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January 11, 2010
Why Music Sounds Worse
At the end of last year, NPR did a series reviewing some interesting developments in the music field during the past decade; as part of that series they did a piece on "The Loudness Wars".
The story talks a little about MP3 compression, which I assume most Copyfight readers understand, and its impact on audio quality. But most of the piece is about how dynamic compression has been used to make everything more uniformly loud. Christopher Clark's infographic accompanying the story illustrates this point in terms of peak sound levels over three decades of hit songs.
And the NPR story asks the interesting question of whether one of the reasons we're buying less music today is because it all sounds so remarkably bland and the same. In the push to make everything noticeable have we created a sound field in which nothing is noticeable and thus nothing motivates us to go out and buy it so we can listen to it again?
I highly recommend clicking through to the YouTube video of the same title, which very clearly illustrates how the push to make everything as loud as possible ends up distorting and homogenizing the music. The video's narrator makes the salient point that in the end you are the one in control of the loudness knob so you can turn it up or down as you see fit, but if you use your loudness knob on something that has already been compressed you lose out on things like punch and even simple sound clarity.
It's interesting to me that at the bottom of it all we find the same conflict that runs through so much of the Copyright Wars - who is in control here? The record producers who want things to be as loud as possible, or the customers with their hands on the dial.
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