Everything Louder Than Everything Else – Dynamic Range Mastering In 2011

Nick Southall examines the state of play in the loudness wars in 2011 with regards to Kanye West, PJ Harvey and These New Puritans. Main photo by the author

In 2006 I wrote an article for Stylus Magazine about dynamic range compression, a technique applied to music in order to make it louder, and thus, the desperate hope goes, more noticable. It got a lot of attention; as well as being seemingly the first consumer-led piece about dynamic range compression (engineers and techies have been moaning about it for years) it was just about the most-read thing Stylus ever published (beyond end-of-year lists). Numerous musicians, producers, and record company people got in touch with me to say ‘thank you’ for writing it, at least one band was explicitly influenced by it when recording their next album, and Robert Christgau, self-ordained dean of American rock critics, chose to include it when compiling the 2007 Da Capo Best Music Writing anthology.

Five years on though, if I’m honest, I feel like that original article was far too long, repetitive, and rambling, and so I’ve decided to “remaster” it, as it were, trim it, shorten it, update it for 2011, and try and hammer the message home again. Dynamic range compression hasn’t gone away, and while there are plenty of records out there that still sound great, so much of the musical product we have foisted upon is so sonically subpar that people who express surprise at the continuing collapse of the record industry perpetually amaze me. So here goes.

Several months on from its release, and there are plenty of things I find unpleasant about Kanye West’s much lauded My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

…The full version of this article is available in Point Close All Quotes: A Quietus Music Anthology. Buy it now in the Amazon Kindle store.

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