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The Loudness War and Your Music


 

INTRODUCTION
This article is about hyper-compression, or the loudness war.
If recordings from two different albums are compared, there is usually a noticeable difference in loudness.  The difference is especially prominent when the recordings are from different decades.  There are several YouTube videos highlighting the phenomenon that can be found by searching for “Loudness War”. The one below is especially good, and is now almost a classic.

 

The Loudness War and Your Music

 

WHATS WRONG WITH HYPER-COMPRESSION?
It’s not just a matter of loudness, today’s recordings are actually more compressed so they can be made louder.  With hypercompression , the compression is so high that it reduces the sound quality.
A recording created in a top ranking million dollar studio by an extremely experienced engineer can afford to lose a little sound quality and still sound great.  If you have a home or project studio recording, you may not be able to afford even a slight loss of sound quality.
Hyper-compression for most independent artists isn’t going to make your album sound like the major labels, it’s going to take you further away.  We recommend competing for the highest sound quality, not for loudness.  After all, everyone has a volume knob, and can adjust the volume to their own tastes.  Most listeners never notice where their volume level is set anyway, but people can think much less of an artist if the sound quality doesn’t meet their tastes.
This is true even in genres like rock and metal, where listeners may say that they like a more raw sound.  While this is true in a sense, most of the fans don’t actually prefer lower sound quality.  Instead, they want less processing and editing so they can feel more directly connected with the artist.
The basic idea is that tasteful compression gives more emotion and a sense of higher fidelity than hyper-compression, no matter what style of music.

 

SO WHY ARE ALBUMS HYPER-COMPRESSED?
Many producers want hyper-compressed recordings because they think they will sound more powerful on the radio.  This is usually not the case.  Tastefully compressed recordings may be louder than hyper-compressed tracks on the radio.  Every radio station processes audio before it goes out on the airwaves.  The most common is the Orban processor.  These units have various levels of processing, and in the end, a recording with tasteful compression can actually sound louder on the radio than a hypercompressed recording that’s louder on CD.  For more information, check out this link:  http://www.orban.com/support/orban/techtopics/Appdx_Radio_Ready_The_Truth_1.3.pdf
Hyper-compression is usually done by request of the artist or producer, but sometimes it is the mastering engineer. If an artist or producer hears a hyper-compressed mastered recording, they may think there was more done in mastering because it will sound so different from the final mix. Mastering is a somewhat of a subtle art, and the biggest difference you can make is volume. Of course, different in this area does not mean better. The main goal here at The Mastering Room is to focus on and maximize the emotional content of the music, however possible.

 

WHY DO I NEED TO KNOW THIS?
Mastering is a service industry, so we ask that our clients let us know what their feelings are about the overall loudness of their album.  If you still want your album over compressed or hyper-compressed, we understand, and will work to make your music sound it’s very best at those levels, but the sound quality will not be everything it could be.  We recommend tasteful compression for the highest listening enjoyment, the highest possible sales  the best sounding recordings, and the best sound on the radio.