Talk to everyone from armchair music production critics to dyed-in-the-wool pro engineers, and you’re likely to hear about how today’s records are over-compressed. (We think this is what Bob Dylan meant when he said records “have sound all over them.” But we made fun of him anyway.)

To audio lay people, though, it may be tough to describe exactly what this means. One music fan has taken the battle to YouTube, with a graphical and aural demonstration of exactly what the technique (technically “brick wall limiting”) does to the sound. Rather than approach this the traditional way, he takes a nice, clean 80s track and imagines what it might sound like in 2007. It’s actually not an implausible result:

(thanks to Matrix of Matrixsynth fame)



More experienced engineers have pointed this out, and can even demonstrate visually using actual examples, but this does as good a job as any explaining what happens — in particular, when you re-adjust dynamic levels for different equipment. A common misconception is that compressing audio levels makes it sound better on cheaper equipment and at more listening levels. That can be true to a point, but squash dynamic range, and poorer equipment can actually make things sound worse.

This said, I’ve noticed some important points often get left out of this discussion:

1. Brick wall limiting should not be blamed on digital recording — or visa versa. The whole idea of pumping up tracks’ loudness to boost record sales is largely a result of FM radio as the mechanism for promoting tracks.

2. Not every track you hear in 2007 uses heavy compression. On the contrary, there are some beautifully-produced albums out there, and with the explosion of indie labels, a lot of albums are aimed at aficionados with headphones, not mass-market loudness.

3. Over-compression isn’t always bad. It’s a stylistic hallmark of a lot of modern hip-hop — which in turn might be thought of as a nod to dub and other traditions. It just tends to get applied without artistic intent in some albums.

With the growth in home recording, in fact, this example doesn’t have to just be a criticism of the record industry — it can also be a cautionary tale for being careful with how you use compression. Dynamic range is just as important an area as frequency range, and any reminder of that is worth considering. So before we start whining about other people’s recordings, it’s worth thinking about what different dynamic ranges do to our own music.

For more information: There’s a very knowledgeable rant on this topic in engineer Bob Katz’s book, Mastering Audio: The Art and the Science, which is an unparalleled reference on mastering in general. (And it’s worth separating the art of mastering from what a lot of us do, which may or may not have a delivery medium in mind. Not to mention, the basic rule of mastering material well is, give it to someone else who knows what they’re doing and touch it yourself as little as possible.) Katz most definitely knows what he’s talking about, and his frustration with this evolution — or devolution — of mastering comes from years of experience. That’s not to say people can’t disagree with him on some of his points, so I’d be curious to know what others think.

Elsewhere: Tom at Music thing linked to a helpful visual aid showing the evils of “Living La Vida Loca” as a new, digital wall of sound. More discussion there.

  • te2rx

    and the destruction continues with these often-employed techniques to further increase the perceptual volume…

    1. Remove or de-emphasize the low low bass (like the 80hz and below stuff) because the average consumer won't play it on something that can reproduce that. EQ that heavy bass out, and you get more headroom to smash things further with a brickwall limiter.

    2. Hit the album with an atomic bomb of stereo spacialization. The album Daft Punk: Human After All is my favorite example. It makes me nauxious just listening to it because it sounds like everything is coming from _behind_, the spacialization is so absurd and tasteless.

  • Adrian Anders

    Personally I think this issue has more to do with rock and traditional pop than it does with hip-hop and electronic… To a certain extent over-maximization/compression/mastering can be tasteless and sound bad on electronic-based tracks too, but due to the natural lack of dynamics there is more room for "unnatural" and "exaggerated" production techniques in these musical forms.

    I don't know about you guys, but when it comes to dance music and hard electronic hip-hop I want the sound to be as smashed and loud as possible. It's not about clarity, it's about keeping the energy up in the track (or making you go deaf, either will do ;-) )

    The problem is when these same techniques are used in genres and styles which clearly don't benefit from their use, like the song that was demonstrated in the video. That sort of track benefits a great deal from clarity of sound…

    So this isn't a black and white issue, as both styles of production have their respective uses in differing styles of music.

    ATA

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Good point, Adrian, and I'm totally with you. Actually, brick wall limiting sounds pretty boring. What's beautiful about technically *incorrect* means of smashing sound together is that it can produce different results. If you're going to kill the dynamic range, do it through a broken cassette recorder. And, hey, that isn't just electronic, either — it's noise, experimental, avant-garde classical, punk, rock, hip-hop, jazz, etc. And it can be a color in something altogether different.

    I suppose what's disappointing about these overused techniques is that they make everything sound the same.

  • te2rx

    yeah well, Peter mentioned the same thing in the article, concerning how the smashed aesthetic works well for some genres. As for you wanting your dance music as "loud" as possible, that's what you have a volume knob for. That's what DJs have a channel gain for. There's no real *need* to make it deadly loud in the mastering phase. Exaggerated compression effects is something you would do in the mixing phase anyway — if I wanted my track to sound crazy-compressed, then I would do that myself and not leave it up to the mastering engineer, because it's not really his job to drastically change the content of my track.

    Personally I think a lot of typical dance tracks fall sonically flat for "loudness war" reasons. Too much spacialization, totally missing low-bass (probably why many DJs crank the bass by default to compensate), and weak-ass kick drums due to the lack of dynamic range among other things.

  • te2rx

    err, I was replying to Adrian Anders of course

  • bliss

    When I first started mixing and mastering my tracks I woud automatically normalize them to the max in Peak and then add compression, a ton of it, because that's what I seemed to have read everywhere as being responsible for making tracks stand out. Electronic Music, Computer Music, Sound On Sound, you name it, they all ran articles back in the early and mid 90s explaining "Make Your Tracks Sound Like The Pros". My tracks never did, and I never liked what I heard. And then one day, literally, I actually sat down to mix.

    I had been listening critically to a lot of Bernie Grundman mastered tracks, notably those produced by Quincy Jones for Michael Jackson, and I thought man that is the some of the most beautiful stuff I have ever heard. Listening to those tracks changed my life and my mixes. For all the hard work that the producers, artists, and sound engineers put in during the recording process, I am convinced the magic of a recording happens during the mixing stage. Placement and levels. That's it! Sure you can add effects, whatever you want, but has the track been mixed well? My opinion on mastering is that the mastering engineer should pay the utmost respect to the mixes while at the same time delivering a polished product. The mixes contain the magic, and mastering should only enhance that, not destroy it.

    Listen to some of Tribe Called Quest's early albums, sure lots of compression is going on, but the tracks retain space and dynamics, some of the mastering work is just outstanding. Now listen to an album by Audioslave… Like Revelations… The most hurtful listening experience I've ever had. It's especially offensive because some of the tracks, as far as songwriting is concerned, are great. But can I hear any between bass guitar and bass drum? No. How about between guitar and hihats and cymbals? No. What about the most important part, the vocals? Well, what about it? Taken together it's very tiring on the ears. And looking at playback levels everything, the loud parts and the "quiet" parts of the tracks, plays back at -6.82 dBu. In fact every track of that album plays at a near constant -6.82 dBu on both channels. The exception is that some intros are actually allowed to represent the original mixes. But sure enough one after those first bars one will hear that artificial sounding ramp up to crescendo and then the track stays there at -6.82 dBu until the track is finished.

    To each his or her own, but I prefer to "hear" what I'm listening to.

  • bliss

    [Edit] "But can I hear any between bass guitar and bass drum? No. How about between guitar and hihats and cymbals?" should read, "But can I hear any relation between bass guitar and bass drum? No. How about between guitar and hihats and cymbals?

  • anon

    I like to record a person's voice for them, and then compress it in increasing amounts until it's basically noise. Usually gets the point across nicely :) "This is you… this is you on compression"

    Know what I hate even more than the overcompressed music? (And that's really saying something!) F(&#in TV ads. I am so sick to death of having to lunge for the remote every time the ads start. Anyone else in Australia notice that channel ten changed their compression settings a month or so ago? I could punch them I swear… Just show me the person responsible…

    Although… I was so proud of my girl when she screamed at the telly last week "F!#$!!! Turn down the compression you @ssholes!!" :D

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  • http://www.tfsbrokers.com CDM

    Wow interesting! Thanks for posting.

  • http://toilville.com Peter

    he could of probably used a better time frame for the ideal mixing era from 1989 to say.. mid to late 70's.

  • http://smartextensions.gustavobravetti.com Gustavo Bravetti

    Part of a Mastering Engineer's job, is to achieve a good RMS level without affecting negatively the dynamic perception of the track.

    Obviously that if you use a single compressor or limiter, or even a smart loudness maximizer, you may be wont have enough control over your results. Depending on the kind of material you are working and the objective you want to achieve, the appropriated tools selection and chain order is crucial, but the key starts at mix stage. Take care of your levels, single compress elements with fast and high transients, watch unwanted frequencies, DC offsets, etc. A good tip is to have a premastering chain at the Master out of your mixer, so you already heard an approximation to the mastering result, that lets you compensate "live" for the commonly loose of punch in some elements.

    About spatialization, I don't think a pro engineer will do that without fight long time with the client first. If you want space do it in the mix, and please don't play with the relative phase.

    Being a good mastering engineer takes a lot of study and years of practice, is not enough to download a cracked mastering plug-in pack and start limiting all that comes to your hands.

    Regards,

    Gustavo Bravetti

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  • http://www.thisisnotalabel.com Evan

    The guy in this video doesn't really understand mixing, imho. "Punch and clarity" are related to more than just decibels. This guy implies that you can't have "punch and clarity" if you don't have something turned up in the mix, and that just isn't true. In my experience, "punch and clarity" are more related to how the individual instruments are EQed than the levels that they are mixed at. If an instrument has an area of the spectrum that is all its own, then it will have "punch and clarity". If the engineer just pushes the decibels and expects to get "punch and clarity", then he will end up with mush.

  • bliss

    I was just listening to some tracks from the 70s the night before. Stevie Wonder and Bobby Caldwell. Some really good mixes. But I've been listening to Buena Vista Social Club lately, and it needs a little EQ here and there but that's what EQ is for — tailor to one's liking. It plays well at any volume. Albums by Oval, Fennesz, and Chihei Hatakeyama are mixed and mastered very well, too. So it really seems to come down to what the creative team and business team decide on when it comes to marketing the albums––what they know about their core audience's listening habits. I wouldn't count myself as a core member of Audioslave's audience, and so even though I like some of their tracks, their albums are not made with me in mind, I guess. Which is a pity because you never know what you're going to like until you hear it. It's something that A&R's should keep in mind.

    Maybe over-compressing tracks works like planned obsolescence. Tire out the listener's ears so that they will think they are tired of a track or band so that they will go out and buy the recordings of the next flavor of the month? Maybe not––but maybe. ;)

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    I agree his explanation isn't totally on, though visually what he's showing is basically accurate. I think you do get clarity out of dynamic range — maybe "punch and clarity" are the wrong words . I'd take issue with his last step, turning down the overall volume on the last track. That's a good point, but without dynamic contrast, the track's going to be fatiguing and lose some of its definition turned all the way up, too.

    Also: I don't claim to know anything about mastering.

  • bliss

    And I know very little about mastering as well. Magazines (the important issues I use like handbooks), listening intently to CDs, plus a little practice. Strictly amateur, never been paid to do it.

  • dan s.

    There's another side effect of this as well. It might not concern too many people but I like to buy music on vinyl, mainly 7". They sound even more horrible when mastered in this fashion. The loudness of some tracks even make the tone arm jump, effectivly making the track unplayable unless you use the old trick of stacking coins on the cartridge.

  • Peter Kearney

    To say that over-limiting is only an issue with pop and rock shows complete ignorance of the issue and what effect it has on the music. Like all other genres, dance music has suffered in the last decade. Did anyone ever complain dance tracks weren't loud enough in the 90's? The answer would be a resounding no, but the average RMS level for dance tracks has crept up from -12dbFs to the -8 to -6 range in many cases. Radio stations and clubs already have brickwall limiters installed, resulting in double over-compression and massive distortion. I've found many examples of tracks produced in the digital era where the kick drum looks like an almost perfect square wave!

    Limiting does not improve clarity. Clarity comes from correctly EQing a sound in the mid-range where the human ear is most sensitive along with adding "air" above 12khz. Compressing a sound that is hard to hear will not make it clearer, but simply louder. Clubs are often insanely loud, yet it is sometimes difficult, if not impossible to hear the vocals and other midrange instruments!

    One other thing.. the spacialization issue it not accidental in club tracks, it's quite purposeful. Songs mixed for the dance floor are a different beast from something mixed for home listening. They are not (or should not be) true stereo tracks.. but more like BIG mono or two mono tracks side by side. In a typical club system with four speakers in each corner, any sounds not emanating with equal sound pressure and phase from all four speakers can result in total phase cancellation in the exact place you don't want it.. the middle of the dance floor!

    Using compression as an effect is one thing, especially if you want the sound to pump rhythmically. But, in general, compression on electronic instruments is totally unnecessary and should be avoided. They are already deficient in any kind of dynamic range and adding compressors accomplishes nothing. I know personally I'm always fighting to get MORE dynamic range out of electronic songs. The role of compression is really to smooth out the volumes levels in things like vocals and acoustic guitar where there is a tendency for wild fluctuations in volume from note to note. What purpose does it serve on a drum machine kick drum that can be programmed at 0dbFS ad nauseum?

    Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon is one of the defacto standards for testing stereo equipment, yet I've never heard anyone complain it wasn't loud enough. The engineers on that project despised compression and avoided it as much as possible. Over limiting would completely ruin the impact of that listening experience to be sure. It's the dynamic range from track to track that gives it the depth and emotional impact.

    For an excellent tutorial on mixing an mastering, check out Friedemann Tischmeyer's books and dvds on mixing and mastering at http://www.proworkshops.de. He really knows what he's talking about and from what I've seen of the dvds, they are packed full of invaluable info.

    An example of a poorly mastered cd? Zero 7's – When it Falls. For a track of largely acoustic instruments, it is absolutely punishing to listen to on headphones.

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  • bliss

    If anyone is interested in checking the average RMS (dBFS) of their audio files or CD tracks there's an excellent tiny free app called AudioLeak that can be found here: http://www.macupdate.com/info.php/id/20639

  • Peter Kearney

    Paul McCartney's track from 1989 is a musically appropriate starting point for the discussion.. as far as I can recall, the first commercially available CD was by Billy Joel in 1982. At the time, CDs were not recorded or mastered anywhere near 0db. By 1987 when CDs achieved mass market appeal, levels were hitting 0db on a few peaks here and there but were definitely not being clipped by limiters.

    1990 is the demarcation point when volumes started increasing dramatically and the peaks started clipping, with the waveforms hitting 0db hundreds or even thousands of times in a track.

    Prior to the 1990s, I don't think it was much of an issue.

  • http://schubert.ece.drexel.edu/ Patrick

    I think it's interesting how discussions or debates of the "loudness war" seem to pop up with renewed fervor every year or so. I really appreciate the simplicity and accessibility of the Youtube article's entry-level demonstration, and I appreciate the input and criticisms of the many working professionals and experts who also have something to say.

    However, nothing will change if we are content to just preach to one another. There is perfectly open and articulate criticism against squashing records. And I have yet to hear any famous producer or record company endorse the practice or commodity.

    Yet, it keeps happening, and (apparently) continues to become a more severe/refined practice.

    Can the listening public who buys records hear the difference, and do they care? That should be the next important question.

    It's easy to demonstrate how squashing tracks can relate to retaliatory volume-knob activity. We can even objectively quantify relative and riding dynamics. However, it's not enough. Loudness is always ultimately subjective (that's why there's a volume knob).

    So, we need objective knowledge of "subjective loudness."

    I wrote a research outline back in college (as a Psychology Major), which outlined methods for running tests on humans to see how "squashed" they thought music was. I abandoned the project, because, at the time (2004), "squashing" fervor seemed to be dying out. Every time I see the debate heat up again, I start kicking myself.

    If anyone is interested in doing some psychometric testing on "over-compression." I'd love to hear from you (…I have a "poor man's copyright" on my outline…so don't go stealing my idea…hah…).

    For my two cents on the topic:

    I noticed that many experts here complain about over-compression like a problem that came out of nowhere. Bliss mentions those articles in the hobbyist magazines on “how to make your tracks sound like the pros.” Those same magazines run ads for the very Mastering Plug-Ins that make it so easy to get such different results. Put 2 and 2 together. Over-compression, and dynamics in general, has become a sound commodity, and some people are buying it. I would love to hear digital music consumers, amateurs and aficionados alike, clamor for high bit-depth as much as they clamor for high bit-rates…

  • k.

    As long as there isn't a standard or people won't accept that 0dbFS isn't like 0dbVU every mix summing will be mentioned as bad digital mix summing.

    As long as there isn't a standard (like in movies) or people won't except that a -6dbFS RMS is not even an option for good sounding records, we will hear old farts complain about bad cd sound.

    Listen to red hot chili peppers stadium arcadium, that cd is mastered to death. The cracks are all over the place of waveforms cut off.

    It is impossible to listen to that record.

    Artists should get their control again of how their cd will sound, so Bob dylan should be in charge to not let it happen instead of complain. This is also for the red hot chilli peppers, metallica, ….

    "open" albums will not happen at -6dbFS RMS.

    btw it's not the wrong compression's fault, it's the wrong people.

    listening to a 1970's album on a mastered cd from 2005 is the same problem.

    If your meter stays up at -3db all thru the song = something's wrong

  • http://www.keithhandy.com Keith Handy

    Peter Kirn: not sure what you mean by taking issue with him turning it down; to me that seemed a clear way to demonstrate how the sound had been affected by the limiting.

    The video seems like it would be perfect for those who have little knowledge or understanding of limiting and the "loudness war", as it clearly makes a single point; getting into the technicalitiess that more experienced engineers will nit-pick at would probably only confuse the beginner.

    Great post. OK if I quote from it in my own post?

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  • http://indiedanceparty.com DJ McManus

    Audioslave and Nickelback … I can't even tell the difference.

    The whole thing from the same song arrangements to the clothes is analogous to the compression.

    We might as well be talking about fast food here.

  • http://www.wishingwellstudios.com Michael

    Thank God there are people FINALLY talking about the over compression wars. People, when I as an engineer or producer or both spend day after day and hour upon hour mixing and cutting a project to perfection (my judgement anyway) I HATE the fact that some A&R person's only concern is that it's not as loud as some other record!! How absurd. Good music (subjective) should be enhanced to a point where it serves the artist and the song not the volume. That's what volume knobs are for!!! I'm so glad to see so many of you coming to this conclusion. Now let's make some great records!!

  • bliss

    lol @ DJ McManus Sometimes McDonald's fries hit the spot! Sometimes. ;)

  • http://www.farmingmusic.com Erik

    One useful tip I once learned about mixing and mastering is that it's very good to work on stuff at relatively quiet volume levels. This is helpful in many areas:

    -Emphatic peaks can be better distinguished and understood

    -Less strain is put on the ears for both long and short terms – always good!

    -Generally, things tend to sound better when prepared for quiet levels and turned up afterwards in terms of dynamics

    …And by quiet, I am referring to the lowest possible volume that best communicates the full frequency range of the monitoring equipment.

  • te2rx

    ^^ I've heard low-volume monitoring really works for some people, but it actually doesn't work for me. If I mix softly and crank it, I change my mind on several decisions I've made. Same if I mix loud and go soft. What I've really learned concerning that is I need to hear my tracks from several different perspectives in order to find a happy medium… that means loudly and softly, with and without a sub, farfield and nearfield, speakers and headphones, in a good space, in a crappy space, in a car (which gives you a big noise floor), etc.etc.etc.

    every new space/setup gives me a new idea for my mix or brings a problem to my attention.

    ANYWAY concerning low-brow mastering practices in the industry, I was just playing devil's advocate in my previous posts. It's often low-brow albums from low-brow labels that get over-compressed (kill myself before I listen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Audioslave, any kind of "epic trance", etc.) so no big loss there IMO. The real solution is simply not to buy music from labels that significantly compromise their sound quality for (imaginary?) commercial viability. Or if you just can't bear to tear yourself away from pop(ular) music, buy the vinyls or something.

  • bliss

    Well, the great thing about buying CDs is that they are returnable. Take new music home and it sounds like crap? Return it. Get a refund or exchange it for something else. That's the solution for listeners. People who listen to music in the foreground, us, are not as common as those who listen to music in the background, them. While we're just as likely to be piled five to a car on a Friday night or in a nightclub listening to music while yakking a mile a minute with our friends, some of us trying to get lucky, we're more likely to have a space in our homes and studios, a sweet spot, where we listen to music as a primary activity. Even listening to music in cubicles at work or on iPods, we are more likely to be listening to recordings that we can fully appreciate. When it comes to music everyone is a snob to a degree because we have strong ideas about what we like. So as listeners, we're already pretty good at dealing with what we don't like.

    The problem is communicating dissatisfaction with mastering to record labels, A&Rs, producers, artists, and mastering engineers who use over-compression as a marketing device. There are more than a few egos to surmount. A first call mastering engineer who is noted for delivering loud and commercially successful recordings is not likely to hear our plea. Neither is a mastering engineer struggling to break in or stay in that needs to eat and keep his cellular activated. Neither is the producer that does the hiring, ditto for the A&R, let alone the chief record execs. C.R.E.A.M. If they think over-compression is making them money, they are not likely to change their ways.

    k. makes a great suggestion, artists should get more control about how their art is presented, but even that has problems. A&R and marketing, using criteria of what makes a successful commercial recording, may choose not to make the biggest and best push of a recording if they think it's going to fail. Miss one point and they may not push at all. Audioslave, my latest favorite Chicken McNugget, may know well that if their CDs fail to make ears bleed sales will be lost. Should all types of recordings be treated that way? Definitely not. Should some? Maybe, but chances are I won't like them, unless it's a desirable aspect of the art. I have enjoyed work by Pan Sonic and Merzbow, go figure. My point is that I'm with k. on this. The artists must bear the risk. They are the one's who know better than anybody else how their art is supposed to be presented, and so they are the ones who have to maintain their vision, and fight to have it realized. That's assuming, of course, that all artists have a vision. Meanwhile, everyone else will continue to do what they've always done.

  • bliss

    Maybe I've only appreciated works by Pan Sonic and Merzbow. ;)

  • http://indiedanceparty.com DJ McManus

    Someone else mentioned the following idea when this last popped up in conversation. At least now you have a subjective way of demonstrating to your teenage cousin that Green Day do in fact sound like shit, are a pop act, and that these business men think very little of their customers.

    I've only found a couple tracks of this sort for what I listen to. Once I pop them into Live and see the waveforms there's really no question about it.

    I wonder if they ever scoop out a small range between the lows and mids as well as the mids and highs; just to attempt at some semblance of space?

  • http://ww.adjustreality.com lukasz

    though i agree, i also think there is a reasoning behind this. it really makes sense marketing wise, most people listen to radio in the car, so to punch through all that noise when your in the car and not have to adjust the nob every 2 seconds it seems almost necessary. though i agree it takes away from the music, marketing wise it makes sense, if people hear your song, people will like it. so i guess there are two sides.

  • Leif Claesson

    If you want LOUDNESS for your own listening, I made a WinAmp plugin called AudioStocker. It can brick wall limit like a $10 hooker. Get it from http://leif.cx/software

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  • dennis parrott

    the whole loudness war thing has just SUCKED since the first track got mangled by these idjits. i really really figured this out (way too late i admit) when i read an article about the new Rush album (at the time) _Vapor Trails_ and how the producer DESTROYED Rush's sound by overcompressing everything… IMHO _Vapor Trails_ is difficult to listen to because of that when you compare it to older Rush records.

    somebody ought to convince those crack-head A&R guys that they should leave PRODUCTION to people qualified to make those decisions. if those dorks want to produce, they ought to go out and earn those stripes!

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  • dave

    I think this over compression has come from people wanting big sounding crunchy sustaining drums.

    Old motown and soul recordings have very compressed drums like this, but just the drums not the whole record.

    Today digital sound with sampled and plug-in instruments and les live recording of real instruments, everything can sound sterile and flat.

    So people over compress to get some life into the recording. But this is trying to bring out something that is not there.

  • dave

    Recordings are probably over compressed in mixing not mastering so you can't do a thing about this as a mastering engineer

  • Pan Skeptic

    It's beginning to filter through. A fight broke out on Amazon.com about over-compression on the SACD version of the Moody Blues' "Days of Future Passed." Some can hear it, some can't. But at least they're talking about it.

  • http://None Patuch

    I play and record and have done so for many years, strickly home base stuff. This started as cassette 4-track and now CuBase digital. I too fell victim of over compression thinking that is the proper technique in mixing. Actually, it was the stuff I've done without the over compression which seemed to always have more life inside and coming out.

    Noting the fact that this type of recording procedure has taken place in music today, I can only think about the certain people I know who listen to the style of music which is an incredibly nasty screeching bombardment of sounds they consider good music. This arrangement is then taken to the extreme with high decible, in your face energy.

    I suppose what I am saying is that there is a sector of market for this type of stuff. It sells to those people who know nothing about creating music, either from the instrument and certainly nothing known in the mixing field. It's all of what they DON'T know which makes it to the record company's advantage to perform this style of production. As stated about fast food, this too is just that and some people eat it up. But is it wrong or is it a way of hiding what is truly lacking? And that just might be real human soul.

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  • James Sanders

    Let me start off by saying that I am but a babe in mixing/recording, and I am only doing home based stuff right now. But I have found that my goal tends to be to first, recreate exactly what the musicians were playing…as they played it. Then work with the musicians to get the exact sound that they want. I've had good results with a soft compression at a moderate to low thresholds. The biggest problem I have is seperating sounds in the same range (electric guitar and crash/cymbals) but this is usually correctable with EQing. I am doing all my spacialization in the mixing, is this the way to go or should I wait and do it during the mastering?

    The biggest thing to me the final product: Have you created something that does justice to the musicians that created it and is in a format that someone else would want to listen to. I yield to experience so feel free to correct my oversights and techniques.

  • http://www.bassnode.com bassnode

    Some sane people in The Industry trying to stop the madness: TurnMeUp

  • tickle

    As far as im concerned,

    compression is not the culprit,

    its a dynaamic aand creative techniqqque,

    depending on your genre/instruments/implementation.

    Yes everything is maxed.

    But what isnt.

    Its not just a trait in mastering/producing…

    Have a look around.

    Compression and limiting are great tecchniques when used right, the same as EQ.

  • Tobias Anderson

    As a mastering engineer, it has become increasingly disconcerting to both work on and listen back to much of todays' music. Distorted, compressed & messy sounding to say the least! However, 2 points I must make:

    Firstly, compression and brick-wall limiting are NOT the only factors involved in making a record loud and / or distorted. The clipping of the ME's ADC (analogue-to-digital-converter) is the most aggressive form of distortion you will hear on todays' loud records. Digital limiters are generally (hopefully) not cranked too much (between 1-3db), but rather the load should be spread across more than 1 unit, making the effect less obvious than if the same amount of gain reduction had been employed with a single unit. The signal is then fed back to the ADC, and 'clipped' to achieve the final loudness increase. The maximum peak level of digital audio is 0dbfs, however when clipped, the incoming audio exceeds this value (up to 6db, maybe more in ridiculous cases!) and the loudest peaks of the music are literally shaved, or 'squared' off. With the upper end ADC's, this process can be fairly transparent, if used 'sensibly' (if that is possible..) however when abused, it sounds truly awful as you all can hear. One example (many are available :) that springs to mind is the Foo Fighters' Nothing Left To Lose album. Every time the snare is hit, the digital distortion is unbearable, the high frequencies sound grainy and harsh ect ect. However, audibly, the effect of clipping differs greatly from the effect of brick wall limiting, which can, as previously mentioned, and subjectively speaking, benefit or compliment a particular style or genre of music. Dance, hip-hop & drum n bass coming to mind especially. This processing DOES impart a certain sense of power to the sound which is very different than simply using compression alone on the mix buss or on the individual elements in the mix.

    Secondly, music is never 'cut' or HPF'd (high-pass filtered) at 80hz. 40-45hz maybe, a gradual roll-off from 80hz-20-30hz probable, but there is still a lot of important musical information below 80hz that is needed in modern music, even if it can't be reproduced by poor consumer listening equipment. The 60hz(ish) peak in a hip-hop kick for example, would sound completely wrong and hollow if the fundamental frequency lived in the 100hz range for example. I can't think of a commercially released modern record that has been released with very little or no musical information below 80hz, not impossible, but certainly not the norm by any stretch. Lastly, having a 'pre -mastering' chain is really not a good idea, and will probably do more harm than good in most situations, unless: the listening environment is very good and the engineer is very skilled. Using a particular compressor for a desired character on the mix buss prior to mastering, is a very valid 'mix' technique, but again the engineer must be very competent for this to be worthwhile.

    I hope this has shed some additional light on the loudness war for you all.

    If you would like to express your dislike for the practice, in hope of eventually stopping it, please visit and register for free at

    http://www.dynamicrange.de

    Toby Anderson

  • http://www.soundcloud.com/aenon aenon

    most of the time I see a lot of artists overcompress and not touch a limiter because they say compression is everything. Personally I use very little compression and only on the mixdown because as you've all said, loudness is good for a certain genres but I think in electronic music, most of it doesn't have vocals telling a story, so you need to rely on song dynamics to tell the story. Besides mastering a track loud means you'll have a poor quality version on vinyl.

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  • Brandon

    I think it's a multi-faceted issue.
    First off, yes, electronic has some of the worst compressor abuse ever.
    It needs to sound good loud.
    Guess what over-compression doesn't do?
    Make things sound good when turned up!

    So how does one achieve a good sounding mix?
    Mixing.
    It's not easy and most of the producers are too lazy to do the dirty work. Sometimes they just use a software compressor preset, not even bothering with EQ and it shows. It shows like sh** on the sidewalk!

    So, causes of bad mixing:
    1. Lazy engineering.
    2. Lack of engineering skill
    3. Players don't have enough amplification. (Heaven forbid they spend $1.50 more to produce an MP3 player/cell phone!)
    4. Publishers think consumers are stupid
    5. Consumers are stupid