A decades-long competition between music producers wanting to achieve the loudest mix has led to a disturbing phenomenon - the ‘loudness war’. A rising mixing and mastering trend can put an end to the butchering of natural musical dynamics. This ‘war’ has led to compromises and the restriction of the natural dynamics of music. However a new industry trend might just put an end to the distortion of true, valuable music.
Tracks with a wide dynamic range are becoming popular again, overtaking their over-compressed, flavourless counterparts. Music, mastered to preserve as much of the dynamic range as possible, will sound much more powerful on TV broadcasts and music-sharing sites. iPods and other music playing devices in your home will have built-in loudness normalization. This matches the dynamic levels between different tracks.
How does this work in practice?
Playing a rock anthem from the 80s and a modern EDM track following each other, you'll note a significant variance in loudness. We perceive the louder track to be more powerful, or better even. This is simply down to how our ears work. The reason why we might think that recent tracks sound better is because they've been mastered to be louder than tracks mastered before. We think they sound better despite the fact that they have a much more limited dynamic range.
Good news to those who enjoy a wider audible range in music - YouTube, Spotify and iTunes recently announced that they will adopt a different method when streaming music. Both the old and new tracks will pass through a normalization process which turns up the volume of older (quieter) songs while bringing down the new (louder) ones resulting in a standard loudness level for both. Thanks to this process, songs recorded and mastered in the 80s might even sound better and more powerful - to the listener - than today's overly compressed music.
So what will this mean to clubs? At the moment producers and DJs are still competing to have the loudest tunes. However, sooner or later this normalization process will not only be the norm on your phone or music player, but in clubs too.
How to keep up with this latest trend as a musician or producer?
Personally, my advice is that all musicians and producers should keep a version of their tracks without master bus compression/master bus limiters. It will come handy when dynamic will be the new loud!