m continually disappointed that I never hear anything like this from the “Golden Ears on High” over at Stereophile, TAS, etc. But I won’t get into going down that road. We need their help along with others in the reviewing side of the industry.
        Only way to make the labels and artists pay attention is for their work to start getting bad reviews and sales suffer cause of it.

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  • March 21, 2015 at 4:07 am
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    Yesterday, after a few minutes of annoying listening, I throw another CD in the garbage. All songs DR was between 3 and 5. I think the WAR is lost unless we find a way to educate general public about this matter. For now, most of us don’t care/don’t know about it. It’s sad to listen them killing the music.

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    • March 21, 2015 at 2:35 pm
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      Hi Mark,

      Thanks for the bringing my post to the attention of your audience. I have to respond though, because you’ve completely missed my point !

      Hands up, that’s probably my fault – I wrote my post fast, because I was excited about my discovery that YouTube was using normalisation, and perhaps I didn’t explain myself clearly as a result. I’ll try again.

      Of course YouTube’s normalisation doesn’t help with music that has already been crushed – but the point is, it removes the motivation to do it again in future.

      I said it more clearly in my follow-up post to the one you linked to:

      “As more people (like Daft Punk, Pharrell, Mark Ronson et al) experiment with more dynamic masters, those masters are going to sound better (punchier, livelier) than more squashed stuff. On YouTube, on iTunes Radio, on Spotify, and any device that uses ReplayGain – pretty much everywhere, in other words.

      And just like our clients used to ask us “why does that sound better ?” when they heard a master that sounded louder, they’ll start to ask “why does that sound better” when they hear something that sounds more dynamic.

      That’s when we get to tell them why, and that’s when the word will start to really spread.”

      What I’m saying is – when songs are loudness-matched, the ones with balanced, powerful dynamics will sound *better* than the ones that have simply been smashed in the old loudness-war style.

      And by the way, that’s what I mean when I say “move your masters from puny to powerful” on my site – powerful doesn’t mean loud. Mastering makes songs louder than the mixes often, yes – but only when it serves the music, when I do it. Music can’t sound powerful without dynamics, that’s the point. Ask any of the hundreds of people who’ve taken my course – for me, it’s all about finding the “sweet spot”, not making something loud for its own sake.

      Your suggestion that I’m “part of the problem” baffles me – I regularly turn down work from people who want me to make masters louder than I think is good for the music. I founded Dynamic Range Day to raise awareness of this issue, and I developed my Perception plugin to help people clearly hear the effects of excessive loudness processing and find a better, balanced solution instead.

      Anyway, back to my main point – my argument is, when music is loudness-normalised as YouTube have just done, the horrible crushed sound of most current releases won’t make them stand out any more.

      My belief and hope is that over time, the “loudness addicted” industry and engineers you talked about will realise this, and simply stop doing it. And as a result, music will sound better, and we’ll all benefit.

      And that’s something I’m pretty sure you’ll agree would be a good thing !

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      • March 21, 2015 at 2:54 pm
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        Ian, thanks for stopping by. I’m with you on the goal, I’m just not ready to acknowledge that the loudness wars are over…or even that they are diminishing. The mastering sessions that I see going on in my facility certainly are getting more dynamic…they are getting louder still. And when Andrew Scheps brags about getting 18 dB over reference for the Metallica recording…I’m discouraged. We’ll see how the YouTube plays out but I don’t believe we will ever get the Genie back in the bottle.

        I know you’re one of the good guys…and I probably hit too hard. But we’ll all in business and turning down business based on personal preferences doesn’t happen in Hollywood. The people that want the best sounding recordings aren’t the ones making the decisions.

        I’ve been lumping all mastering engineers in the problem side of the equation side of the issue. Not because you or Bob Ludwig or anyone else really want to destroy the natural dynamics of a record but because the labels and artists are demanding it.

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        • March 21, 2015 at 3:27 pm
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          Hi Mark,

          I actually think things are getting more polarised – the worst stuff is even worse than it ever was, but I also see loads of incredibly successful releases with better dynamics, like the three I mentioned in my previous reply just for starters.

          Overall I see a positive trend, though. I think you’re right, it will take a long time for sanity to return, but I do hope the the fact that ITunes Radio, Spotify and now YouTube all use normalisation will be a powerful driver.

          To address your other point – I’m in business too, and when people ask me to master stuff louder than I’m happy too, I respectfully suggest they’ll get a better result somewhere else.

          When I do that, one of two things happen. Maybe 25% of the time people say “thanks, I respect you for that” and go away happy – and in some cases recommend me to their friends who aren’t dead-set on loudness.

          But the rest of the time, they say “well, do it your way and we’ll see what we think” – and they almost always come back and say “that sounds great, and it’s plenty loud enough”.

          Despite my approach, business is good, here.

          Ian

          PS. Most people don’t read the comments, so won’t see my reply – I’d like to ask you to remove the lines where you “hit too hard”, please. I’m perfectly happy for you to disagree with me in public, but I feel your post as it stands doesn’t accurately represent my point of view.

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          • March 21, 2015 at 3:56 pm
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            No problem Ian. I will write tomorrow about our exchange and lift the load some. I’m glad you’re doing well. Keep up the good work…

  • March 21, 2015 at 5:00 am
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    I think it’s an over-generalisation to say that mastering engineers are part of the problem. They’re often instructed to brickwall the albums they work on and a bunch of them have voiced their opposition to it. I can name a few off the top of my head: Richard Dodd, Heba Kadry, Bob Katz, James Guthrie. Also Bob Ludwig depending on which day of the week you ask him.

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    • March 21, 2015 at 10:18 am
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      You’re right. There is a role to play but unfortunately the demands by the labels take precedence over the wishes of the “hired” mastering guys. If they want to keep working of artist A or B or label A or B, they will tow the line.

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  • March 21, 2015 at 10:53 am
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    The obvious solution would be for consumers to vote with their cash and avoid the heavily compressed recordings. Alas, there is no sign of this happening, so the loudness war will carry on.

    If only there was a way of adding a ‘set dynamic range’ instruction to the metadata, that would in turn be acted on by the replay equipment, we could all be happy.

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    • March 21, 2015 at 2:46 pm
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      My hope would be that we can change the delivery model…but it’s not likely to happen.

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  • March 21, 2015 at 11:57 am
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    Another great post. You have to wonder how he could get this so wrong. He’s obviously a sharp guy.
    I spent some time looking at Ian Shephard web site and came across this link posted by one of his readers.

    VERY interesting read, you should check it out:

    http://people.xiph.org/~xiphmont/demo/neil-young.html

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    • March 21, 2015 at 2:47 pm
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      See his response above. As for the Xiph.org article, it’s well known and I agree with a lot of what Monty has to say. But he’s not right about the basic concept of high-resolution audio making a difference.

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    • March 21, 2015 at 2:52 pm
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      With respect, Mark has missed my point, despite being a sharp guy himself.

      And I agree, the post you linked to is very interesting – so much so that I wrote a post about it myself.

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  • March 22, 2015 at 2:10 am
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    Ever since I started to read about, what Ian Shepherd is doing (and how he is doing it), I have thought of him as ‘one of the good guys’.
    He is certainly doing an excellent job – and should be encouraged in any way to keep on doing it!

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    • March 22, 2015 at 10:14 am
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      Ian is one of the good guys. I didn’t intend to call him out specifically on the mastering business….I think that mastering should be done differently across the board. And so does Ian. Read the comments, he’s written about his efforts.

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