The Loudness War – An open letter to the music industry

Nobody Wants This

There are two types of people in the world – those who can hear the effects of the “Loudness War“, and those who can’t.

We call this the “Yin and Yang” of the loudness war – see the infographic above.

It leads to a surprising conclusion.

The vast majority of people DON’T LIKE the effects of the Loudness War

Group A are the people literally don’t care about the loudness war – they probably can’t hear it’s effects. (Although, there is more and more research showing that despite this, they still unconsiously prefer their music at lower average levels.)

There’s no evidence about the size of this group in comparison to people who can hear and do care – but it’s certainly much bigger.

Group B is a much smaller set of people who start off in Group A (Can’t hear/Don’t care) but then become aware of what they’re listening to, either through publicity or perhaps having it pointed out to them via a friend. Some of them still don’t care – but some of them move into Group C – the people who CAN hear the difference.

And they don’t like it.

Research identifies this very clearly. Over 22,000 members of Group C signed a petition asking for Metallica’s “Death Magnetic” to be “fixed” because they thought it sounded so bad. If you look at videos like this or this on YouTube, out of the thousands of comments, only a handful say they like what they’re hearing.

Which means that Group D (Who can hear the effect of the loudness war and think it sounds great) is a very small group indeed. Maybe… 1% ?

So why are we making records sound this way ?

The vast majority of people – Groups A, B and C above – either don’t hear the effects of “loudness”, or think it sounds bad.

So the vast majority of the music industry’s customers DON’T WANT this done to their music.

Sales figures back this up. There’s no evidence that “louder” records sell better, or chart higher. If anything, the opposite is true.

Doesn’t it make them stand out better on the radio ?

No.

This was always a myth – broadcast processing flattened out the level differences far more effectively than any mastering engineer ever could – and in fact “louder” music sounds more crushed and distorted than it did in the first place. To hear the evidence for yourself, click here.

But in future, this is going to be even less true.

In future, all music will be played at the same average level.

This is already happening.

An international standard has been developed to ensure that in future, the loudness war will be irrelevant.

This standard was developed by the International Telecommunication Union, and is called ITU BS 1770-2. This international standard is being adopted regionally – for example in Europe by the European Broadcast Union (EBU R128) and in the US via ATSC A/85.

These initiatives clearly define new ways of measurements – Loudness Units and Loudness Range – with both long and short-term measurements of both.

More importantly, these standards come with recommendations for average loudness, and these are being legally enforced across Europe and the US. It’s no great leap to see these same standards being adopted by software and hardware developers in the near future.

Does this mean it’s suddenly illegal to make crushed, high average level “loudness war” style music ?

No.

But it means that in future, that kind of music won’t play back any louder than anything else, unless the user chooses to turn up the volume.

And in those circumstances, music that’s mixed and mastered as it always used to be, before the Loudness War, sounds better. You can hear it for yourself, here.

Conclusion

  • Most people don’t notice the effects of “loudness”
  • Most people who do, don’t like it
  • “Loudness” has no effect on sales or chart placements
  • In the near future, all music will play back at a similar level, regardless of how “loud” it is

The loudness war is insane, irrelevant, and obselete. The obvious thing to do is to stop competing.

Now.

The members of  Groups A, B & C  - the 99% – look forward to hearing the music industry’s reaction.

Thanks for reading.


Yin-yang graphic design by Kahuna Kawentzmann