(Note to self – remember to hit ‘Publish’ next time)
So in this week’s thrilling conclusion to the question posed in my last post, why did I do it? When faced with the option to steer well away from over-compression and thus save my soul, why did I opt for production damnation?
The answer lies in how an audience perceives music, and how the best option on paper is rarely the best option in reality. That should really be made clear by the fact the loudness war is even taking place – if people didn’t like to have loud music, why would engineers bother to mix that way? The fact is, a casual listener rarely takes too much notice of the audio quality of a song they’re listening to. The amount of times I’ve shuffled through a colleague’s music player to find horribly distorted torrents of songs from Limewire (remember those days?) far outweighs the amount of times I’ve stumbled across high-quality files, even the moderate quality of MP3’s has been a stretch to find in some instances. And yet, for all the times I’ve asked why they bother to listen to audio so low-quality at all, the answer is always pretty similar – ‘I don’t mind, it doesn’t bother me that much’.
And fair enough, I say. In fact, I’d rather listen to a lower quality recording than one I can’t turn up loud enough. When I decide to go back to my copy of Metallica’s ‘Master Of Puppets’ album, I’m always frustrated by the fact I can never quite turn it up loud enough. I’m past the days where I would listen to music at full blast just for the sake of it, but ‘Master Of Puppets’ is just eluded by the extra few decibels that would stop me getting so wound up by my music player every time I decide to give it a listen. And it’s a shame too, because in terms of production it really is an album to behold, which makes me feel unclean every time I decide it’s not loud enough and switch over to 2009’s ‘Death Magnetic’ instead. Sure, it’s an album famous for being over-compressed, and any Metallica fan worth his leather jacket will tell you that musically it’s not on the same level as MOP (or even the same planet), but hey… at least it’s loud right?
And that tends to be how it goes, people like their music loud! Even if it means sacrificing some quality, people will always gravitate towards bumping up their Hi-fi or MP3 player in the name of having their favourite song hit them like a ton of bricks, it’s that simple. Will the purists still fight the loudness war? Sure, and they’re right to do so. If you’re one of those dwindling folk with a fine-tuned ear for quality, then why settle for anything less than perfection? There’s nothing like listening to an album start to finish, no interruptions, at a quality that would bring a tear to even the most hardened studio veteran’s eye. But for those who don’t have the time (or speakers) to enjoy such audio luxury, it’s nice to just have the option to plug in and play without worrying about having to drown out that crying baby on the bus.
And with that, I’ll ride my Maximiser off into the sunset. Big thanks to all the producers of the world who have shown me that sometimes it’s okay to cut corners in the name of selling out… If my lecturers have anything to say about my habits from now on, I’ll point them in your direction.
(Final thought – It’s just as well Motörhead decided the trade off between volume and audio perfection wasn’t all that important, I doubt ‘The Best Compressed Band In The World‘ would have suited Mr. Kilmister & Co. all that well…)