Friday, April 18, 2008

Compression and conspiracy?

The most damaging change to recorded music currently being perpetrated by the record industry is dynamic range compression. Dynamic compression is the reduction of the volume difference between the softest and the loudest passages on a recording. Record companies feel that an album or song that is consistently louder than others will “punch” through on the radio, thus increasing sales. However, other record companies are doing the same, thus it has become an arms race of sorts. The losers aren’t the record companies but us, the music buying public. We are forced to suffer music that is uninteresting and uninvolving, a relentless assault on our senses. Removing dynamic contrasts destroy the nuances in a musician’s performance, taking away one of their most important weapons to convey emotion to the listener. The following video is a powerful illustration.

Unfortunately, even older recordings are not safe. Many recent remasters of older material have been dynamically squashed too. The newest Elvis Costello greatest hits package, “The Best of Elvis Costello The First 10 years” is so “hot” it is un-listenable. His 2002 album “When I Was Cruel” is also dynamically challenged. Fortunately, his excellent 2003 album “North” was spared. Most likely because it was on the German Classical label Deutche Grammophon, thank you DG. For the most part Classical and Jazz haven’t befallen this same kind of wholesale destruction because they don’t rely on air play for sales.

If one were cynical they could see all of this as a conspiracy by the major labels to open the door to selling us “remastered” versions of all of these new releases with less dynamic compression in a couple of years time. One of the biggest cash windfalls in the history of the music business took place as consumers converted their collections from vinyl to first generation CDs. Perhaps the second largest boom in their business history was the remastering of those first generation CDs because they hadn‘t done it properly the first time. How many businesses get to make money off of their mistakes? Surely, this didn’t go unnoticed by record executives. Why sell an album on a given format once when you can sell it twice and double the company profits? If record companies really cared about their customers, they would give discounts or rebates to customers who upgraded to a new version of an album. Why not reward hard core fans of a particular band or artist, instead of penalizing them? Never mind the long term good will it would create with customers, something that they are really short on right now. Unfortunately, the small loss in short term profits would be unacceptable.

1 comment:

bcat said...

Please sign the petition here to stop the loudness madness: