I was recently tagged in a heated Facebook debate about whether the heavy distortion in Billie Eilish’s song “xanny” was deliberate artistic intent, or due to excessive compression & limiting in the mastering.
I got curious and decided to investigate – it turned out to be an interesting example. You can find out what I discovered in the video above.
To experiment with the Loudness Penalty of your own music for free, click here.
One point I feel I could have made more clearly in the video, with hindsight – a simple way to make the streaming encodes of this album sound better might have been to simply reduce the level prior to encoding, even if nothing else was changed. The codec wouldn’t have to work as hard, and the extra playback clipping I demonstrate in the video could be avoided. More about this topic in this post.
It was too much detail to put in the video, but of course there are actually multiple effects being used on Billie’s vocal in the song – especially some kind of auto-pan or amplitude modulation throwing the voice between the speakers. It gives the impression that the voice is being modulated by the excessive bass – maybe it is ! But then there’s even more distortion, some of which sounds like clipping – listen @ 2:33, for example. It’s so extreme it basically has to be a production decision, though.
I think it’s also worth saying clearly that even though “xanny” isn’t turned down too much by the streaming services, other songs on the album are – for example “Bad Guy” is turned down 6 dB by TIDAL, which feels like a missed opportunity, to me…
And finally, as I say in the video, I love this album ! Even though it’s a little loud and distorted for my taste, on balance I’m really relieved that the dynamic contrasts I demonstrate in the video have been kept, and that it wasn’t pushed any further. Kudos.