Does Louder Really Mean Better in Music Production?

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Do you find yourself worrying about the loudness and clarity during your music production? You are not the only one. This is a common concern for anyone who offers mixing and mastering services.

In fact, there was a time when music production was driven by the “louder is better” mentality as people preferred their music loud. This brought about the “loudness war” or “loudness race,” where every music engineer was driven to make their music as loud as possible, even compressing and distorting their songs just to get it as loud as it could be.

In this article, we will be discussing the events that brought about the loudness war and how it is no longer an issue in music production today.

What Brought about the “Louder Is Better” Mentality?

As music engineers realized that audiences preferred sound at a higher volume than a lower volume, they tended to switch to music production techniques favoring a louder volume. When CDs started to take over vinyl by 1982, they found that the new digital medium had a lower noise floor than its analog counterpart.

It had a more extensive dynamic range than live music, but it had a well-defined maximum peak amplitude that should not be exceeded. When exceeded, the sound would “clip,” and the waveform above the limit will be lost. The resulting sound will be a tiny burst of noise that is unpleasant to hear.

During this time, music engineers became very cautious about CD releases and allowed plenty of headroom to prevent breaching this peak amplitude.

However, the “louder is better” mentality returned when they found out that they could increase this amplitude limit by applying more compression and gain to their recordings. This results in occasional clipped peaks, which were not as audible to most people.

The Downside of Loud CDs

By the mid-90s, the tracks were significantly louder, and the limits were pushed harder, making the sound increasingly harsh. Critics have started complaining about the over-compressed songs with less dynamic range.

By the 2000s, the issue of these over-compressed songs started getting more attention from the public, using music for video game tracks and the growing library for MP3 files.

The vast difference in loudness levels became more apparent, and the industry started developing a solution.

The End of the Loudness War

With the rise of music library applications such as iTunes, the music tracks could be analyzed and the loudness could be set to a normalized value. Digital audio players and media playback software can adjust the playback level without impacting the audio fidelity.

This leveling technology has made the loudness war moot as the over-compressed songs don’t end up any louder than the quiet ones. The songs are set to normalize to -14 LUFS, the standard unit of loudness for broadcasting.

For example, a song at -8 LUFS will be turned down by 6dB.

For a more in-depth look into broadcast standards read: What Volume Level Should Your Song Be For Spotify and Apple Music?

Conclusion

While it was a big deal in the 80’s and 90’s, you should not get so stressed about the loudness of your song during production. Focus on the things that matter, such as great song writing, production, and recording.

You can hire an online mixing service to make sure the loudness and clarity of your song are done just right.

Are you looking for a mix and mastering service in Canada? We at ADG Mastering offer professional mixing and mastering packages to ensure that your song is ready for streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music. Check out our mixing and mastering packages today!

Mike is the creative director for ADG. He enjoys golfing, alt-rock and tinkering in the studio.

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