People close to me, especially those who have worked with me on musical projects will know that I'm a strong proponent of more dynamic recordings. So I thought I'd take this opportunity to talk a little about why I think this way, and why the upcoming debut EP for Sweet Anxiety will be mixed/mastered with less compression and limiting, and a higher dynamic range score; And try to do so in just a few paragraphs.
What has happened to music in the last 30 odd years, and you may not even realise it.. In the battle to make singles "jump out" of the speakers on radio, and seem louder than competing singles; Record companies started putting the pressure on mix engineers and mastering engineers to make mixes louder and louder. This was due to a misguided belief that louder singles on the radio, would translate to greater record sales. This resulted in a phenomenon described as "The Loudness Wars" (further reading: Loudness Wars), which came to it's pinnacle with the release of Metallica's - Death Magnetic. Death Magnetic had a dynamic range score of just DR3 (source: Dynamic Range DB). Many people complained they could hear the distortion, and it hurt to listen to it, myself included.
Since the release of Death Magnetic and the declaration of the Loudness Wars. A new movement has started to encourage more dynamic mixes. I'm not talking weak, fluffy mixes that you need to crank to 100 to hear it. There is an actually sweet spot (which is considered to be around -10 LUFS (loudness units measurement) short term or about DR9). At this level, this mix is still use-ably loud in the car, or headphones on the train, but still retains good enough punch and dynamics. Note: many audiophiles would still not call this "Dynamic", however it is a drastic improvement of modern "crushed" tracks.
One such body also advocating this is Dynamic Range Day (link: http://dynamicrangeday.co.uk/about/) and, FYI, this musical project will be taking part in the Dynamic Range Day Challenge.
Now this isn't just some elitist audiophile bullshit.. This is something I advocate for a couple of reasons:
- Firstly because I personally feel that it sounds better. How many times have you heard, fuck yeah the vinyl sounds so much better... Well mostly that is because vinyl needs to be pressed with more dynamics due to some physical limitations with the format, and not limited to, preventing the needle jumping out of the groove.
- Secondly, I find ultra crushed mixes just hurt and fatigue my ears with extended listening. Also I find for me, personally, it aggravates the constant ringing in my ears which comes from 32 years of playing and engineering music.
Enter music streaming and loudness normalisation: Listeners frustrated with one song being ear piercing loud and the next not so, started complaining to streaming services that the volume differences between tracks, made their playlists un-listenable. As a result Spotify, Apple Music, and most streaming services now turn down the tracks that are too loud. This makes those "crushed" mixes sound small and squashed (This process applies what is called a Loudness Penalty). You can hear this for yourself by turning the "Sound Check" option on and off on your iPhone.
This "normalisation" of songs has now rendered crushing the life out of a track - a pointless exercise.
So does all these mean my tracks have no distortion at all? Practice what ya preach Sammy.. No, In fact I love to use liberal amounts of distortion, but in a "season to taste" kinda way. Especially on things such as drums, and bass, adding small amounts of "saturation"; A similar effect to the pleasing sound you get from a nice valve amplifier. However, just like adding too much salt to your dinner spoils the meal. I believe crushing mixes too hard, spoils the song.
Happy listening people! And remember.... you own the volume knob!