Until recently, the music industry had a dirty little secret.
If you wanted your music to stand out online, you had to make it “loud”.
Even if it was a gentle ballad, acoustic pop or a re-released classic – the secret was to crush it – and not in the good way.
You had to slam the music into the digital master file at the highest possible level, to try and make it stand out from everything else. Never mind the fact that it made things sound flat, dull, squashed and lifeless – or even distorted and harsh.
Who cared if it made the music sound worse ?
Standing out was more important.
Louder was better.
Quietly, behind the scenes, without saying anything, and without any of us knowing, YouTube has turned all of that on it’s head.
They’ve started using “loudness normalisation” – so that everything plays back at a similar volume, no matter how hard it was pushed in the recording, mixing or mastering.
It’s like having your own personal DJ, making sure
you don’t have to keep reaching for the volume control.
Hear it for yourself
To hear this in action, take a listen to the playlist above. It contains some of the “loudest”, most agressively processed tunes out there – Madonna, Jack Ü (Skrillex & Diplo) I’m looking at you – alternating with some far more dynamic examples.
“Uptown Funk”, “Happy” and “Get Lucky” have all been massive hits recently, even though they don’t use the loudness deception trick. By modern standards, the levels in the files are quite low.
(Because the truth is, listeners don’t really like the “loudness war sound” – but we’ll get to that in a minute)
So, there are big contrasts in the playlist – ‘loud’ versus ‘dynamic’.
And here’s the moment of truth.
When you listen, can you hear the difference ?
Do Madonna or Jack Ü sound significantly louder than “Uptown Funk” or “Get Lucky” ?
Because YouTube know something more important than the music industry’s grubby little secret.
Listeners complain about loudness
They know that the number one cause of complaints from listeners is always loudness. On TV, on Radio, on mp3 players – if you have to keep adjusting the volume control of what you’re listening to, it ticks you off.
The solution ? Measure the loudness, and make everything play at a similar volume.
Your personal DJ.
iTunes Radio and Spotify are already doing this, and most mp3 players have a feature you can switch on, too. And now YouTube have joined the party, and that’s HUGE.
Because YouTube is THE number one online music discovery source.
YouTube is where kids find new music, decide they like it, and share it with their friends.
And now the ‘dirty little loudness trick’ doesn’t work, any more.
The price we pay for ‘loudness’
Take another listen to that Skrillex & Jack Ü song.
Listen at 23 seconds in, where the beat starts – or again, at 1’14”. The bit where the beat comes in actually sounds quieter than what came just before !
And that’s not YouTube’s fault – that’s the price you pay for extreme “loudness” in the file. They mixed and mastered it that way, in a misguided attempt to make it stand out. All YouTube did was adjust the volume control, for the whole song.
Whereas the beat in “Uptown Funk” and “Happy” positively jumps out of the speakers, by comparison – even though they were originally much “quieter” in the technical sense. And whats more, the songs build in a musical, satisfying way. The chorus lifts, your head nods, your foot taps…
(And iTunes Radio, and Spotify, and on TV and… everywhere !)
If you want your music to stand out on YouTube from now on, just like “Get Lucky” and “Uptown Funk”, the secret is to mix your music big, exciting and dynamic – just like in the good old days.
Dynamic is the new Loud
The question is, how long will it take the music industry to wake up and stop damaging everything we listen to, trying to use a trick that doesn’t work, any more ?
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