Is Louder Better?

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The ongoing debate of is louder better. Personal views on the subject,and examples of the "louder is better" application put into use.

As music as progressed so has the way it has recorded and mastered. You can see this by popping in a favorite CD of yours from 5-10 years back and putting a new CD in and you can see the older CD you might have had to turn up the volume, and on the newer album you may have had to adjust the volume (or if you have a rockin system in your home or car you may have had to tweak the entire EQ because the album seems to be over powering). This is the effect of the "Louder is better" theory that has become more and more common in the music industry, especially with Rock and Pop music. The question: "is Louder better?"

The answer is more a matter of personal preference. Here is an example to help explain how this "louder is better" technique works. YOU HAVE PRODUCERS AND SOUND ENGINEERS MASTERING THE RECORD, THE CUSTOMER (WHICH IS THE RECORD LABEL NOT THE BAND) HAS ONE THING IN MIND AND THAT'S TO SELL ALBUMS, WHO WANT'S TO BE THE BAND WITH THE QUIET CD IN THE CD CHANGER. All right, I typed everything in caps to prove a point; it's harder for the brain to read and disseminate writings in all caps, you can't determine the tone of the writer and plus it can just get annoying and hard to read period. The same applies to making the tracks louder, after a while of listening to the CD your ears and brain get tired either turn the music off or tune it out.

Well why does the main engineer stand for this? It's a hard decision to make when it all comes down to it, do you want to be know as the guy who won't "play ball" and then get negative feed back from the industry, no matter if buy increasing the volume of the CD ruins the sound scheme of the band, also remember the client is not the band that is being recorded it is that major label that is normally paying the bill.

A good example for the "louder is better" deal is with a band I've come to like over the past 8 to 9 years and that's the Foo Fighters. You can take there first self titled CD and put it in a CD play and it is very low in volume (lower than most studio albums, it has a bit of a demo feel to it), and then Put in there 2nd CD,"the coulor and the shape" and see a nice difference (to me out of all there albums this one sound aver all the best). Then you take a look at there latest Album "One by One", nice bunch of songs, a decent arrangement, growth as a band over all a good album, but……it sounds like crap. The volume as a whole has been push to the max (and in some part you can hear tracks clipping), there is distortion of the signal at low listening volumes, which goes to show you it is result of the mastering.

More and more common this is, just as the effect when you are listening to a song and the instruments drop down in volume (some times a drastic drop) when the vocals come in, and once the singer has paused or has stopped singing the volume jumps back up. This volume jump is not a natural thing that happens live why is that it happens on a studio recording? I will end my little rant about now, but remember when mixing and mastering, having the loudest CD in the pile isn't always the best, try and have a nice balanced mix instead.

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User-submitted comments

Aug 19, 2003 11:49 am
Related issue
Something else that I've noticed lately that I believe is related to the volume increase / dynamics decrease issue is a change in the overall EQ curve on modern CDs. In fact, there isn't really a "curve" at all. Masters are being made flatter and flatter these days. Engineers are really boosting those mids. I personally like the sound of it, since modern stereos seem to be made to cut the mids a bit, which compensates for this. If your mix isn't flat enough, it no longer sounds balanced and full in a good stereo. The reason for this boost, I believe, is to push the volume limit higher. If the bass or treble is louder than the mid, then there is a gap in the frequency spectrum that is not being pushed to the limit. Therefor, when the mid frequencies are boosted, the overall mix sounds LOUDER. The whole volume wars thing is pretty rediculous, especially when the sound quality begins to degrade and even clip. It's a real shame.

Jamie Garrett
Sep 15, 2003 08:20 am
i've been thinking about this differently lately. as i get more project closer to completion i realize that i'm very likely going to end up maximizing te hell out of them. Hard limiting, saturation, you name it, whatever it takes to make them stand out. I'll always have the backup CD-Rs with the unmastered mixdown anyways so it's always a reversable option. But this has befinitely been on my mind lately -j

Apr 12, 2007 01:33 am
that's why the movie industry's sound is 'standardized'

they mix at 83-83db's it's an SPL reference for them...i think commercial music should be standardized, especially with all the digital headroom we have, let the listener blow their ears out if ya want....

it's sad, my bud and i were in the car a few nights back and i had it on NPR, and he complained on how 'soft and quiet' this station was.

i explained the situation, but he didn't seem to care, the whole general population doesn't really care. everyone is so used to people yelling at them on tv and radio, that anything less seems umm too quiet.

also (this just poped into my head) it would suck flipping from a 'quiet' station that you have cranked up to a 'loud' station....hmmm i'm all for standardization of reference mix/master levels!

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