The mastering engineer did it

In the past decade, my ardent interest in the music scene has waned. It could just be caused by ridiculous laziness and a jaded palate, but when I read this article, it truly seemed to explain for me my sense of detachment:

The Death of High Fidelity
In the age of MP3s, sound quality is worse than ever
Robert Levine

David Bendeth, a producer who works with rock bands like Hawthorne Heights and Paramore, knows that the albums he makes are often played through tiny computer speakers by fans who are busy surfing the Internet. So he’s not surprised when record labels ask the mastering engineers who work on his CDs to crank up the sound levels so high that even the soft parts sound loud.

Over the past decade and a half, a revolution in recording technology has changed the way albums are produced, mixed and mastered — almost always for the worse. “They make it loud to get [listeners’] attention,” Bendeth says. Engineers do that by applying dynamic range compression, which reduces the difference between the loudest and softest sounds in a song. Like many of his peers, Bendeth believes that relying too much on this effect can obscure sonic detail, rob music of its emotional power and leave listeners with what engineers call ear fatigue. “I think most everything is mastered a little too loud,” Bendeth says. “The industry decided that it’s a volume contest.”

Producers and engineers call this “the loudness war,” and it has changed the way almost every new pop and rock album sounds. But volume isn’t the only issue. Computer programs like Pro Tools, which let audio engineers manipulate sound the way a word processor edits text, make musicians sound unnaturally perfect. And today’s listeners consume an increasing amount of music on MP3, which eliminates much of the data from the original CD file and can leave music sounding tinny or hollow. “With all the technical innovation, music sounds worse,” says Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, who has made what are considered some of the best-sounding records of all time. “God is in the details. But there are no details anymore.” …

If subtlety of expression and delicacy in feeling amount to some kind of soulfulness, well then, much of music has lost its soul. To my ears, anyway. This video illustrates some of the article’s points too:

Anyway, here’s something else I discovered today — a funny guy called Demetri Martin on The Daily Show. “Do it, Mini-Jon!”


4 thoughts on “The mastering engineer did it

  1. “…in the past decade…”?! Say it ain’t so! But I guess I’m guilty of it meself…..I don’t think I’m really any less interested, but just have so little time to spend on it nowadays. Ack. But hey, your Jay Chou fandom is still going strong at least!

  2. Yeah where has all the time gone to pore over liner notes (ah, the glory days) and make mix-tapes, not to mention meticulously dissect concept albums?! I’m pretty much dip-and-go these days, unless the stuff’s on my ipod or the cd performs as my wake-up call. So yeah, maybe I’ve been channeling my year’s worth of careful listening into Chou’s annual releases. Will try to do better.

  3. My danged e-mail address isn’t working, so just to report that I got The New Paper but it turned out that it was the second instalment….ack. Maybe you could issue a call to other folks you know back home if anyone’s got the 14 Jan issue to keep for you?

  4. Pingback: Demetri Martin iz da bomb « The Frothy Tome

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