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Creating examples of "Loudness Wars" effect

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by Elgrindio, Jul 11, 2017.
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  1. pinnahertz
    That's because there is no one "technique", but rather many, and many tools. I've already listed some of them in this thread. It's not really pertinent to describe everything in specific because it wouldn't be accurate for every track.

    Some of the tools are (not intended to be a comprehensive list):
    • Compression on a per-track basis
    • Limiting on a per-track basis
    • Peak limiting on a per-track basis
    • Overall compression
    • Overall limiting
    • Overall peak limiting
    • Overall clipping

    Compression, limiting and peak limiting can be applied to the entire spectrum or to portions of the spectrum with individual control over characteristics via a crossover. Clipping is a valid processing tool, and not always a distortion generator, as it takes time for distortion to become audible, and if a very short peak is clipped off the results can be completely inaudible.

    Generally speaking, compression increases long-term average loudness, limiting increases short-term average loudness, peak limiting also increases short-term loudness by controlling maximum peak amplitude, and clipping permits the others to work with less audible side-effect by acting only on short inaudible peaks. Split-band processing can also act as a form of dynamic EQ while permitting higher average levels with less audible side-effect. However, side-effect of gain control, usually a type of "pumping" effect, is not always undesirable.

    There are differences between how levels are detected, which affect how a processor response. They can be peak-based (peak limiting and limiting), peak, RMS or average based (compressors). And there can be differences in attack and release times for each, as well as differences in the thresholds for each, as well as release-gate thresholds that alter release times based on instantaneous levels.

    It's a Swiss Army Knife of tools. All of this can be used, some of it, or very little. The mix and balance of any of these can be adjusted relative to the others, and even the order in the chain can be changed, though typically track processing comes first, the overall compression, then limiting, peak limiting and possibly clipping. All tools could be used so gently as to be imperceptible, and so aggressively as to be the loudest track ever, and everywhere inbetween.

    The point is, there's no one magic tool or formula, and there's also no knowing what was done without first-hand information. Looking at a waveform in a DAW doesn't tell you what was done in anything other than very general terms. You can't, for example, assume there was clipping used because the waveform looks flat-topped. That can be done with peak limiting too.

    Does that answer your question?
  2. TheSonicTruth
    Specifically, what I believe Gregorio and bigshot meant is that modern pop mixes themselves are constructed to be able to be subject to far more compression and/or peak limiting than legacy(pre-1990) pop and classic rock material which suffered through rounds of remastering late in the 1990s and into the last decade.

    I recently read somewhere that how modern pop acts are recorded - mic technique, preservation of the depth of the recording venue - helps in the aim of making them louder in the mastering stage.

    That's what I'd like to find out more about.
  3. gregorio
    1. I feel quite the opposite, that it poorly describes either the loudness war of the "in your face" mixing style. Density would usually imply the density of the frequency content, the density of the harmonic structure and/or orchestration and much of the modern pop music is quite the opposite, it has low density, relatively sparse orchestration and harmonic content compared to previous genres.

    2. The "in your face" style of mixing is a result of how it's recorded and mixed, it has little/nothing to do with the mastering. Unless instructed otherwise, a mastering engineer will just try to aid the intention of the final mix, not create new intentions or change the existing one/s.

    How does that not put you in the tiny minority? Some people, me for example, will pick the best one regardless of how loud or quiet it is, most though will probably just go with the loudest, extremely few will just go for the quietest.

    You implied in a previous post that you had been to a "recording school", what recording school taught you the above? I've no idea where you get many of your "facts" from, you seem to have just made them up yourself or severely misunderstood what you've read or been taught. If you're not sure of your facts, you should ask but if you keep presenting incorrect assertions (which you've just made up or have misunderstood) as actual facts, then you'll end up getting harsher and harsher responses and your interaction with this forum will deteriorate, which benefits no one.

    You've missed out at least one round of compression/limiting; sub-group compression/limiting. Additionally of course, assuming you're talking about mixing and therefore your "overall" compression/limiting is master-buss compression/limiting, then there is one or two further rounds of compression/limiting during mastering. I know you know this but for the potential benefit of others ...

    Last edited: Jun 27, 2018
  4. pinnahertz
    I agree with them, but there’s no way to simply or universally describe the process that I’m aware of. All the processing tools are available for tracks, groups and mixes, which is relatively recent with the advent of the practical DAW.

    One note... individual track-based processing isn’t always about loudness, more about the mix.
    Sounds doubtful. A lot of modern stuff is mic’d close and mixed dry, not sure about that ending up louder. The Spectre “wall of sound” was pretty loud sounding, and was kind of the opposite. I’ll defer to Greg on this.
  5. pinnahertz
    Yup, just trying to keep it simple.

    It’s also not universal that every stage always adds additional processing. I’ve been in mastering sessions where it was felt that nothing other than a tiny level tweak was necessary, but it’s more typical that mastering is where the last loudness kick in the butt happens,
  6. gregorio
    Again, I would say that's a bit of an over-simplification. In fact, looking at older genres and analogue recording and mixing, we could add yet another round of compression/limiting, during initial recording, although at that time master-buss compression/limiting was less common. The DAW made it easy to create as many instances of a compressor or limiter as you had the computing power for but compression/limiting at the recording, track and group level was entirely standard well before DAWs, although typically not on every track.

  7. Zapp_Fan
    I would agree with most of what pinnahertz and gregorio have said here, and throw one more item on the pile, which is the style of composition and playing. In the notoriously loud pop genres (e.g. hip-hop and trap-pop) there are very limited dynamics in terms of the actual instruments. You'll notice that changes in a given instrument's sound are often frequency based, or simply on/off. Meaning - (although a lot of these tracks are more synthetic than acoustic) one note is often played at the same volume as the next, there is simply less time spent playing notes quietly than you'll find in jazz / classical. This feeds into the compression stages later, it makes the job of slamming levels to a specific point that much easier.

    Also, the universal availability of DAWs and making it possible to use nigh-unlimited numbers of compressors in a given track is a good point. In the days before in-the-box mixing, it would be a lot more work to add 35 separate limiting stages to a song. And high-octane compressor / limiters wouldn't be available to the average home musician, but today they are. So maybe part of the loudness war is that the kids learning to produce music today are habituated to compressed music, learn the habit of compressing the hell out of everything, and the cycle continues...

    note: my opinion is that recording close / dry gives the producer / mixing engineer more flexibility in processing, including with compressors. If there is no reverb tail to worry about, you can go crazier with your compression without hearing ugly artifacts. So while it doesn't definitely imply you will use more compression, I would say it enables it.
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2018
  8. bigshot
    It goes beyond just compression though. Frequency response is skewed to accentuate deep bass to compensate for lack of bass in many earbuds, and there are a lot of phasey reverb tricks and ping pong to entertain people wearing headphones. Vocals are heavily processed to make them stand out from the mix. I'm sure there are other techniques too. I'm not as familiar with this area, but there are both technical and stylistic aspects at play.

    The point is that modern pop music is being recorded and mixed to favor the earbud and iPhone crowd. Not just mastered for it. That means that the whole creative process is focused on these sorts of things, it isn't just a mastering issue.

    When you take an album by Kansas or Boston, it's a different story. Those albums were recorded and mixed to favor LP release and radio airplay. Today neither of those mediums are significant any more. So they are remastered for whatever audience the label thinks is the most likely to buy the reissues. If they are aiming them at the audiophile crowd, the give them remixes to take advantage of the capabilities of modern higher end digital home audio. Some examples of this would be the Steven Wilson remixes or the Elton John SACDs.

    If the label thinks that the audience is primarily interested in just ripping the hits off the album for playing on shuffle or streaming through something like Spotify, then they need to remaster the LP to make it work like a single would work. I've found examples like this in the bargain priced CDs aimed at young buyers looking for "old school" fun. That market is drying up for CDs though. More and more I see these bargain priced CD releases being just whatever mastering that happens to be laying around. They don't put a lot of thought and effort into back catalog in the $7 price range.
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2018
  9. TheSonicTruth
    Often what goes in the bargain bin are the original CDs. I verified such with some CDs, on Discogs. So between Goodwill, the $7 bins at FYE, and record fairs, I'm having a jubilee hunting down original/unremastered CDs of albums for my collection. :D
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