Nothing beats the feeling of getting a new CD. For me, I buy music regularly – I’m obviously keen on keeping music working. Starting out as a producer I don’t want to see the business falling by the wayside as more and more illegal downloads act to harm the market. However, when I, like anyone, buys an item – I want to be provided with quality of production. If you buy new clothes, for example, you don’t want them to rip while you put them on. Where is the relevance to music I hear you ask? Well – why would I be satisfied in buying a CD when as soon as I put it through my stereo, my ears hear the harsh fizz of digital distortion.
The first album I’m referring to is the new album by various artists, covering tracks from Deep Purple’s ‘Machine Head’. The album features a tasty menu of musicians ranging from Carlos Santana, through to heavy metal acts like Metallica. This, in theory should serve up and hour of listening that should blow my mind, however after one or two listens the only things that seem to be blown are my speaker cones. The aim of the mastering engineers to get this music to ‘stand out’ to me has destroyed something that could have been absolutely brilliant. Don’t get me wrong, the musicianship at hand was second to none, however to me it all fell behind a smokescreen of fizz and noisy audio artifacts.
The loudness wars are a much-documented issue throughout music, however to me they are becoming a bigger problem than simply being too loud. I will admit – to the untrained ear music is about the notes, music is about the artist, the singer or the band and for this reason many people can live with ripping their music off YouTube and listening to the poor quality, but to me its becoming a problem that is putting me off buying CDs. Why should I pay for the poor quality when I can just catch the tracks on Spotify and get poor quality for free? It’s getting to breaking point and something needs to be done, but the issue is nobody is prepared to give it a go! A meeting between record labels, producers and major studios may result in the same opinion that yes, music is getting too loud, and yes it may be damaging the overall quality of the product. They may all agree that something should be done – maybe agree to knock a dB off the mastering process, create a little bit of headroom for the listener and allow some dynamic range back into our favorite tracks. That may be all well and good, but you can obviously see the next year or two will be spent by mastering engineers adding maybe 0.1 dB onto their tracks to get it louder than the rest on the radio – for it to ‘Stand Out’ and before you know it, we will be back in this loud, distorted and ear-bleed-inducing hell that we all know and ‘love’.
To me, the issue is beginning to hurt more than just my record collection – it’s making me question the credibility of artists who realistically shouldn’t need to answer such questions. For example, “La Futura” – the new album by ZZ Top, a band who have been running for 43 years. They are Gods of Rock ‘n’ Roll – yet I’m sat there listening to their latest offering at reasonably low volume and thinking – they’ve taken 9 years to produce another album, and it’s audio credibility has been ruined by some record label mogul who thinks that they need to stand out on more grounds than their clear musical talents and history. I for one have had enough, and the artists who are spending their time and effort writing songs, only to have them crushed and destroyed in mastering should have had enough as well.
Will this article make record labels and producers prick their (probably volume damaged) ears up and think, “Something must be done!”? I highly doubt it, but if it gets read by any artists, any mixing or mastering engineers I hope it can be realized that we aren’t too late, and that music shouldn’t be measured in volume, it should be measured in the quality on offer. Technical skill, energy and pure enjoyment should prevail over those with the compressors thinking, “Lets turn it up a bit”.
Nigel Tufnel may disagree but just because something “Goes up to 11” doesn’t necessarily mean its going to better that that sticks at 10.
Mixes and Masters