This is a 2015 re-boot of one of the first, and most popular memes I created for Dynamic Range Day – not a “Top 10” as some sites have reported, it’s actually the “selected high (and low) -lights” of recorded music levels over the last few decades.
And the information it gives is just as crazy as it ever was.
As a result of the so-called loudness wars, mainstream pop releases are being pushed onto CD and into mp3 files at such high levels they’re technically much ‘hotter’ than some of the loudest acts in history, in an attempt to make them stand out from the competition.
Why is it crazy ? Because it doesn’t work.
None of these “loudness” differences will be audible in any of most popular places we listen to music.
Not on Apple Music.
Not on Spotify.
Not even on Youtube, any more !
Replay volume is ‘normalised’ in all of these places, to improve the listener experience, because the number one source of complaints about audio is always big variations in loudness – we hate to have to keep adjusting the volume control.
So if you’re wondering – “why do people still bother?” – you’ve got a point!
It’s not all bad news
Take another look at that infographic, though.
There are some interesting features.
Look at the 2015 releases.
As well as ridiculous results like Taylor Swift being as loud as Oasis, and Nicki Minaj being almost as loud as Metallica – there are two massively successful pop albums by Daft Punk & Mark Ronson that have great dynamics.
And D’Angelo’s critically acclaimed album “Black Messiah” measures DR8. In a genre like R&B where almost everything is clipped and crushed by default, that’s a serious result ! And it’s not alone – in an interview on NPR’s Hip Hop show, J. Cole described how he and producer Juro “Mez” Davis deliberately chose not to compete in the loudness war – and his fans loved the decision.
(To hear the right section of the interview, click here)
And there have been a host of other great-sounding, dynamic releases in the last year, too – some of them are nominated for the Dynamic Range Day Award 2015. Check them out, your ears will thank you.
It ain’t over yet…
Of course these are the exceptions, rather than the rule.
For every great-sounding success, there are ten more that have been smashed. As I said in my interview for CE Pro, the situation is getting more polarised, and will probably keep getting worse, before it gets better.
But loudness normalisation is a fact, now – and gradually, the music world will wake up to the new reality. Just as U2 and Pharrell and D’Angelo and Daft Punk and J.Cole and Opeth and Aphex Twin and Mark Ronson and Jack White and Paulo Nutini and The War On Drugs and many other already have.
And when they do, our ears will thank them.
Update – mainstream press coverage
I’m happy to say this post went viral recently – so much so, that I ended up being interviewed by The Times newspaper, and on BBC Radio 4 here in the UK about the topic. The full article is available here.