I neglected to properly introduce myself in my previous blog entry, so I figured I'd do so here. I'm Dr. Something, or Alison. Feel free to address me as either. I'd like to thank Goldie and the rest of the Crappy Indie crew for welcoming me into this prestigious fold. I'm very excited about adding my typewritten voice to this web publication.
So... onto an aesthetic discussion I've previously thought about bringing up in an online music forum, namely The Loudness War™.
This term refers to a trend in music mastering, wherein engineers use a shitload of compression in order to up the entire volume level of a recording and make it "stand out" among other recordings. While this process increases the overall volume level and "punch" of recordings, it also decreases the dynamic level, The quietest moments become considerably louder, while the loudest are bound by the physical limitations of the medium (there's about a 50dB range for vinyl, and a 90dB range for CDs). So you get something that's just all around loud, and often these louder recordings peak so often and intensely that they cause distortion.
Basically, I'm hugely into dynamics. The first music I fell in love with as a kid that wasn't something my parents were listening to was Beethoven's symphonies. Boy was I a rebellious kid! I'd argue that his music's most salient feature is its intense use of dynamics, and ever since, I've often gravitated toward music of many different genres that makes dramatic use of quiet and loud sounds and many levels in between. And while I'm not a sound engineer, I've still noticed this trend and it irritates the hell out of me.
Earlier today I stumbled upon this essay by recording engineer George Graham, that does a fantastic job of both describing this trend (far better than my above summary), and articulating frusrtation at the loss of dynamics in these works. And that essay is what prompted this post, especially his mention of many home or low budget recordings taking on this quality, due to widespread and user-friendly computer programs that allow for easy or even automatic compression of recordings. While I definitely understand that some bands with a bigger, fuzzier sound can sound fine under those circumstances, I hear a lot of music, including (perhaps especially) indie recordings where such hyper-compression is used seemingly as a way to make projects sound more polished or "pro," in comparison to raw, unmastered demos. I find it particularly sad to hear acoustic albums that are "over-mastered" in this way. It seems to plasticize the sound of acoustic instruments, leaving them devoid of their natural texture and timbre. I'm always sad when I see a great live group, get their CD, and not only the jewel case, but the music ends up being coated in shrink-wrap.
Has anyone else noticed or been bothered by this? Conversely, is there anyone who prefers the louder, more compressed recordings for their greater punch and uniformity? I'd be interested to see if there are other Portland indie fans who have an opinon on this.