About a year ago, maybe a bit more, a band called the Red Hot Chili Peppers was releasing a new album, entitled Stadium Arcadium. Myself, being a Chili Pepers fan, grabbed it off of Amazon as soon as it was available. I'd always liked their work. Once the CD got here, I popped it in and started listening. Musically, it was a masterpiece. However, I was appalled.
Why, might you ask? My amplifier was indicating clipping, which is something usually not wanted. I started checking around, made sure the volume on the CD player was not set too high, some other settings had not been changed, but nada. I couldn't explain it.
As it turns out, Stadium Arcadium is part of a long sting of recent albums that have taken to the advertising approach of "MAKE IT LOUD". Producers, in the ever-constant battle to make a song stand out on the radio or TV, have resorted to altering the mastering levels of tracks for that extra punch. It sounds fun at first, but makes for a much less enjoyable listening experiance in the long haul. I hardly ever listen to Stadium Arcadium anymore.
The concept is simple. In every piece of music, there are loud sections and soft sections. No self-respecting songwriter likes monotony, and dynamics are one way to change things up. However, what happens when somebody is tuning through radio channels and happens to pass by on one of the softer sections of a song? It won't stand out. In the incessant battle with advertising and outside noise, music has become dynamically compressed. Soft sections get loud. And the loud sections stay loud, too. There is little, if any, contrast. The CD is capable of over 90db of dynamic contrast, yet I estimate that on most modern recordings 15% is used. Don't quote me on that.
I won't bother with specifics, or fancy charts, plenty of other much more qualified persons who could share those with you. But please: Keep an ear out for the soft stuff. Nobody likes being yelled at. Especially not by their music.