Did you ever go back and listen to a record from before the mid-90s and think, that’s not very LOUD is it? As Stylus’ Nick Southall explains in this interesting article about the disturbing trend of loudness and compression in musical production and public consumption of music in the modern age, this is a GOOD thing.
Music with an incredibly loud signal is referred to in the industry as “hot.” One way to make music “hot” is by compressing it—essentially this means lowering the peaks so they’re almost level with the troughs, and then increasing all of the signal to make it as loud as you can before it starts “clipping.” Only a lot of people seemingly don’t know when to stop. Compression can be added at almost any stage of the recording process, in large or small doses. Small increments added at both recording, mixing and mastering are more effective in preserving sound quality than huge leaps taken at the final stage, for instance.
On At War with the Mystics, for instance, there is so much clipping during the crescendos (which aren’t real crescendos anyway, because they’re the same volume) that it almost seems as if it’s being used deliberately as another instrument in the mix. It’s this flatness, this clipping, this unwavering attack, that wears and tires and means you won’t listen to your favourite records, if they’re from the last few years, as often as you might want to, because they are intrinsically unmusical and unpleasant. Hence, perhaps, the perpetual merry-go-round of seeking the newest flavour-of-the-month; over-compressed music sounds great for a couple of listens, but there is little desire to replay the music because your brain recognises that there is something fundamentally unmusical about the sound.
Read it here.