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A waveform display is an indicator, but it doesn't tell the whole story. If you run statistics in a waveform editor, you'll often get the RMS value (average loudness) of the song, and that tells you more.


Most pop and rock records from the 70's were generally in the -18db to -14db range. In the 80's they were in the -14 db to -12db range. in the 90's they went from -12db to -9db range. Now they have quickly gotten to -8db to -6db's!


My theory on what started and drives the volume wars:


Some music can sound better at very high RMS levels such as electronica and Hip Hop. For instance sampled drum sounds in a mix will contain little variance. They will pretty much the exact same dynamic level and sonic amplitude each time they are triggered. They are essentially "highly predictable" to the level sensing components of a compressor, therefore you'll get a more stable and "louder" result. FYI - This is why some mix engineers doing rock records began to replace perfectly good acoustic drum sounds with samples. (Ahem, Mr. and Mr. Alge, Mr. Clearmountain, et al) take the same approach to bass or guitar or keyboards and you'll see the same results. This is why electronica sounds harder and tighter than music played on physicial instruments. Producers started doing this to compete with hit records in the '80's that were largely electronic.


Now if you record a real human drummer, there are minute variances on each and every hit. The amplitude has a wider range of variance, and so does the timbre as a drum's tone will change slightly depending on where it is struck and how hard. That is slightly "less predictable" to a compressor. If you push compression or limiting on acoustic instrument tracks, you get to a point where it doesn't sound good sooner than you do on sampled sounds. Even a real analog synth like a Minimoog has more variance than a rompler playing back samples of a Minimoog.


Take a 4 bar passage of a drummer playing the exact same phrase on each measure, and then grab one bar and loop it for a total of 4 bars. If you play them back to back you will hear less sonic variance in the looped 4 bars than in the human 4 bars. Technically speaking you could probably make that looped passage sound slighty better at a louder RMS value than the "human" 4 bars all because of minute variations. Now make that cumulative in a whole song by looping verses, choruses, etc. Will you get a louder, more "pleasing" mix? Yes and No. It's a double edged sword. It will play back with more consistency, BUT the cumulative reduction in variation will make the listener lose interest sooner. IT WILL NOT STAND UP TO REPEATED LISTENINGS.


I think time has proven that Led Zepplin records or Beatles records, or Dark side of the Moon with all their minute variations stand up better than say a Kanye West record. Why? Because you will discover on repeated listenings new, subtle things you didn't notice before. If a master is too loud, you will suffer ear fatigue and never get hooked on that record. If it's electronica or hip hop, there aren't as many subtle variations to discover upon repeated listening so you lose interest even if you don't suffer from as much ear fatigue.


Music has become disposable largely by design. This is true on a songwriting and performance level as well as on a sonic level.

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i agree the loudness war is a problem. BUT todays properly mixed/mastered music sounds way better then in the 80's.


you can't judge much from just a waveform... If any waveform long enough it will look like a solid block.

to many factors.


so if you compare two waveforms of the same length you can get more from it.





CD mastering has gotten better over time. At least we use the full bandwidth now we let our peaks come to digital zero or close. This has nothing to do with compression.


But that same song mastered in the 80's can automatically become however much louder if they made the loudest peak in the track hit near zero. the track would use more bits and essentially be higher fidelity.

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Originally posted by gtrbass

Some music can sound better at very high RMS levels such as electronica and Hip Hop. For instance sampled drum sounds in a mix will contain little variance.


I agree that some music stands up to higher RMS without apparent damage. For the most part, that's stuff that's relatively sparse, without a lot of instruments competing for the lows and low mids.


I've noticed that some contemporary albums seem to be mixed with higher RMS in mind. The loudest records lack extended bass and even low mids altogether. Compare the first Interpol album to the second, for example. The Killers album from a couple years ago lacks anything sounding like bass.

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