OK signal processing nerds, which side are you on in the Loudness War?
If you haven't heard of the Loudness War, you have some catching up to do! This little video by Matt Mayfield is kinda low-res but it's the shortest and best explanation I've been able to find. Watch it, then choose sides >>>>
There's a similar-but-slightly-different war going on in photography: high-dynamic-range or HDR photography is, according to some purists, an existential threat to photography. I'm not going to say any more about it today, but these HDR disasters speak volumes.
The ideology at the heart of the Loudness War is that music production should be 'pure'. It's analogous to the notion that amplitudes in seismic images should be 'true', and just as nuanced. For some, the idea could be to get as close as possible to a live performance, for others it might be to create a completely synthetic auditory experience; for a record company the main point is to be noticed and then purchased (or at least searched for on Spotify). It reminds me a bit of the aesthetically
For a couple of decades, mainstream producers succumbed to the misconception that driving up the loudness — by increasing the mean amplitude, in turn by reducing the peaks and boosting the quiet passages — was the solution. But this seems to be changing. Through his tireless dedication to the cause, engineer Ian Shepherd has been a key figure in unpeeling this idée fixe. As part of his campaigning, he instituted Dynamic Range Day, and tomorrow is the 8th edition.
If you want to hear examples of well-produced, dynamic music, check out the previous winners and runners up of the Dynamic Range Day Award — including tunes by Daft Punk, The XX, Kendrick Lamar, and at the risk of dating myself, Orbital.
The end is in sight
I'll warn you right now — this Loudness War thing is a bit of a YouTube rabbithole. But if you still haven't had enough, it's worth listening to the legendary Bob Katz talking about the weapons of war.
My takeaway: the war is not over, but battles are being won. For example, Spotify last year reduced its target output levels, encouraging producers to make more dynamic records. Katz ends his video with "2020 will be like 1980" — which is a good thing, in terms of audio engineering — and most people seem to think the Loudness War will be over.