Compression Versus Art – the Loudness War on BBC Radio 4

compe versus art

At the end of last year I was interviewed by the makers of a new BBC radio documentary called Compression Versus Art, talking about the Loudness War, mp3 compression and their effects on audio quality.

We talked for well over an hour, and I really enjoyed the discussion – but couldn’t help wondering how the final show would turn out ! Presenter Trevor Cox and producer Nick Holmes were determined that it should be detailed, nuanced and accurate – but they only had half an hour to do it in.

Also featuring contributions from Dynamic Range Day award-winner Steven Wilson, legendary producer Steve Levine, members of the BBC Philharmonic and Dr Bruno Fazenda, I was left wondering how they would manage to fit everything in, including an introduction to some quite complicated issues for a general Radio 4 audience.

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. The show was accessible, clear and comprehensive – really excellent. They packed in an amazing amount of detail – but not at the expense of accuracy. And it was entertaining to boot!

It covered both types of compression (dynamic and data) without confusing the two; it explored both the benefits and the problems of both; it even covered the impact that loudness normalisation on YouTube and elsewhere is having – without needing to dumb the subject down, and including useful demonstrations along the way.

So, if you’ve ever wondered what all the fuss is about the loudness war and/or mp3 compression, this is a great way to get up to speed quickly. And please tell your friends !

I did have a couple of minor reservations – I disagree about the idea that we only like compression because we’ve been conditioned to it by listening to so many recordings over the years. I think the reason is more subtle and interesting – but I think that might have to be a new blog post in it’s own right ! And, I was a little concerned that people might miss-interpret the comments about the benefits of high-quality audio being “masked” by our listening situation. It’s true you won’t hear the differences the show was discussing on small, cheap speakers or in noisy environments, for example – but that doesn’t mean they don’t matter, as I discussed in this post.

These are very small quibbles, though – overall the show was excellent. Congrats to Trevor and Nick – this was Hi-Def Journalism at it’s finest. For a limited time only you can listen to the whole show on the BBC website, here. I’m genuinely proud to have been part of it.


Apple Music versus Spotify – who are the REAL bad guys ?

evil apple

I recently wrote a post called Apple Music – will indie artists get their share, which prompted some interesting discussion. But the same questions can and should also be asked of Spotify.

Taylor Swift made this point recently in a Vanity Fair interview, and as a result Spotify​’s VP of Content and Distribution Sachin Doshi, got asked some tough questions in a new post on the Music Business Worldwide site.

He answered some of those questions, and carefully avoided answering some of the others directly. You can read the full post here:

Taylor Swift thinks Spotify is a “corporate machine”. You be the judge.

But here are a couple of quotes that jumped out at me:
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FACEPALM: “It sounds great! Now can you make it louder ?” – My simple four-step solution

louder facepalm


It’s the question we all dread.

You finished the master, everyone is really happy, and then they hit you with it:

Can you just make it a bit louder ?

Because even though we know that loudness is pointless, even though we know that if you want to sound louder on YouTube, or Apple Music or Spotify or anywhere, the answer is to master with balanced dynamics – no-one else believes it yet.

The artists don’t believe it

The labels don’t believe it

The producers don’t believe it

The A&R people don’t believe it

And plenty of mastering engineers still don’t believe it, either !

Even though we know that:

No-one believes us.

They’ve bought into the myth, they’re feeling the FUD.

Don’t Panic

Luckily, they don’t have to believe us, because now we can show them. Quickly, and easily.

This strategy is free, non-techy and simple to implement.

Here it is: [Read more…]

YouTube loudness normalisation – The Good, The Questions and The Problem

youtube loudness
So, yesterday was the big headline:

YouTube has started using playback loudness normalisation

So from now on you’ll hear more consistent playback volume from videos on YouTube, regardless of how “loud” they were when they were uploaded. To read more about what this means, and why it’s important, click here.

The news has had a fantastic, positive response from almost everyone.

But there’s a problem, as I mentioned in my original post.

And I’ll get to that in a minute.

Before we start

First, I should be clear that everything here is based on research and speculation. As far as I know, there has been no official word from YouTube about normalisation at all. Which means…

This is a moving (dynamic ?) target

Some of what I say here will probably be wrong, or go out of date really fast. But for now, here’s what (I think) we know.

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