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Dynamic Range Day: Loudness still an issue says organiser

Despite an increasing number of musicians and engineers expressing their weariness of the “crushed, lifeless, loudness war sound,” many mainstream releases are still “ending up completely squashed anyway”.

As this year’s Dynamic Range Day (DRD) is marked with a wealth of awareness-raising online activity, mastering engineer Ian Shepherd claims that although an increasing number of musicians and engineers are expressing their weariness of the “crushed, lifeless, loudness war sound,” many mainstream releases are still “ending up completely squashed anyway”. Instigated by Shepherd in 2010, DRD encourages recording, mixing and mastering engineers to be mindful of over-compression and aim for an overall dynamic range of at least 8dB (DR8). The majority of mainstream releases, he says, are still averaging DR6 or less – Biffy Clyro’s Opposites, David Bowie’s The Next Day and Thom Yorke side project Atoms for Peace’s AMOK being recent examples. It’s a persistent tendency that, argues Shepherd, runs counter to a “groundswell of opinion” about loudness in recorded music, as illustrated by new cross-industry initiative the Music Loudness Alliance (MLA). Drawing together audio technical and production experts including European Broadcasting Union PLOUD Group chair Florian Camerer and mastering legend Bob Ludwig, the MLA’s recently issued White Paper urges loudness normalisation of file-based music along the lines of the ITU-R BS.1700-2 standard being implemented for international broadcasting. The supposed link between loudness and sales is also looking increasingly tenuous, says Shepherd. Topping the Billboard 200 on its release in May 2012, former White Stripes frontman Jack White’ critically acclaimed solo album, Blunderbuss, averages DR11 on the Pleasurize Music Foundation’s TT Dynamic Range Meter. Such developments lead Shepherd to believe that, despite the current ubiquity of overly compressed music, the loudness wars could soon just be “one of those things we laugh about. The challenge we face is to minimise the damage done to our music in the meantime.” In which spirit, Shepherd has been labouring over a new plug-in, Perception, devised in conjunction with Ian Kerr from LCAST loudness meter developer MeterPlugs. Presently at beta stage, Perception will be demonstrated during a Google+ ‘hangout’ at 10pm today. The tool is designed to allow users to hear their music in the same way as a mastering engineer. “There’s no agenda,” asserts Shepherd, “so you can use Perception to get the best possible results making your music really loud if that’s what you want. But as with the TT meter, I think once people start using it they’ll find they actually choose to squash things less, not more, because it makes them sound better – especially in the ‘real world’ of streaming and broadcast.”