The Cinch Review

The Loudness War “is over”

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Is the music industry’s Loudness War actually over? It would be very good news. I noticed a lot of traffic on my old post about the problems with Bob Dylan’s 21st century CDs a few days ago. It turns out that March 25th was “Dynamic Range Day” — a day set by audio activists to bring attention to the Loudness War (wherein much modern music is deliberately mastered too loud at the end of the production process — destroying the natural gulf between the quieter and louder part of a recording — in the perverse and evil belief that this will help the music sell better).

In particular, I noticed a post at MetaFilter declaring that “the Loudness War is over.” The supporting evidence was in a series of links. A very detailed article by Greg Reierson in Mix Online maintains, among other things, that new ways of accessing music, and new media players, completely eliminate whatever value “too loud” recordings might have had, in terms of attracting a listener’s attention, and give the advantage instead to recordings with greater dynamic range. Another article purports to prove beyond any doubt that making recordings so loud gives zero advantage to them on the radio (and actually hurts them), due to the audio processing being employed by broadcasters themselves. There’s more, but in effect what these articles are pointing to is that there’s no reason for the Loudness War to continue. And three cheers for that.

However, to demonstrate that the Loudness War is actually over, it seems to me, you’d need to point to some recent major music releases unafflicted by the syndrome, with beautiful dynamic range. I don’t know if there are many examples of that yet (mainstream rather than really niche), but I’d be pleased to hear of any. I haven’t been listening to a whole lot of new contemporary popular music myself. One thing I’ve heard is Ron Sexsmith’s brand new one, Long Player Late Bloomer. It seems to be pretty darned loud, I’m afraid. A shame: it has some great songs. The better an album is, the greater the tragedy of excessive dynamic range compression, obviously enough. When the Loudness War is verifiably over, I have a list of albums I’d want to see fixed, and I’m sure some people have longer lists. Maybe it’s a pipe dream, but on the other hand, I’m sure the record companies who issued the blaringly loud ones will be happy to resell the same music to us in undamaged condition one day. It’s just a question of whether one lives long enough to hear it on this earth, rather than on the great stereo in the sky.

Anyhow, to paraphrase Ron Sexsmith, when it comes to the Loudness War being over, I guess I’ll believe it when I hear it.

2 thoughts on “The Loudness War “is over”

  1. Real bummer that the Ron Sexsmith album is too loud. But I plan on getting it anyway, I like everything he’s done and the songs I’ve heard from this one are pretty great.

  2. I believe Apple is already in talks with the labels to spur sales of those higher-def, audiophile-quality versions of all the music they already sell; I assume that would include proper dynamic range, considering they’re looking to squeeze a little more money out of the people who care about such things, but…you never know.

    I listen to a good amount of new jazz, however, and I’ve been really shocked how much is getting the loudness treatment. Even remasters of classic records from the 50s, 60s and 70s are getting compressed and cranked.

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