What are the loudness wars? Simply put, our music has been getting louder, pushing the limits of how much you can pack in something as fixed as the amplitude of a CD or a DVD. This results in a reduction of the song’s dynamic range, which can muddy the song up.
I think it started about a year ago when I got my hand on some conventional limiters. Lately I’ve been tired as hell with compressing my tracks right in order to fit with the volume of other tracks, and now I was on top of the moon. Never again would I have complaints about how quiet and wimpy my tracks sound.
And usually after this life would go on and this would have been an end to this article. But then Metallica released “Death Magnetic”, and then shit went down.
At first it was the audiophiles. But nobody really listens to them, and the complaining was reduced to elitist banter.
But then it was the Metallica fans, the eagle-eared bunch who were appalled by the mastering quality. And then naturally people took notice. Even the heavy metal fans complained. So a petition was singed, and people renounced their loyalty to Lars Ulrich or some bullshit like that.
In actual reality we should be thanking Metallica for bringing this to our attention. Only when there is an extreme example will we pay attention to the less subtle. I’m sure you’ve heard many a demo tape from an aspiring hip hop artist who has clipped his songs in favor of a booming kick, but when a major mainstream artist makes a mistake, people sit up to listen. “Death Magnetic” is not the only album that is an example of the loudness wars, but is a poster boy regardless. Not to mention that a petition demanding a remaster, signed by the thousands, is falling on deaf ears.
Naturally with any burden, a blame game starts up. But the only people we have to blame are ourselves, and not Lars Ulrich. He only has himself to put under the magnifying glass, and if he decides not to then that’s his problem. It’s not the music industry either. They simply produce what we like. Which means we just have to add ‘unnecessary loudness’ to the list of things like “Paris Hilton” and “William Hung” we want to burn. (Although William Hung makes a fantastic Christmas gift to the niece you think has abysmal taste in music and you would like to make this fact public) So all that is left is us.
I say this because I have committed a “Death Magnetic” style error on my part for my next release, which went unnoticed until I saw the visual waveform.
As producers we need to set an example in order to stop the loudness wars, and pay more attention to the quality of our music and not the amplitude of our tracks. Tone it down so listeners can tune it up. As listeners, we have to use the volume button more often.
This YouTube video sums up the loudness wars very well: