Standing out from the competition is crucial, right ?
And the best way to do that is make you music really zarking loud, right?
To find out the real way to make your music stand out in the 21st century, watch the video above – the answer may surprise you.
[Update – since the launch of Apple Music, iTunes Radio has been discontinued – but that doesn’t mean that the ideas in this video stop being relevant ! In fact, loudness management is becoming the norm – it’s also in use on Spotify, Pandora, TIDAL and and YouTube, with others following soon]
Except actually if you’re a regular reader the answer won’t surprise you at all, because the best way to sound loud on the radio has always been the same – it just applies more than ever before, in the 21st century.
But this time, things could be different.
Updated, Sept 2014: at the end of the video I wondered aloud if U2 would use the same trick on their new album. It was released this week, and the answer is Yes – see the end of this post for my analysis.
Why online playback is different from radio
But the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that he’s right.
Because in the past, FM radio processed everything – so all music sounded “loud”, regardless of how it was mixed and mastered originally.
Which means that if they decide to turn a “loud” song down further than expected, like the U2 example in the video above – it actually sounds quieter.
FM radio processing would have made it sound just as loud, just more distorted – and many people wouldn’t have noticed or cared.
But they’ll notice if it sounds quieter !
The times, they are a-changin’…
Just imagine if the new Foo Fighters album (say) actually ended up sounding quieter than everything else on iTunes Radio.
I think this kind of thing has to happen, and it’s going to happen, and mastering engineers like me will be having some very interesting conversations with our clients, as a result.
And that’s why in 2013, Dynamic Range Day celebrated how far we’ve come.
- Two of the biggest songs of the year measured DR8 or more
- Daft Punk won the Grammy for best engineered album – and a whole load more
- R128 came into full effect on TV, with radio soon to follow
- iTunes Radio enabled Sound Check
- Even “Vapour Trails” got a new, (somewhat) more dynamic re-master !
Of course it wasn’t all good news, and the challenge is explaining all of this to the people who call the shots, as always.
But we’ll get there.
Dynamic is the new Loud
Update – The new album ‘Songs Of Innocence’ – how does it sound ?
At the end of the video I wonder aloud if U2’s new album will use the same trick. This week we found out, with the surprise release of the album as a ‘free gift’ to all iTunes users from Apple.
The way the album has been released has caused a lot of interest and controversy, with reactions ranging from delight to outrage – but I’m more interested in how it sounds. Did the band stick to their guns, and go with a more dynamic release ?
Overall, the Mastered for iTunes AAC download registers DR9 on the TT Meter – and you can hear the effect immediately, when the guitar riff crunches in, and especially at 3’12” – if the album had been more squashed, that moment simply couldn’t have the bite and impact it does – and there are many more examples throughout the album.
And sure enough, it stands head and shoulders against their earlier work in iTunes, just as “Invisible” did.
There is one slightly strange quirk – Track 8, “Cedarwood Road”, is a whopping 3 dB less dynamic than any of the other songs, for some reason, measuring only DR5 on the TT Meter. My guess is that it was mixed this way – it peaks lower overall than other songs on the album, suggesting that it wasn’t pushed as hard as anything else in mastering.
And it actually doesn’t leap out quite as much as you might expect, despite this large discrepancy – probably because the sound is more dense and “held in” dynamically than anything else, and also because it doesn’t have the power or impact in the very low end that many songs have, especially in the kick drum. The song overall sounds thick and congested, to me – yet another example of how “crushed” sound suffers in comparison to better dynamics.
Overall the album seems to have had quite a light touch at mastering – songs like “Raised By Wolves” have a lot less very low bass than “Every Breaking Wave”, for example. This probably reflects the relatively long time the band took to write the album, and the varied production credits – personally I quite like the variety !
Despite all of this, the controversy surrounding the album’s free release to half a billion iTunes users is much more likely to dominate the headlines rather than it’s more dynamic sound – but even so, I’m delighted U2 have had the courage to stick to their guns. The more “big name” artists who realise the benefits of balanced dynamics in their music, the better the chance that future albums can sound even better – and that can only be a good thing, in my opinion.