Dance Music and the Loudness War
“Just turn the volume up to make it louder”. – Angry old man c.2019
Loudness war today
There has been a fantastic push back against overly loud music recently. Many streaming platforms have ‘loudness normalisation’ which allows engineers to focus on the best dynamic mix possible, without having to make sacrifices to achieve a few extra dBs of perceived volume. Furthermore, many artists and labels have wised up to the perils of sausages and I’ve even noticed this trend growing in my own clients.
A nuanced approach
Generally, this is very positive news. Many studies have shown the fatiguing effects of overly loud music. Investigations have also failed to show a positive correlation between loud music and record sales. However, this has now created a lot of stigma around loud music, especially in dance music.
Traditionally dance music is made to be played on dance floors, through a sound system with fixed headroom. With fixed headroom, a poorly mixed track with lower perceived volume will sound terrible when played after a well-mixed track with higher perceived volume. No one wants their track to sound weak when played out and performers will certainly avoid weak songs. This has led dance music producers to search out techniques to make their tracks as loud as possible.
Some very skilled engineers have worked out a variety of modern techniques, which allow you to have a screaming hot mix, whilst (and here’s the most important part) keeping the mix punchy and dynamic. Sound too good to be true? I assure you it’s not! However, it does take a lot of time and experience. Mixing at high levels is complicated and can go wrong easily. Unfortunately, some people will incorrectly reference these loud and dynamic tracks, resulting in terribly squashed, deep fried sausages.
Loud music is not better than quiet music. However, expertly mixed loud music is better than poorly mixed loud music. And properly mixed loud music will sound better than properly mixed quiet music ONLY IF no compensation is made for volume on playback. (such as a DJ set or platforms like Soundcloud).
There is no shame in striving for a loud mix. BUT make sure that your mix is still punchy and dynamic. It is possible to have your sausages and eat them too…