Originally Posted by Francisk
The original mix looks pretty hot to me but of course the mastered one is even hotter. Looks like quite a lot of transient attack has been truncated on the mastered tracks therefore it will be perceived to be louder after processing through multi-band limiters on the mastered tracks.
Normalisation is generally not a good idea.
Normalization is fine if it is done within the limits of the audio headroom. There is no audible difference between a normalized CD and an original CD if the volumes are matched with your output player. This has been proven mathematically and with double blind testing. Unless you have some really crappy software that has a poor normalization algorithm or something, but that would be pretty unheard of.
If you were referring to MJ's bad album, the original isn't hot at all as an overall track, the drum transients are definitely kept at a consistent level, which might look like they're clipped, but the difference between the highest peaks and lowest sounds is still very wide. This was pretty clearly an artistic "limit" of the drums, and isn't heard as "compression" in the mix. If the drums were left completely un-limited you might have a snare here or there that jumped out way too much and would ruin the coherence of the mix. As you can see, the peaks are "limited" so none of them go above the threshold they set, but the difference between the bottom of the snare hits and the top of the snare hits is very great. This can be heard by the fact the the snare drums sound very snappy and dynamic. But yes the drums have been limited.
But compression isn't necessarily a bad thing if it is used in the mixing process to get a certain artistic "sound". Compression becomes a problem when it is used "after" the sound is already achieved by the artist. Compressing after that point is simply making the sound they achieved less dynamic. Compressing a drum while mixing is a way to allow the drum to sit in the mix a certain way so other instruments can be heard in the right proportions. This can't be done after the final mixdown, so further compression then only hurts the sound.
Before mixdown it can be used as an artistic choice, after mixdown it only degrades the dynamics.
But you can see in the waveform that the other sounds below the drum peaks are all pretty varied and not compressed at all.