They Really Don’t Make Music Like They Used To

If the Eagles or Marvin Gaye fan in your life is complaining about this year’s Grammy songs, this might be why.

Comments: 228

  1. As a boomer, intrigued by the dynamics of songs for decades, and puzzled over how many current songs sound, this is fascinating news. At least I am forewarned. Very glad this was written.

  2. The article is bang on. The loudness wars have rendered the expanded palette of tools provided by new technologies useless. Even remastered versions of older albums are being ruined. A light touch can do wonders but that appears to be lost on many. Rush's Vapor Trails was a sonic catastrophe and it wasn't until many years later that a newly mixed version came out (thankfully). Rush fans new it was a really difficult album for the band to make but in the end they still needed to take more care with the end product.

  3. Thank you for explaining why I can't listen to much of the current popular music. Loud does not equate to musicianship. Half of the time you cannot hear the vocalist as they are being drowned out by the drums or guitars. I also like to hear each instrumentalist player when listening to a piece of music. You lose at lot when loudness is the only criteria by which to judge music. By the way, keep playing songs too loud and see what happens to your hearing when you hit age 50 or 60. Medicare doesn't cover hearing aids.

  4. I’ve been a musician for 50 years and dynamics is what sets apart the good from the great. There’s a reason that in addition to notes of different values music also has rests (which indicates no sound) of different values: Because silence is necessary for sound to exist.

  5. @Stephen How true, how true!~! When I teach or critique people who want to learn to be REAL painters, not just slop paint on something, the very first thing they learn is about the yin/yan of "values" - the difference between light and dark. Without dark you cannot have light; without light you cannot have dark. Same with music as was taught long ago. You cannot have music without silent rests; and you cannot have silent rests without music. Too few musical and visual artists fail to grasp even the most basic things.

  6. Yes, indeed. I've been spending decades now digitizing my albums, cassettes and CDs - from Nine Inch Nails to chamber quartets, and with the software I use I've been staring at this change, as the CD started producing flatter and flatter waveforms. Bye-bye nuance. Picture if audio engineers for movies and TV did the same thing - some drama, where two people in a whispered conversation are just as loud as a shouting mob.

  7. @MAW, check out anything by Steven Wilson, genre is Rock. Not only is he an outstanding musician and composer, he’s also a producer and remixes for others.

  8. @PC Saw Steve Wilson at House of Blues San Diego last year and he held up his guitar and wondered aloud whether today's musicians would recognize it.

  9. None of this should come as a surprise. People's threshold for stimulation in all forms of entertainment has been steadily rising forever. Most young people would not be entertained by classic movies of the past because they simply don't offer the pulse-pounding action and tension of today's blockbusters. Something like Space Invaders or Missile Command couldn't hold the attention of a five-year-old today. You can bet that 30 years from now, games like Counter Strike will seem as lame as those games compared to what game designers will have cooked up. Music is no different, and there are a lot of aspiring musicians and producers vying for attention. An average of 24,000 songs are released on Spotify daily. For a track to latch on, it really has to grab people. Something anodyne like the Eagles simply can't stand up to today's dance and hip-hop tracks that are saturated with energy. I, for one, am addicted to the adrenaline rush. The complainers can go back to listening to their dreadfully boring records and yelling at kids on their lawn.

  10. @Jeremy Aaron In certain situations I love music with an adrenaline rush -- when I'm working out of course, when I'm cleaning, and also (okay, I admit it) when I'm driving. At other times, I don't. When i'm relaxing at home, cooking, hanging out with friends, I prefer quieter music. One size does not fit all, even for the same person. To some extent this has always been a function of different genres (listening to folk or jazz rather than rock, for example, but if everything gets compressed, then switching genres won't help. I'm hoping this trend will eventually, pardon the pun, play itself out.

  11. @Jeremy Aaron You miss a very important point and that the way people hear and process music has not changed – despite this attempt at making the most of *more*. Your analogy between video games, which are technological constructs and how the human body receives and processes music is not valid.

  12. @Jeremy Aaron I don't think you understand the problem. Your video games comparison is a bad analogy for the loudness problem. A game like Space Invaders doesn't hold up today because it's not as engaging and complex as say, God of War. What makes sound engaging and complex is dynamics. This is not a critique of the music itself, but the way it is mastered.

  13. Fortunately, I have raised my kids on (mostly) pop music that was analog, with great dynamic range. And being a DIY musician in his late 50’s, I record and mix my own tunes, and have produced a couple of albums. During all of the production stages, I was able to fight against overcompression, using EQ, compression and a few other techniques judiciously. And I have tinnitus, AND listened to arena rock at excruciating levels (The Who’s 1975 concert in The Summit, where I sat directly across from the band in the first row of the horseshoe, left my ears ringing literally for 3 days). So I am sensitive to dynamics, and dynamic range, despite the fact that my own is now something between 160 and 8500 Hz.

  14. Fascinating. Now I understand why older albums, even CD versions, that have not been recently "remastered" sound so different from newer music. The contrast in a random playlist can be striking. Great article.

  15. Probably my imagination or wishful thinking but most of what I acquire now, even though digitized, sounds better than American stuff. I download almost exclusively European roots music.

  16. @operadog . I once bought a Deutsche Garmmophone pressing of the early Stones, which had 2-3 Beatles songs on it, that I had never heard on an American Stones album. Be careful taking your vinyl to a party with strangers, you never know what will walk out the door unassisted. (A lesson learned too late)

  17. @operadog I googled "European roots music" and what came up was "European folk music". Is that what you mean? Interesting. I will listen.

  18. @RW Yes probably classified "folk" but much is old or like old as in medieval or older, much played on old instruments. See Hednenvarnen, Wardruna, Eluvite, Gangspil, even Danish String Quartet, Frigg

  19. I was not aware of this technical shift in production following recording. It was very interesting. I would add that, in my non-professional opinion, style has stagnated over the last 2 decades or so as well. "Music" has not really changed in a meaningful way for 20+ years. What we get is new pop stars that perform highly derivative music and are the right age for new younger audiences to identify with and embrace. What 13 year old right now would attach to Taylor Swift, or Lady Gaga instead of a newer, younger artist performing songs that are indistibguishable from the pop music of 10 or 15 years ago. Each new generation of teens wants "artists" that are closer to their own age, to differentiate themselves from the previous generation. But the "music" these new artists offer is recycled. Also, from maybe the 50s up into the mid 90s, it seems that much innovation in modern music was driven by technology. Sometime in the mid 90s the ability to synthetically produce almost any sound that an artist could imagine was reached and paradigm changing leaps in pop music styles stagnated.

  20. The pre-digital era required something else... Talent! Now autotuners, digital instruments and endless loops are what pass for music. It's a tragedy. In the immortal and prescient words of the Who... "Rock is Dead. Long Live Rock!"

  21. Indeed. Producer Rick Beato has an informative series on YT, "What Makes This Song Great." His segment on Soundgarden's Spoonman, and the isolated vocal track by Chris Cornell, demonstrates the pure talent of singers prior to Autotune, with Cornell getting kudos for his remarkable range, dexterity. Beato mentions engineers had a few tricks to adjust the pitch a bit, but basically it was about pure vocal talent.

  22. @LMT Except that Cornell didn't predate Autotune--he just didn't use it. Great artists of the past, from Ella to Aretha, never even had access to it. They will not be forgotten (nor will Chris) just because programming has improved. The human voice, with all of its imperfections, is our original musical instrument. All of the great voices, even Pavarotti and Callas, had imperfections. That and their struggle to attain perfection is, in my mind, a big part of what attracts us to them (and not to autotune). Rick is a great resource for anyone that wants a better understanding of music--musicians and listeners alike. He gets into some very sophisticated stuff, but he also produces videos that should be accessible to the average listener.

  23. @Justin. While Cornell had a long career, much of it post-dating Autotune, I believe all of the original Soundgarden EPs and albums (1984-1997) predated Autotune. Work on the soundtrack for Singles, as well as the Temple of the Dog tribute. Some of Cornell's later live performances sounded like he might be accompanying himself on pre-recorded tracks. Then again some of that could have been his and bandmates' old habits of live feedback, echoing and distortion. Perhaps other readers this far into the weeds can clarify... ---

  24. I suppose much of this in one way has to do with Analog as opposed to Digital. But music in the mastering stage is being compressed so much for volume sometimes it's un-listenable, esp with popular music. I decided with my new album not to master it. We found a nice volume in the studio and that's it. It will have a note at the bottom of the CD. ...This Music Is Not Mastered. If You Want it Loud, Turn It Up.

  25. @Doctor Woo What a crazy idea -- making a disk with the actual original sound on it. It'll never sell. Seriously, thanks for not mastering. I had no idea how bad it could get.

  26. i worked on movies in the sound business for almost 46 years, and can tell you that the same loudness wars are being fought on the dubbing stages of hollywood as well--at least as far as the cinematic equivalents of the "pop" music you cite as are concerned: superheroes, space sagas, dinosaurs, et al.

  27. @k. francis Yes! I made the mistake of seeing a couple of movies in IMAX. My ears were ringing when I left the theater. The sound was so loud it was uncomfortable. No thanks.

  28. @k. francis And the deep irony is the SFX design often drowns out the orchestral film score!

  29. @k. francis You remind me of one reason I don't go to movies. They are far, far too loud. Unnecessarily loud. Assaultively loud. And why? I don't know.

  30. In 1986, when I purchased my first CD player (despite claims of greater theoretical dynamic range), it was clear to me in practice the format offered less dynamics and far greater "listening fatigue" than my then somewhat humble turntable and cartridge. I never really bought into the digital is superior argument then, and certainly don't today. Fast forward to college a few years later. When I studied information theory, it became clear to me why digital recordings in practice will never sound as good as the best analog systems. Information loss. At the highest frequencies (the most fatiguing by nature, and also requiring the greatest bandwidth to reproduce appropriately), quantization error (aliasing) takes place, due to limited data processing space. This aliasing is a inherent distortion component in the high frequency registers that are made even worse when high levels are compression are used (i.e. the "loudness" requires even greater data processing space to produce appropriately). Aliased frequencies don't sound like music. They are harsh and fatiguing by nature, even if they are not consciously noticed. It is very true you will not want to listen for long periods of time. The study of psychoacoutics has much to say about this. That and NOTHING has the dynamics in practice as a good moving-coil phono cartridge.

  31. @Jason Vanrell Some of the earliest CDs were execrable, but SACD actually has greater fidelity than most vinyl; too bad Sony lost that battle. My SACD Mobile Fidelity Original Master recordings of "Slowhand", "Misfits", and "Blood on the Tracks" actually sound better than their virgin vinyl counterparts (I have both). Blu-ray is pretty good, too. Just like a Dual 1229Q with a great cartridge beats a Crossly, a dedicated SACD/Blu-ray player beats a standard CD player.

  32. @Jason Vanrell I'm gonna beg to differ on most points here. An analog recording has lower dynamic range than digital. This is a form of information loss, too. Aliasing can be well dealt with by a proper filter. Live music (which should be the gold standard sound) has a dynamic range in excess of 100dB, compared to the 80dB or so one can get with vinyl, 96dB from CD. And there is nothing worse than a record with a scratch, especially in a favourite quiet section (compared to the joys of error correcting codes used on CDs). That being said, there were some awful CDs made. Lots of vinyl records were mastered with the recording artists in the room watching the process. They listened to the sound their audience would hear (through second rate systems) and adjusted the sound accordingly. Then suddenly there were hundreds of CDs to be released and some were rushed. But to compare the best of analog vs CD, try the Steve Wilson re-mastered Jethro Tull and compare to the vinyl or original the CD. He aimed for the same sound, but just better quality. Amazing.

  33. @Jason Vanrell Well, some might say that live music has even greater dynamics than a moving-coil phono cartridge. Vinyl, in addition to a lot of physical artifacts (popping, wobble, etc.) has some serious limitations in terms of dynamic range. How much frequency and amplitude variation is possible with a needle travelling through a narrow vinyl groove? Add to that the fact that most vinyl produced now days is from a digital master.

  34. I’m not going to debate which music is better or which is more obnoxious but the golden age of music was to sit on floors in front of the stereo and thumb through the albums and the cover art. To see that iconic artwork fall to the wayside -first by the cd and then to digital once and for all was a terrible thing to lose.

  35. @Ted Siebert, there may be some hope on the horizon. My 25 year old nephew and rock musician recently showed me his vinyl album collection. Truly surprising to watch him sit with album covers and share with me the liner notes he connected with. And the majority were recent album releases, not vintage albums. Given that retailers like Best Buy have stopped selling CDs and are now stocking vinyl LPs, we may be entering another great period for music collectors and appreciators. Time to dig out my old LP collection!!

  36. If your nephew’s vinyl albums are of recent vintage they’re digital, unlike yours, and won’t have the warmth of analog recordings. Don’t part with your old vinyl—you can’t get it anymore, unless you shop at a used record store.

  37. @Hope Anderson I still have most of my vinyl collection and would like to add more . But not at $25.00 per record. There has been a vinyl resurgence but who is buying at $25-30 per recording ? One can scour the used bins and find decent vinyl for a decent price. How many used record stores are in existence today? They are as scarce as hen's teeth.Selling used vinyl at $5-10 doesn't pay the lease,rent,taxes and insurance a store owner has to pony up every month.

  38. But you know, for all the thoughtful analysis, generational loyalty will hold. The kids don't care. They'll remain convinced that the pop-rock of today is as good as any -- what else could be expected of them -- and it will thrive, loud and limited as it is. The pubescent monotony will persist, the exceptional talents struggling to be heard. The sheer range of the 1960s was a riotous anomaly, informed by violent social and political drama, the best of its artists still unmatched (God save us from the swarm of 'tribute' acts). Music changed in the '80s as many predicted, when MTV and video and the execrable glam-rock trend made it more about the look than the sound. A triumph of style over substance that goes on to this day. All the cute little boys and girls straight from the corporate kiddie-pop machine, the karaoke covers and instant You-Tube fame, the studio wizards and their digital blandness. Noise rules. The strutting mediocrities and the silly awards have long been something of a hoax. Best suited to those with limited attention spans, to those who crave endless diversion. Others might look elsewhere.

  39. @John Goodchild "Glam rock" started in the 1970s (associated with artists like David Bowie, New York Dolls, Roxy Music, etc.). I think what you're referring to are hair bands of the 1980s, which I agree were awful. There was a lot of great music made in the 1980s which had nothing to do with MTV.

  40. @John Goodchild What Jess said. Glam was a move to add theater, performance art, to rock and roll. Bowie in the 70's, the Dolls, Bolan - some of the best crafted music in all of rock.

  41. @John Goodchild I work at a college and I frequently have my Spotify tuned to hits of the 1970s... or even the 1930s and 1940s. It's lovely to see how many young students will stop outside my door and tell me what "great" music I am listening to!

  42. As a professional recording engineer, studio owner and life long musician, I am pleased to see this topic getting main stream attention. We in the audio community have been having this discussion for years. I would offer that another factor contributing to the "soul less" perfectly in time and perfectly tuned music of today is that, with the exception of Jazz and some of the Nashville players, the concept of a performance has disappeared. Don't get me wrong, there are some great new bands out there but so much of the pop world is pre packaged drums and synths that the "vibe" you got from that Marvin Gaye song is clearly missing.

  43. @Lawrence Kucher I dunno, it seems that vibe hasn't been what sells since the 1970s. That's less the fault of artists and producers than it is of AR reps and advertisers. The former always have wanted to put out something they can be proud of, whereas the latter came to care only about what will sell the most copies. On first impression, loud sounds better, so that's what the latter want.

  44. With the advent of ITunes, music "consumption" shifted from the leisurely enjoyment and discovery of a freshly bought album spinning on the turntable to the attention grabbing wham bam of a single or lose it to the next recording clamoring for your purchase as you click through snippets of dozens of songs. In today's information overload society, we, especially the younger audience, all have some degree of ADD that has devalued savoring an artist's entire album versus voraciously consuming the "hit" that doesn't take repeated listening to appreciate its subtleties.

  45. Most music consumers don't take the effort/have the time to sit down and truly listen and enjoy their favorite musicians. Their earbuds are in while their doing something else. It's a shame. I've found myself moving back to vinyl whenever possible. You're almost forced to sit and pay attention. I finally have a home with a basement finished enough where I could bust out my parents first big purchase as a married couple - a 1972 Kenwood KR 4140 receiver. I bought a refurbished Thorens turntable and an old pair of Advents and I travel back in time every weekend.

  46. Interesting article, thanks. But I think the reason for the grumbling has less to do with dynamic range and more to do with the fact that melody and harmony have largely disappeared in popular music, supplanted by rhythm and groove. Whether rap is or isn’t the cause, pop artists generally aren’t writing chord changes with melody anymore. For those old enough to remember anything different, that’s dissatisfying. Hence the grumbling.

  47. @James Lost is the art of arrangement. I listen to bands from the 20's and 30's where it's apparent how much work went into the orchestration. Soloists aside, the music required rapid changes from reeds, to brass to strings, often popping in or out for just an instant. With a large outfit like Paul Whiteman, these scores could become symphonic. If I see a large ensemble backing up a singer these days, I no longer expect any kind of artistry. They can be a full orchestra but they will never do anything more than provide "depth", with no player ever allowed to overshadow the singer for even an instant.

  48. @James But hasn't that always been the case? In the 50s and 60s, 3-chord rock replaced Gershwin and Porter and Rodgers on the bigger radio stations. A few decades earlier, dinner and dance clubs moved from Kern and Romberg et al, replacing them with jitterbug. Go back even earlier, and you'll hear people grumbling that Wagner's operas were a formless mess, compared to Mozart's... The big change now - and I believe the thrust of the article - is that commercial pressures have replaced performing and producing with something mechanical and artificial.

  49. @James I couldn't agree more. As I wrote above, I used to play lead guitar throughout my twenties. I am a tremendous fan of Jeff Beck, who I (and many others) believe is the greatest living guitarist. He is incredibly lyrical with his guitar, and plays the finest melodies (which I believe is your point). If you get the chance to, go see him in person. You will see about 85% of the audience is other guitar players. When I wrote "and many others", I was referring to Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, John McLaughlin, etc: He is the best of the best, and has been touring routinely for a solid 6 decades. There is no one else like him. He is known for discovering and using the best accompanying guitarists, drummers and bassists. He frequently has a female guitar player as well. A perfect example: The 2nd time I saw Jeff Beck play in person, it was in 1980 at Reunion Arena (this venue has subsequently been demolished) in Dallas, TX. He was on his "There & Back" tour. His drummer was a teenager named Simon Phillips (he was 18-19 years old). The young man was amazing. He was doing drum rolls with his feet on double bass drums; absolutely stunning.

  50. This is really an argument about soulful v soul-less. Lyrically. Instrumentally. Vocally. Engineering.

  51. The answer is blowing in the wind. Before digital recording, the air in the studio or concert hall physically made it into the vinyl grooves - your ears could breathe. Digital recording "killed" the actual notes, then like Frankenstein, resurrected them as numbers. Our ears are now boxed into a hyper loud cage where the soulless numbers "signify" the sounds and pummel the light out of our senses. I remember the days when musicians and engineers would go into a stairway or bathroom to get the natural reverb into the recording; now it's done by machine.

  52. I hate to present as the "in my day" complainer thought of those who have anything like my 70 years -- but, while it ain't like there isn't any good music made 'today' (even rap and hip-hop have some damn goods to greats), the music in my day was so much better ... sound engineering issues aside. (Could anybody top my favorite concert today -- Jimi, Janis and The Chambers Brothers at a 5-6,000 seat Louis Armstrong Stadium before re-modeling and tennis?)

  53. Interesting, but I think only one of many factors. To my ear, today's music lacks compelling and original melodies, harmonies, progressions, drum riffs, bass lines, counterpoints, overlapping hooks - all the elements that make music interesting. Music from the 60's and 70's was full of this stuff. They were very well thought out and arranged compositions, played by very talented musicians. Today's stuff (when I can bring myself to try listening to it) sounds like narcissistic kvetching to me, when it's not obscene, backed up by repetitious electronic noise.

  54. @Michael Much of today's music is meant for dancing and geared towards the adolescent, from lyrics to brain piercing loudness. I'm bored to death of repetitive sounding music bereft of dynamics.

  55. @Michael A Savoy Brown album from the 70's is worth checking out just for the exploration in sound production. It's hard to find similar producers these days.

  56. I am so pleased to know that there are actual verifiable reasons why I’m stuck in “my” music and cannot bear much else although I love to sing along with moderns like Florence, Taylor, Pharrell, and a few others. But what I actually BUY is still Neil Young, Robert Plant, and Sigur Ros. And now I know why I use earplugs in most retail stores. The music is unbearable - too loud too awful. I’m grateful for this informative article.

  57. Nice article. I don't have remotely the knowledge the author here (Milner) has of technology, recording methods, physics of sound, etc. but his words, the article, sounds logically correct to my intuition. And it matches what I've been dealing with for years when trading for bootleg recordings of live performances of artists from the classic rock era (say up to 1985). In the bootleg community the scrutiny of bootlegs is harsh, and there have been many problems of tapes (bootlegs of live performances were recorded on tape by members of audience during performance) being "crushed" or "distorted" or mastered wrong, not allowed to breathe properly. While a lot of bootleg original tapes do need to be cleaned up, a lot of really good ones end up ruined in hands of people who just don't know or care about how they should sound, which brings me to the biggest problem I see in music and indeed in all art: Complete decline in taste, complete decline in knowledge of what quality is, complete decline of belief that art has a place in society beyond childhood, which is to say no one believes the place of adults is create music, to write books, to do visual art, etc. If you look over the past two hundred years of Western history art was something a person would do well into old age, there was development, trajectory, a lifetime of exploration. Now everything is crushed by technology, by committee, there seems no possibility of anyone creating a great body of work in any art.

  58. This is fascinating and explains so much about my musical tastes. I'm 25, and there are plenty of current pop songs that I enjoy. But when I'm listening to the radio at home--especially when I'm listening with headphones on--I rarely turn to current hits stations anymore. It just feels like too much, and until reading this I hadn't been able to put my finger on why. Great read!

  59. The method and manner of composition also need to be considered. There--and not the mastering process--is where dynamic range of music is really born. From the 1980s going back the vast majority of music was composed using music instruments. Most pop music now is not composed with instruments in the traditional sense but rather built atop sampled and sequenced beats.

  60. @Legitimategolf This is an interesting point. I would say that if the song is going to end up with dynamic range, it has to have it to begin with, but even if it is composed with dynamic range, record companies will often insist that compression be applied to squash the range out of it. That's really where the problem lies.

  61. We now have "producers." We used to have "arrangers." The art of arranging is understanding the sounds, and all of the subtleties, of various instruments, including the most diverse instrument of all, the human voice. Not all producers are guilty, but one of the products of over production is that everything starts to sound the same. Competition in the music business has been largely about being heard. Hence loudness. Musical tastes evolve slowly, and I suspect that we've raised a generation suckled on loudness. But there is reason for hope; there are young artists now, listening to their grandparents' music (and even their grandparents' parents' music--e.g. Duke Ellington, Hoagy Carmichael, and Charlie Parker) as well as musical influences from around the world, blending it with their own music, and exploring richer timbral and harmonic ranges. Truthfully, these artists have always been there, but they've been largely ignored commercially. I think finally we're developing ways to discover new (and old) artists. And, in terms of musical sophistication and virtuosity (but maybe not creativity, yet), some of the new artists sit second chair to no one.

  62. @Justin Arrangement is still very much a part of the process of producing music. It is a task that is included in either the songwriting credit or the production credit, or sometimes even still a credit unto itself. But unless the music in question is only going to be performed live, a producer is essential, be it the artist themselves or a professional hired for that purpose.

  63. @Justin Recordings have always had producers and many of the producers of the past were very powerful, controlling and exploitative.

  64. As an old geezer I don't understand the technical stuff, but I know songs of last few decades are not full of joy to listen to, and don't ask about meaningless lyrics. Songs and music used to be art, now they are just a business.

  65. @Jack Simply avoid pop music. "Pop", of course, is short for "popular" and "popular" usually--not always--means that the music targets the lowest common denominator. There a plenty of tremendous songwriters working today whose work stands up well along side the so-called classics. Unfortunately, these songwriters--folks like John Hiatt, Chuck Prophet, Kasey Chambers, Les Claypool, Ray Wylie Hubbard, James McMurtry, and Steve Earle--as much as they'd like a hit, are more interested in writing great music and lyrics than in packing arenas and stadia. Fortunately, these artists and their compadres have strong enough followings that for those of us who realize that, in the words of Elvis Costello, "radio is in the hands of such a lot fools trying to anesthetize the way that" we feel, we have somewhere else to turn. Or tune.

  66. @Jack Yes, it's really sad that today's musicians can't write meaningful, heartfelt lyrics like "I am the walrus, goo goo ja boo".

  67. The "loudness" issue does not have to do with analog vs digital. In fact, some compression was required to make all vinyl records simply because of the limited width and depth of the groove. Those who love vinyl should go for it. One advantage today is that since the aficionados who want it are more particular, chances are that a current vinyl disk is carefully manufactured. But as for me, I am happy to listen to better quality CDs and leave the surface noise, pops and clicks, ease of damage, and wear of vinyl behind me.

  68. Popular music was once about inspiring love, warmth, joy and happiness - and sometimes it was sad or mournful. But it was about human emotion and connection. It was mostly melodic and understandable. Much of today's music is antagonistic, misogynistic, and angry for its own sake. Too booming, grating and incoherent. It's unlistenable unless you're sweating in a clump of like-minded souls at a concert or a club, and high, of course. To each generation its own, but this is not for me. I'm sure my parents said the same thing.

  69. One of the finest antidotes to the marginal dynamics noted and the atrophied use of tonal colors can be found in the likes of any album overseen by Jordi Savall. And for those who miss liner notes explore any of his "book" CD albums with their in depth presentation of the music, the history and context and their wonderful art work.... Not a throw back but rather taking both the amazing sounds and the wealth of the visuals and written word to profoundly new heights.

  70. @rg I could listen to Jordi Savall recordings all day...and sometimes, I do!

  71. Hmmm, I wonder if this is why, IMHO, the SuperBowl half-time show was awful. The entire set was just LOUD. Too bad, because the visuals (stage set up, lighting, fire, fireworks, marching drummers, costumes) were outstanding. I’ve been to a few concerts by The Rolling Stones and U2, and while concerts are (almost) always LOUD, I could still tell what song was being played and how it was being executed for a live audience. That’s important because artists will often tweak the studio versions for a new audience. It’s been said that Keith Richards never played the same song the same way, always changing something to make it sound new(er). Subtlety is an art. Check out Radiohead for an example of good music being made today (actually, for the last 20 years or so in their case).

  72. Great article, but one error: "A blaring television commercial may make us turn down the volume of our sets, but its sonic peaks are no higher than the regular programming preceding it.". There was a battle in the past about commercials being turned up in volume. Customers wanted them the same volume as the program they were watching. Businesses wanted them louder so you could hear them if you left for a bathroom break or to go get a drink. There was a big battle over this, kind of similar to today's Net Neutrality. The business people got their way. The public didn't. I can't hear the program from my back bedroom, but the commercial I can!

  73. Great article and I now understand why most pop music now sounds so persistently annoying -- it's imitating the sonic form of persistently annoying commercials!

  74. Very interesting essay that is fresh and provocative. I would be interested in seeing how this analysis works outside the narrow ambit of the Grammy-Billboard music that is analyzed here. As a 57 year old who listens primarily to music made in the present I can assure you that there is much alternative, hip hop, rock, and jazz that is distinguishable from the sort of dreck that one will find featured on the Grammy s. I stopped watching that award show in the 1970's when a disco band that used to play free shows at Disneyland named "Taste of Honey" was awarded best new artist over a fellow by the name of Elvis Costello.

  75. Compared to the best music of the 60s-80s era the noise today is absolutely unbearable. I'll stick with Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull and Zeppelin any day.

  76. I read a thread on youtube some time ago, arguing about what was the best era for music...the pro and cons went back and forth until someone my age (not me) wrote. "1968 was the best year for music. That is not an opinion...that is a fact." I agree...though I will have to admit some of the good stuff that was not released in time for 1968, spilled over to the early 1970s.....

  77. So THAT explains why commercials sound so much louder...they just start out screaming and keep the same obnoxious sound level the whole time. I feel that the difference can be summed up as the difference between music and noise. Music has crescendos and lulls where there is a range of sound. It has notes and generally is not monotone. It is complex, melodic, and can have many different rhythms. I admit sometimes I like noise. I like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, even the rap songs. I like some Metallica, Rush, etc... I love classical music and opera. I grew up with the Beatles and the Stones as my music. Smashing the range to extremely narrow and loud is just marketing. I can see how it can't be a career.

  78. Yes, but behind Marvin Gaye's wonderful voice and cadence, there was music.

  79. I blame this entire mess on MTV and music videos in general. Before music videos it was all about what you were listening to. After music videos, it was all about what you were watching. Sexy dancing girls, lots of changing and shifting of camera angles, so you couldn't tell that there was really nothing going on, etc. At this point the music became a background sound track for the video. Can any of these people, Arianna Grande, Lady Gaga, Brittany Spears, Adam Levine, Katie Perry, etc., actually sing? Could they get admitted to a conservatory? No. It is all incompetence that is highly rewarded. Then again, you could say the same about Mick Jagger, Steve Tyler, etc. One of the best explanations of this I heard was when Billy Joel was interviewed on 60 minutes years ago. At the end of the interview he was asked, "so at the end of the day, what's so great about Billy Joel?" He said something like, "I actually have a theory about that. This is a business where a lot of people can't read or write music very well, they can't sing very well, or play very well. And they are making lots of records and lots of money. In a business that rewards a lot of incompetence, I'm actually competent." And there it is.

  80. @Gerry Aranna and Gaga are actual very good singers.

  81. @Gerry Yes, Lady Gaga CAN sing. The rest, no.

  82. What if every star in the sky was the same brightness ?

  83. TVTropes.org actually has a whole section on this very subject, titled "Record of Loudness War" (the name is a pun on a work of manga/anime titled "Record of Lodoss War"). Incidentally, there is an ongoing idea in the music industry that the whole Loudness War was, at least initially, driven by cocaine use amongst musicians and engineers that diminished sensitivity to loud noises.

  84. Interesting that we compare today's pop music with that of the previous generation. Regardless of the technical factors that have changed production of this stuff, we should also consider the linear dumbing down of pop music over the last 70 years. Rock and roll ruined everything. It is silly adolescent music that retirees still enjoy, while a wealth of quality music is available. I mean jazz. It is far more advanced rhythmically, harmonically, melodically and dynamically. Yet it represents 2% of the consumed music in North America. The dumbing down of music mirrors the dumbing down of all aspects of life in the USA, from politics to scientific understanding, to social graces, etc.

  85. @TB Johnson As a rock and roller player for years...I know it's only rock and roll, but I like it......that's all that matters! Don't need no complicated explanation...it's music, like what you want!

  86. @TB Johnson I love jazz too, and have a large collection, including my late father's original LPs, which I love to play. But when a bunch of teenage girls are driving to the beach, they want to crank up Katy Perry, not ponder the time signatures of "Giant Steps." And sophisticated jazz was never really pop music, even 70 years ago.

  87. @BCY123 - Far out man!

  88. Other than classical music, there is another type of music today with wide dynamic range. And it is the last one you would expect: electronic music.

  89. @JustInsideBeltway and acoustic jazz.

  90. @JustInsideBeltway Instrumental music (jazz, electronic, symphonic, chamber, etc.) use dynamics as part of their core DNA. Songs nowadays seem to foreground everything.

  91. I think that appreciation for production quality is for professional musicians or for hardcore music enthusiasts... not the average listener. As a person who is on the Gen-X/Millennial line (or Xennial, as some people like to call it) I feel like I can appreciate both analog and digital. I own vinyl, cassettes, CDs, and digital files... I couldn't tell you I preferred one sound over the other, only that I appreciate when I'm able to take my music with me on the go if I'm not able to listen to it only at home. It is comforting to listen to an older LP on the turntable but to be honest, I've found the same comfort listening to a brand new released album streaming on Spotify over my iPhone. I think it's just a matter of preference... just like I don't really think that the Eagles are that great.

  92. Today's music simply won't endure because there's nothing memorable about it as far as I'm concerned.

  93. @ClydeMallory Which is exactly what your grandparents said about the music you love and their grandparents said about their music and what I'll undoubtedly say about my grandchildren's music someday.

  94. @ClydeMallory My dad on first hearing the Beatles in 1964: "That's not music, it's just a bunch of noise. Five years from now nobody will remember it."

  95. @ClydeMallory Also far few people own the music for the children to flip though and discover later on. Tomorrow's teens will just listen to whatever the stream service du jour outputs to their ears.

  96. Interesting article about recording loudness. The article referenced the Eagles Greatest Hits album as the best selling album of all time. While recording loudness may have played a role in this distinction, my children pointed out to me that many artists these days do not produce full albums, and that customers no longer buy albums, or even purchase individual songs but stream and listen to music on Youtube, Spotify and the like for free. Therefore it would be difficult to compare the all time selling albums/artists of the past with present day all time listened to albums/artists (whether bought or streamed for free). Yes, I detest rap artists who feel the need to constantly curse or use degrading language about race or women (I'm ok when it happens occasionally and the song is good), just as my parents disliked my listening to the Talking Heads while doing my homework. I like the fact that the article referenced the poor headphones and computer speakers that everyone listens to music on now, compared to the old stereo systems we all owned, although my Bose ear buds sound really good! Another factor that the article did not mention is what impact gazing at album art had on the musical experience. Is it the same as watching a video? or at nothing at all? Probably not. Lastly, there are large differences between attention spans required when one listens to an entire themed Pink Floyd album versus a Lady Gaga or Post Malone three minute song. In the end it's all good music!

  97. The best-selling LP records and reel-to-reel tape have in principle near-infinite dynamic range, but 1. It'll cost you; and 2. Most of the best examples were recorded in the 50s and early 60s. I'm also somewhat surprised that there is no mention here of digital's half-bit problem, which certainly compromises dynamic range at the quiet end.

  98. For those interested in seeing how this applies to their favorite (or most hated) recordings, the Dynamic Range Database is a wonderful resource that shows DR info on 129493 albums (as of right now). http://dr.loudness-war.info/

  99. All I know is somewhere in the lady 20 years the music became unlistenable. Everyone sounds the same and boring.

  100. This is why the "old vinyl" of an album is better than it's "re-mastered CD"

  101. @Tony Yes. You can get some new vinyl remasters that are done well and sourced from the original tapes and sound fantastic, but you have to do your research first.

  102. @Tony Ah yes, the abstract rhythm of the clicks and pops as well as the spaciousness of the sound produced by the out-of-phase surface noise and grunge really added to the enjoyment. And let's not forget how the 2nd order harmonic distortion of 4% or more from even the best phono cartridges added to the richness of the sound.

  103. As far as what we think is the best music, two factors for us older folks: there seems to be an age when the brain is busy filling its jukebox, and, after that age, it's much harder to remember new songs' titles or artists. Also, after losing the top end of our frequency range, it's a lot harder to hear what young people are hearing, and to pick out the words from the rest of the music.

  104. Thankfully, at 70, I seem to have missed the full jukebox gene. There is so much good, new music around today that it’s dizzying.

  105. Music used to be for dancing. Jazz and Rock and Roll were social events, where men and women got to know each other and have fun. Boy meets Girl. After the sexual revolution, this type of mating ritual was no longer needed. Then came the boom box. Suddenly music became a social weapon, a way for selfish people to clear out space for themselves using loud abrasive Rap music to imply a certain threat mentality. Compressing the music, using sexist profanity while stealing beats from old songs and repeating them mindlessly all became elements in this new anti-social noise. Of course it sucks.

  106. @Carl Hultberg - This profoundly uncomprehending history leaves no room for a connection between rap and dancing. Early hip-hop culture in the Bronx was all about dance parties, and then, once it was in the streets, break dancing. Obviously, "boy meets girl" might transpire in such settings. Ditto for hip hop culture's Jamaican sound system roots, which grew out of block parties. Much of rap's texture comes from funk and soul, hardly "abrasive" music, but rather smooth, easy, and uh, funky. And a "threat mentality", huh? You seem only to be aware of so-called gangster rap; there are many other forms, some of them more cuddly than others (just like Jazz and R&R). What's "anti-social" about an art that brings people together and that shapes and affirms cultural identities and political movements in a given time and place? Isn't this exactly what Jazz and Rock have done? Also, are you really saying there's no "sexist profanity" in Rock?! Or that Rock never stole, say, the entire catalog of blues riffs to be repackaged as less racially threatening white art? Please.

  107. @Scottb: You’re right that it’s probably unfair to blame Hip Hop and Rap for the demise of social dancing. Jazz had already begun to shed its dancers in the 40s as folks started listening to the Trad Jazz revival and then Be Bop as Art Music. The dancers went over to Rock and Roll but the teen dances died out in the 1960s with the advent of Rock. Modern Country Music is now like Rock, not a dance music. In fact it was the rapping DJ’s in the Bronx and Compton California in the 70s and early 80s who kept the social dance scene going in the face of the gang violence that was making it difficult. The problem was that with all the scratching and beat manipulation the DJs became more important than the music and the music basically got buried under all that monotonous ego flash.

  108. @Scottb: The whole point of this article is that the music has become louder and more abrasive. Your argument is with the author, not me.

  109. There are many factors. Commercially-oriented music is a business. With some exceptions, each genre is produced in one of a restricted number of geographic areas, often by noted producers who know how to get the "sound" of previous hits. Celebrity players or small teams of pro session players are common, so there often is no cohesive "band", and heavy use of computer technology (including detached players sending in tracks electronically) to achieve "perfection" adds to the lack of authenticity. One-hit "wonders" seem to be long gone, due to tight control of playlists. Overall, people may have become jaded to the sounds from this business model; even TV has brilliant-sounding music now. And perhaps the great melodies, romantic themes, etc. have mostly been done, so we're left with show-biz celebrity and superficial appearances. But, it's still possible for young listeners to discover the rich catalogs of the past.

  110. This is obvious even among music of artists with long careers. Willie Nelson, Santana, Van Morrison. The new stuff is much louder than the older recordings and you find yourself constantly adjusting the volume. And taking this a step further. It is even discouraging to attend live concerts, where the drums and bass are now so loud they overpower everything else on the stage. Forget the impressive guitar solo or even the vocals. They get buried under an avalanche of Bass.

  111. @Meza Yeah, that's a huge pet peeve of mine. The crazy bass for music that doesn't call for it.

  112. And let's not forget that much of today's music, loudness aside, is simply not very good. There are some bright spots but today's average pop music pales in comparison to anything produced, even going back to the 50's.

  113. @A. Jubatus How tiresome. I'm in my late 60's and it always depresses me when I hear my contemporaries sounding like the old fogies we disdained so much when we were kids. Everything said in your comment matches what they said about the music we were listening to. There is actually quite a bit of good music being made today. The problem is that because of today's media landscape it takes more effort to find it. Did you ever stop to think that the reason much of today's music doesn't speak to you is because it's not trying to? You and I are no more the target audience of today's young musicians than our grandparents were the target audience of the musicians we listened to. The biggest problem with today's music is how narrowly it's programmed and listened to. Back in the day we got exposed to a wide swath of music. If you listened to WABC to hear the latest from the Rolling Stones you were also going to hear The Supremes and maybe something like "Ode to Billie Joe". If you watched Ed Sullivan to see The Doors you might, like it or not, also hear someone like Joan Sutherland. Today's niche programming and algorithms insure that no one ever has to listen to anything that they don't already know and like. That stunts the growth of both the audience and the musicians and in the long run does make for less interesting music. It's a shame.

  114. @A. Jubatus Every era from the dawn of humanity to the present has its share of good songs and not so good songs. Like you, I personally don't appreciate much of contemporary, youth oriented popular music, such as hip-hop and rap. But saying "I don't like it" is not the same as saying "it's no good."

  115. I have an aural and visual eidetic recall that allows me to chart my way through over a two terabytes of music compressed at 320bytes per second and generally match the artist, state, and year of recording. While I agree with author's points, I would also endeavor to consider the revolution in access that the technological revolution has produced. It has opened a door to self-invention for musicians that once was closed at the studio-session door.

  116. For many music lovers, the good old days were in the '70s and '80s, but for some of us they were in the 40s (Hello Benny). My theory is that the music we absorbed as teens and young adults digs a groove that never leaves us. Sure we're open to other kinds of music from other eras, but nothing beats that first love affair with music.

  117. Well, it is true that compression was generally inapplicable to direct-to-disc 78s. Bass was often better, too, than LPs.

  118. @KC They used to gain ride 78's like crazy -- the engineer sat there with a score and adjusted volume to fit the music to the very limited dynamic range of the disks. In the days of acoustical recordings, the musicians would actually move closer to or further away from the horns to achieve compression!

  119. @Josh Hill In one of Louie Armstrong's early recordings, the piercing tones of his trumpet led engineers to place him alone outside of the studio with the door open to achieve balance with the other "normal" players.

  120. I wonder if this issue is also widely true for new jazz records. I used to listen to new records/CDs continuously at home (part of my job). Now after 2-3 hours of new music, I'm saturated and only several days of silence will refresh me. Looking at wave forms of many pieces (as I prepare my radio show), I see many more instances of aggressive compression. Maybe it's just that the new music, while well-played and cleanly recorded, is just not interesting?

  121. Music and its reproduction are my life. As a DJ in the 80's, I learned quickly the power of deep bass and high highs. While '70s disco created the sound of the '80's, it was the sound engineers of the 1980's, along with a technological jump from cassette tape to CD, that really permitted the return of the punch of vinyl - although vinyl, while an antique is still the warmest of blankets in our digital world. But by the 1990's, the dynamic of music had bent toward the world of grunge and with it, a very compressed audio range, even before massive digitally remastered compression. There was just too much sound in small dynamic range that often caused my ear drums to simply crinkle. I recall a conversation while visiting a speaker manufacturer in the 1990's. They were lamenting over the fact that although they had not changed their designs dramatically since the 1980's, that the failure rate on their speakers was now excessively high. After analysis, they concluded that while power handling wasn't the issue, the fact that the speaker was constantly being pushed to extremes (grunge sound) had unintended stress on speakers that worked flawlessly for a decade prior. Today, it is unfortunate that engineers push to 11 the compression of harmonics. And it is even more unfortunate that most of us listen to the magic through a cheep pair of earbuds. But Milner is right, the beauty of audio is in the dynamic range and not the loudness. To appreciate requires a better audio system.

  122. The problem is much worse than recording level choices. Most music today is awful for other reasons including extremely limited lyrics, basic and limited melodies, and singer's voices which are often hidden beneath layers of digital manipulation. Instead today's songs have hooks, ear worms, and are usually accompanied by interesting videos. Entertainment? Maybe. Music? Probably not. What's stranger is that today's digital technology has a far greater signal to noise capability (from the quietest to loudest sounds) than was available with analog recordings. Proof? Try listening to the digital soundtrack that accompanies today's movies on a good home sound system without turning the level down during the explosion scenes, only to have to turn it back up when the actors resume whispering to each other.

  123. @John, Signal-to-noise is different from dynamic range.

  124. I have been a musician. I have never been an audiophile. The subtleties of audio recording elude me. I have, however devoted thought to the symbiotic relationship between popular music and the way we think. (space requires me to omit categories like jazz and theater music) In my childhood (Forties) popular songs tended to be cliché driven, with simple themes and rhyme schemes. Popular thought tended also to be simplistic, both in the ways history was understood, and social dynamics were presented. Out of this, emerged rock and roll, which challenging the ways that youthful voices were represented, and redefining relationships, emphasizing rhythm and beat over June, moon, spoon. At the same time, the reemergence of folk music challenged the ways in which we saw social conditions, coaxing our minds to be a little more open. In the late sixties and early seventies, these forms came together, reflecting and encouraging a deeper exploration of our minds, our place in society, and our place in the cosmos. The emergence of disco paralleled an increase in self-centeredness – a focus on the external. Thinking became about "me." As society became more tribal, pop music fractured into sectarianism. Metal, funk, euro-pop, glam rock, funk, grunge, etc. etc. Each genre somehow mirroring its own aspect of an intellectual diaspora. Today we have groove driven music, where repetitive themes prevail, and our polarized thinking is indeed groove driven, driven by repeating memes and slogans.

  125. I record and mix tiny desk concerts for npr and I'm constantly in a balancing act. When a tiny desk concert autoplays on youtube I don't want people reaching for their volume dials to turn it up following a commercially produced track. But preserving dynamics is essential to the music and enjoyment of it.

  126. When I think of dynamic range I think of Steely Dan's Aja album. I'm not their greatest fan but that album sounds great.

  127. One way to make commercials sound louder without going over the db limit is to use signal compression to the maximum. It gives the signal a sharper sound without actually being louder and does not violate the FCC limits. Advertisers utilize this tool a lot.

  128. On a related note, perhaps tangential to hyper-compression and loudness, recorded music seems to be devolving. I'm in my early sixties, and the stereo systems I recall from the '70's and '80's (played on vinyl) could make you feel like you were in the studio or the arena. Of course, back then people would make a trip to purchase a "record". The quality seems to be degrading, perhaps due to mass distribution, with participants fighting for every penny in the digital fire hose of distribution. Maybe I'm correct about this, or just missing something. Probably some of both.

  129. @Alan R Brock yes, vinyl on my gigantic KLH speakers...beautiful...couldn't afford much else, but that turntable and speakers were awesome...

  130. Engineers could always increase the presence of a recording. In the old AM music days, WABC pumped out a very tightly compressed signal. If you looked a VU meter, it would vibrate between -1 and 0 DB. Three tools and one trick were used to accomplish this. CBS Laboratories made two devices Audimax and Volumax. These were used together to increase the compression and adjusted to decrease the recovery time. The third tool used was the addition of a very amount of reverb. The trick was to speed up the turntables, so that a 45 RPM record was sped up to 46.5 RPM. That little bit made the music crisper. And when the hits were dubbed from vinyl to cartridge, that was done with the fast turntable. The first three items were done as broadcast. The fast turntable was the overture to the magic formula.

  131. Here's hoping that what passes for pop, or rock, or hip hop, or country (the same three tunes played again, and again), will, on the fullness of time, or lickety-split, comes to an unfruitful end Here's hoping that one day, in the not too distant future, that the rising generation of music aficionados, will no longer give in to peer pressure, and claim that the "new music," in whatever form it's presented, is cool; (please, readers feel free to substitute your own cutting edge adjective for "cool,' but my creative powers have withered with the appeal of the Grammys.) Here's hoping....

  132. This may not apply exactly to the theme of this article (which is quite wonderful!), but back in 2003 Paul McCartney released the "naked" version of the original album, "Let it Be" (1970) which extracted Phil Spector's background arrangements. It's stunning and sublime. To me, it represents a stripping down of the music to an almost zen-like calmness. BUT, I have to say, I truly enjoy the original with the "wall-of-sound" as well. Even though Spector's approach was to envelop the listener in sound, he still managed to produce some truly wonderful music which feels more authentic than music produced today. Just my humble opinion.

  133. This article is about the technical changes in the recording process. But, when people my age complain about today's music, it isn't only the unrelenting loudness that we complain about. Just as when my parents complained about 60s rock and roll (recorded with the same analog techniques as pop and classical music), it wasn't just the volume, they thought the songs themselves were noise, not music. "No one will listen to those Beatles in 20 years, like we do with Benny Goodman!" I imagine Beethoven's mother scolding young Ludwig, "why don't you play pretty music like Herr Mozart?" Every generation rebels against its parents' music and hates the music of the younger generation.

  134. @MEM But, Ludwig Van Beethoven's music WAS "diminished" from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's, in that Mozart's music contained more - as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart himself explained: "The music is in the nothingness..." Yeah, polyphonic "structure." Beethoven, was the introduction of the Romantic period, and MORE "stimulus," and/or musical sounds, and less "structure."

  135. @MEM I don't know...my parents liked much of The Beatles music...

  136. @MEM And yet, back then, young and old classical and jazz musicians admired the Beatles (and other rock groups). Because there was depth to the music. I can't imagine anyone with sophisticated musical taste listening to pop these days. It's harmonically and melodically simplistic. And the lyrics are just plain dumb. I listen to Benny Goodman and all other quality music, no matter what era is was created in.

  137. And there are people who'll plunk down a couple of hundred dollars in a restaurant to eat to this stuff!

  138. ...listen to George Strait's Murder on Music Row - that sums up what's happened to country music..... ...regarding the other music - like the halftime Super Bowl show - with all the fire and lights - it's not really music as much as it is entertainment..... ...we'll never see the Beatles on the roof in Liverpool again.. I've gravitated to mostly bluegrass - back to the roots of country music..... ...to satisfy my rock and roll heritage, there's progressive young bluegrass bands (Brother Comatose, GreenSky, Trampled by Turtles) which takes me back to my past..... ...but for me, bluegrass rocks....

  139. @JMS The Beatles played on the roof of their company Apple's headquarters, which was in London.

  140. This article is well intended but perhaps misguided and superficial. It goes all in assuming that people are perceptive enough to notice or care about these differences in loudness and complexity -- as though either of those things contribute to the philistine landscape of art today. The main reason why art in general (music, movies, literature) are so weak and unoriginal today is not just because of the mercenary philosophy of corporate art: it's because pretention is what blinds our perceptions and limits the extent of our consciousness the most. In fact, no one seems to know what it means to be an artist. First and foremost an artist is a person of peceptions. Our sensibilities are what make us unique and we achieve this through self-effacing curiosity and love. What's also terribly important to know is that a true artist does not care for "success". And they must all accept that an artist must have the intellectual and physical courage to fail over and over again until death. If you're an artist and you're not prepared for this then you must find something else to do since you will be broken by the simple and childish reward-based philosophy in which you rest your tiny and unambitious hopes and dreams.

  141. I haven't listened to new music in over 15 years. I have the entire Beatles catalog on vinyl and CD. I'm good with that.

  142. @susan Of course if people in the 1960s had had the same attitude as you do today, there would be no Beatles catalog for you to cherish.

  143. Not true at all. I was born in 1954. My mother brought home our first rock and roll record - Bill Haley & The Comets - "Rock Around The Clock." She bought our first Beatles record - "I Want To Hold Your Hand." She loved The Beatles. Great music transcends the generational divide. There is no great pop music anymore. There are very few great young musicians. It's garbage in - garbage out. I figured that out 15 years ago.

  144. Music today is being "compressed to death" in recordings, dynamic range is being squashed to make recordings "loud"? This seems to have been easily predicted in retrospect, when we consider the history of the musician in America in brief over the 20th century. America it appears has never really taken to the arts, everything from writing to music to painting to film. I know this sounds absurd, but over the 20th century artists have been compressed, discouraged, to point that only the outsiders, most resistant, would write books such as Gatsby or make jazz or rock 'n roll and the pressure was so powerful against them that it's been rare for a person to have a full and developing life in the arts like in Europe especially prior to 20th century, a career like Dickens or a classical composer. Artists now are so discouraged that art is considered only something children buy and do (everything from music entirely geared to children to Harry Potter books to even ridiculous and committee strangled movies, and certainly adolescent ones such as superhero movies) and it's incredibly difficult to be a growing and developing artist of any type. Which brings me to compressed recordings in music: It seems just the final blow, the final locking of the artist, "the kid", in his room. Just compress the punk, the thug, and he or she'll come around and become a suit like all the rest, become "realistic" and help make God knows what better life for all of us, will "Participate in Society".

  145. So called music background in every single store today seems to be twenty-somethings caterwauling unintelligibly about love. Trying to concentrate on store items can nearly drive one mad. Question is why is such "music" subscribed to?

  146. @Oregondoggie and why do I need music when I'm grocery shopping, in the doctor's office, at the mall, at the gas station? I switched away from pop music a long time ago. It's alternative, jazz or classical for my ears now. Todays music all just sounds like a bunch of noise. Guess I'm getting old.

  147. @Oregondoggie I think there have been "twenty-somethings caterwauling unintelligibly about love" for the entire history of music. Doesn't seem like a new development to me.

  148. Thanks for the example of Marvin Gaye. Gonna play him all weekend now.

  149. Each week I watch Saturday Night Live and really try to listen to the "new" music, but rarely get through the segment. I may be old but I got to hear the good bands!

  150. @jeff There were also many bad bands playing contemporaneously with those good bands. The good bands are remembered. The others, not so much.

  151. @Bucketomeat There's a reason for that. The good bands kept playing.

  152. The quality of popular music being made these days is much inferior to the music of the past and the music of the 60s and 70s. A few decades ago, music was taught in the schools and most of the 60s and 70s musicians could actually read music and play an instrument. These days, so-called musicians cannot read music and most music is heavily influenced by digital signal processing, AutoTune for those who cannot carry a melody when they sing, compression, special effects, sampling, looping, electronics. Modern music is mostly made by machine and it sounds like it. And the musically unsophisticated and uneducated young do not even have the ability to discern good music from irritating sound.

  153. @Earthling The Beatles could barely play their instruments. The Rolling Stones could barely play their instruments. It's always been about studio magic. Same now as it was back then--just more tools in the toolbox for producers.

  154. @Daniel It is an overstatement to say the Beatles and Stones could barely play their instruments. Both groups produced many memorable instrumental moments. No, they weren't King Crimson or Yes, but they played in a way that served the songs.

  155. @Daniel - I beg to differ, The Beatles and The Stones were fantastic musicians, especially McCartney, Starr, Watts and Richards. They were real bands and recorded their basic tracks ensemble, which is a huge part of why they sound so cohesive and great.

  156. Marvin Gaye,Stevie Wonder and maybe the Eagles could be considered music,in its classic form. most of the other mentions ,sonic noise or cacophony,especially Rap,which isn't music at all .Why would you turn up the noise ,except in torture,which actually they do.

  157. @Alan Einstoss Music is sound organized through time. Rap fits this definition.

  158. I have a tin ear and couldn't hear dynamic range or the difference between current songs and older songs. What I do know is a song must be melodic and evoke emotion. "What's Going On" does that. Repetitive mumbling over a gong sound aka "This is America" does not do that. I get it - I am old and today's music is meant for the young. That is how it should be.

  159. This 59 year old likes the Eagles and "Shallow."

  160. Turn up the Eagles the neighbors are listening.

  161. @Publius Whereas classical music composers, using the same scales, can produce more melodies ?

  162. @Publius 12, but who’s counting.

  163. Fascinating article, and rigorous! Thank you, Mr. Milner, and thank you, NYT.

  164. In the context of all of this, records are making a comeback, which is due to their ''warmth'' of sound. What is really is that vinyl has a very limited dynamic range in comparison to the fidelity of digital samples. ( I personally like the sound as well) As we get older, we generally lose our high end range (which is another reason why commercials on the TV come on much louder than the programs) They want to gather our attention. I like all kinds of music, so long as I can make out what the singer is actually trying to enunciate. If it is all made up of screeching or just wailing notes, then I find it quite boring. At any volume or dynamic range.

  165. Thank you for this fascinating article. Now I know it's NOT just me turning into my parents, who back in the 1970s were constantly yelling, "Turn that music down!"

  166. Richard Thompson puts out great listenable music. Good luck hearing it on 95 percent of the radio stations.

  167. @George, Yes it's true. But have hope: In 2018 while at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, listening to the Del McCoury Band perform their superb cover of "Vincent Black Lightening," a younger friend turned to me and asked "Didn't Richard Thompson write this song?" I was impressed.

  168. Good article, but the author makes a common mistake in explaining compression and dynamic range. The issue isn't the difference between the peaks and quietest sounds in the song (any song might have moments of silence). It's the difference between the AVERAGE level and the peaks. It's that average level that determines the overall subjective loudness. And yes, contemporary music has been seeing those average levels rise and rise. Which means the dynamics are being squashed out of the music, and it's all being made to sound flat and fatiguing. In a brief side-by-side listening test, you're likely to find the compressed version to sound more "exciting" ... for the first few seconds. But then you can take the less-compressed song, and perform a magic trick: turn up the volume. Suddenly the song comes to life with real excitement, and you realize that record producers have been cheating you for the last 20 years.

  169. VERY cool article. I love explanations that include data, clearly presented and explained. Thanks so much!

  170. Talk about digital vs analogue, when asked about using pitch perfect a digital software program that puts the singer on key, Aretha Franklin said she never heard of it and why would she ever use it? The digital world corrects the artist when their natural talent is sub par. Now every amateur can be a recording artist. How sad.

  171. So, maybe this is why I don't like much of today's music....but actually, I think it's just a generational thing for me

  172. 1. The Grammy's have a long tradition (from waaay back) of nominating songs that either fail the test of time OR were sung by has-been artists to make up for snubs in the past. There's plenty of new music out there that will fit anyone's taste. As always, don't depend on the Grammy's or the radio to find it. 2. Adding more "noise" to recordings started way before the '70s. Beethoven had more than Mozart who had more than Bach (all great!). Miles Davis had more than Ellington who had more than Fats Waller (all great!). Early Beatles had more the late Beatles. "The Wall of Sound" was coined for new '60s production styles. And there's been multiple reactions to this: Minimalism in classical music, Punk Rock vs. overproduced '70s rock (The Eagles being public enemy #1). Rap vs. orchestral R&B. Grunge vs. Hair Metal. 3. When old people LIKE young people's music? THAT'S when you've found a case of dog bites man.

  173. @Justin "Wall of Sound" was Phil Spector's trademark and referred to his recording multiple parts at the same time, with several guitar players, bassists, etc. playing the same part (in a very small studio) to create a dense, unique sound. Yes, I know he's in prison.

  174. OK. I'm an old-timer audio geek. With a technical background in acoustics. And I've loved music all my life. All types. Turns out that there is no perfect way to record and replay music. Every method has unique characteristics. The benefits must be traded off against the limitations. Interestingly, the inherent limitations of a particular recording system are often what becomes most appreciated, especially if you are comparing what you grew up with to modern day technologies. Take vinyl recordings vs digital. Tracking a mechanical moving needle along the wiggles imbedded plastic track involves a whole bunch of trade-offs. For example, loud deep sounds create large deep grooves that make the needle wiggle and respond in unexpected ways, creating distortion. This was managed to some degree by pre-processing the analog signal before it was laid down in vinyl. All amplifiers included a circuit to remove this preprocessing. The technique is not perfect, creating the particular sound you expect to hear from vinyl. Same thing with guitar amps: tube vs solid state. The tube amps are preferred precisely because they do distort. And that distortion is what guitar players love to hear. I can't wait for the next generation of recording technologies to give us yet another form to relish and compare to the prior ones. But perhaps most important, I look forward to new performers who create new art. Artistry is really the core of the music, not the technology.

  175. @Jim Arenson, nice!

  176. I am going to have to keep this in mind when I finally get around to recording my songs. I do not want any melodic masterpiece to become an overcompressed monsterpiece. At least, I *hope* some of my songs will qualify as masterpieces...

  177. @Jacob Sommer Keep what in mind?

  178. Ah........after the 60's/70's it's all noise to me.

  179. @Lee Elvis Costello and Dr. Dre ain’t noise to me.

  180. @Lee Really? Madonna, Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, Whitney Houston, Billy Joel, Elton John, Stevie Wonder ........... Lee, you've missed a lot !

  181. It's striking in this discussion that so little attention is paid to the content of the songs, more specifically the lyrics. There was loudness in the Beatles "Revolution," the Stones "Gimme Shelter," the Hendrix version of Dylan's "Watchtower" etc. -- there were also ideas, relevant perspectives, a bigger picture more worthy of adult listeners. Most pop is frivolous by design, the fast-food of music, but it needn't always be a thumping beat and little else, paltry lyrics stuck in the hoary cliches of "I want your body" or "my boyfriend's a creep." A wider range of material could only help, the rhythmic rage and misogyny of rap notwithstanding. Or it might be that mass commercialism and technical efficiency has inevitably brought a more pervasive shallowness to popular entertainment. There will always be those rare gems, but the dung pile that obscures them is thick and getting thicker.

  182. @John Goodchild Couldn't agree more. Imagine someone today trying to emulate the lyrics of something like the Stone's Sympathy for the Devil (who are the troubadours heading for Bombay?!) or, less magisterially, the private musings of Al Stewart's Year of the Cat (wait, who's Peter Lorre?!). How about Jesse Colin Young just singing about his house on a ridge top? It's all silly adolescent hungering now which is why there's no difference between popular music and music they play in my gym. It's all bad music.

  183. @John Goodchild Are you perhaps thinking about those "little fishies" that "swam all over that dam"? Or were you referring instead to the Aba Daba Honeymoon?

  184. We probably get the music we deserve. When people took the time to clean a record and sit and listen for 30 minutes, it made sense to try to delight and surpise the listener. But when music is filler in the background while you're on the treadmill or doing your taxes, all you need is angry lyrics and loud thumping. And speaking of loud thumping, it may be necessary to adjust the dynamic range of music for listeners who've blown out their eardrums from overcranked subwoofers in cars.

  185. @JR I still love the music you seem to prefer. But I really don't get angry that other folks have other preferences.

  186. Old man yells at cloud.

  187. @Bryan They compress all forms of music these days so it has nothing to do with age. They even compress remasters of old albums from the sixties and seventies including the Beatles.

  188. As someone who unftly fits into the "Millennial" category, I can say that nothing will get me on to the dance floor as fast as Motown from the 60s, Disco from the 70s and New Wave from the 80s I find todays music with the auto-tune, and boasting about what a what a great lover the singer is, how "big" he is and what a B his girl is off-putting as do most of my friends. I will admit, I like a lot of hip-hop, until the rapper starts singing, errr shouting, eerrr boasting.

  189. Great piece of cultural analysis! Commenter Jerry Aaron below and many others are onto the meaning of it I think; all forms of stimulation are amping it up. But why? Is it competition for attention? And/or is it that the audience is so deadened now to stimulative noise that we need a whack from a proverbial 2x4 over the head in order to see or hear it? This is the expression BTW that Flannery O’Connor used to explain her use of the grotesque. Either way it can’t be good, right? It’s like these people offing themselves with opioids. What are they missing? What’s the hole they’re trying to fill that requires drowning everything else out? On the other hand, I think things might not be so bad. Maybe we’re only looking here at mass market commercial output, and that those quiet and more rangey examples are the solace that people keep going back to. And I know it sounds kind of sad, but maybe it’s the same with those adult coloring books, the Marie Kondo stuff, and the mindfulness movement. It’s like we realize that loud, dumb, and fast isn’t working out for us, and so we’re clearly reaching just as hard for alternatives to tamp the noise down.

  190. ---I've been listening to, and enjoying, a wide variety of music for most of my 60 years. Personally, while I have gotten much pleasure from some material that tends more toward sonic dissonance, or avant garde jams, the essential element that I seek- that my "ears" respond to, or demand- is something largely absent from much of today's music, in my mind, that being...good melody. Beauty. The purity and pleasure derived from well-written and constructed song. Sound that compels emotional response not based on volume, or shouted excoriations or bass lines that you can feel in your bones- not that there's anything wrong with those things, or, that there isn't a place for them in music. All sound, however presented, could be considered to be music, of a sort. And there are as many types of music as there are personal preferences. That doesn't make it...good. Ultimate subjectivity. Melody is King, still. Thanks for a very interesting article. And the explanation of something many of us have experienced, but, perhaps not understood in technical terms.

  191. Bob Katz literally wrote the book on this subject: "Mastering Audio." See the K-system https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K-system Anther reason they don't make music like they used to is they way computers allow an engineer to "fix it in the mix" -- allowing artists that can't sing in tune or play in time to stay in the game.

  192. @kauff And yet another reason has to do with the calendar. Nelson Eddy went out of fashion when the Charleston came in, which went out of style when BoogieWoogie came in, which went out of style when Rock&Roll came in, which went out of style..... And hardly anyone listens to My Old Kentucky Home anymore.

  193. Music? This isn't music. I get more from a garbage truck.

  194. @wb why are you listening to garbage trucks?

  195. @BCY123 Songs used to be written by songwriters standing around a piano or sitting with a guitar. Songwriters would work out the chord structures and melodies and harmonies and work up an arrangement. Then musicians would get together to perform the song and record it. Today they have producers who sit at a computer programming beats and sequences. Then they bring in a rapper or vocalist to either rap or improvise a vocal part and they record to a rigid computer time grid. Most pop and hip-hop songs today start with a producer not a songwriter. This is why so many pop songs on the radio today lack catchy melodies and soulfulness. It used to be about starting with a good song first and working up from there. Computers don't have any soul. They don't vary tempo or dynamics.

  196. Pop music is terrible these days. Now get off my lawn.

  197. Audio equipment stores have known for decades that when customers compare two sets of speakers, they will prefer the pair that is the slightest bit louder. And those in the market for a television will prefer the set that's brighter and more colorful than the professionally calibrated model. Like so many things, more seems better, at least initially. Later, when your senses tell you you're not enjoying yourself anymore, it becomes apparent why that's not true.

  198. I am 85. I grew up with AM radio and shellac records and an RCA Victrola. Then there was FM. (I built a Heathkit FM2 which used mostly surplus WW2 electronic components. That was a revelation.) Then came 45s and 78s. Musical fare was mostly classical. My parents were Italian immigrants. My father loved opera - and he whistled it a lot. (Nobody whistles and sings in public anymore.) Then jazz. And rock, etc. Even country-western. In all this the medium is not the message. The music is. And the music today really sucks. Hip-hop is the worst. I am told that the music is important because of its social message. But I can never decipher the message. (And it is not my hearing that is at fault; it is one of my few remaining faculties that is in good shape.) Boring, boring, boring and loud, loud, loud. And you can't possibly whistle it or hum it. The fault is not in the medium Dear Brutus but in us who misuse it.

  199. @Joseph Prospero I don't look at rap as music at all. It is a form of poetry and the music is kind of incidental.

  200. @Joseph Prospero, Amen!

  201. I’d like to see how Phil Spector’s recordings stacked up on these charts. He overdubbed the hell out of those. I bet you can hear the tape hiss and punch in!

  202. @John Tobin I believe he recorded straight to 4-track.

  203. @John Tobin Still and all, will take Mr. Spector's 'Wall of Sound' over what passes for music and singing these days.

  204. I remember when “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?” came out and Champagne Super Nova was all over the airwaves. I knew something was wrong with the recording because the soft parts were just as loud as the loud parts. It's interesting that that record hasn't really stood the test of time because the song was really good.

  205. There is plenty of evidence that loudness creates aural fatigue. Ask Dolby labs how long film mixers can work without a break. Ask the surviving FM programmers who aired Jim Schulke's "Beautiful Music" format how their attention to dynamic range made a difference in their ratings. I'd love to see Neil Young respond to this thread - he certainly cares about quality, but had some very densely recorded tracks as well.

  206. Note that, up until the late sixties, LPs were recorded for monaural reproduction, and there were several years of sub-par stereo recordings when it came on the scene because people were learning how to use it. The "simulated stereo" LPs were pretty bad. Anyway, mono pop records were recorded and engineered to "pop" out of tinny little transistor radios. That's why a lot of early rock sounds best in mono. So, I guess it wasn't a loudness war at that time, per se, but the imperative to grab the audience's attention via the technology they used was the same.

  207. Sonic varietyis the spice of musical life. This is a wonderful quantifiable study on the correlation between dynamic range and longevity. I bet if you looked at vocal range, meter variety, and the number and variety in length and range within melodic themes, you woud find that variety in any given musical metric is a hallmark of quality. We are biology, and in all biology diversity is quality.

  208. Of course there are current artist making great music, but most of what we hear through mainstream media, is not about being great. It's about marketing, money, manufacturing stars, catering to current trends, etc. As the major labels introduce new artist to the world, or pick up the latest sound cloud artist based on their number of followers, it's about the bottom line, Money. It's not just the cheap recording tricks to attract through loudness, it's the whole bag. The Grammy's nominations don't mean much these days either. They are just accomplices to these modern day smut peddlers. I grew up in the 70's -80's, and have diverse taste in music, covering many genres from classical, soul, hip hop, rock, punk, indie, etc. I enjoyed Hip Hop in the 80's-90's, I guess what many call hip hop's "Golden Era". I don't recall many grammy's given out to those artist then. Now that hip hop has hit rock bottom, it seems that the grammy's are given those artist awards like cup cakes. Sure the show will just go on, but never with artist as talented as what we had up until the turn of this century.

  209. @D there might be current artists making great music...i'd venture to guess we won't know what's truly great — "great" meaning, in large part, a work that has a long future. hard to ignore that current, "smashed" mixes and recordings lack a certain craftspersonship in songwriting and production. there's great marketing, but we'll have to see how many listens these current "hits" can compel before they are perceived as shallow, detail-wise.

  210. @D Music industry consolidation has been the biggest culprit in the decline. Fifty years ago there were dozens of independent record companies with A&R men all competing with each other. Today we have only the big three. Sony, Universal and Warner dominate over 85% of the market. Add to that the 1996 Telecommunications act which allowed iheart media and cumulus and Cox to buy up all the national radio stations and you have a closed system which cares nothing about quality or variety.

  211. @George Massenburg Awesome to have a legendary recording chiming in on this. Thanks!

  212. I thought it was mainly the loss of complex melody that was at the heart of the decline in pop music, but it's clear now that compression of dynamic range has also played a role. I still enjoy my classic rock- and jazz, bluegrass, and folk- played through an amp with high quality floor speakers. None of these blue tooth speakers for me, and certainly not much in the way of recent pop!

  213. @JS The loss of melody and soulfulness is a much bigger reason for the decline. A good melodic song with good musicianship that has been over compressed still beats most of the pop music on the airwaves today.

  214. A couple years ago I walked into a Starbucks that was playing the Beatles' "I Need You" -- a George Harrison piece, not Lennon-McCartney -- and I was blown away. Maybe it was remastered or somehow enhanced, but the sound of George and his volume pedal brought tears to my eyes. It's not even all that great a composition; it's just wonderful to hear. Nothing hits me like that today.

  215. @Chris They remastered the Beatles ten years ago with more compression to try to compete with the new music of today.

  216. Not what I was expecting when I started to read the article but VERY interesting. I'd be curious to see similar graphs of a few Talking Heads tracks. One of the things that appeals to me in their music was they huge range of sounds and volumes they used, which created real drama and development in the course of just a few minutes. What I had expected ... Much, maybe most of the popular music we hear nowadays, especially when out in public, really isn't made the same way anymore. It is not really "composed" and "performed". It is more manufactured, BY recording engineers in studios, using little bits of music, much of it created electronically without acoustic instruments at all. A singer might only need to record, 20-40 seconds of singing to carry a song over several minutes because any bit that repeats throughout the song will simply be an actual "copy-paste" repetition of something that was sung once into a microphone. The same applies to many instrumental tracks. Much of the rhythm elements won't have been played on physical instruments at all and could even be selected from pre-recorded rhythm tracks. When you consider the shear quantity of music that is required it's easy to see how this mass manufacturing has come about. It's a question of economics. "Pop stars" are mostly just there to provide branding for a product that is manufactured in a factory.

  217. I don't know -- sounds like another excuse for the middle-aged boys club to disdain art it doesn't understand (and, as much of pop these days has a hip-hop element, there is undoubtedly a racial element). No surprise that The Eagles are the shining example of "good" music in an article like this. I'm not saying that I always enjoy contemporary trends in music, and certainly I don't like it when a trend becomes too ubiquitous, but this kind of pseudo-quantification of "good music" is a farce. It seems to me as if we have reverse engineered a way for a bunch of older white guys to pat themselves on the back for having good taste -- but meanwhile, if we really cared about dynamic range we would be talking a lot more about classical music. We can get different things from music at different times and for different reasons -- I'm sure we could quantify some of the ways that contemporary are better than classic rock, if only we had a cultural bias we needed to support with "evidence."

  218. @Ale that's fair enough to point out, but the charts on dynamic range aren't subjective analysis, they're objective visualisations of data. Leaving aside lyrics and culture, music doesn't have the same aural dynamics that it had before the mid-90s.

  219. @Joel I understand that, but this article has a clear tendency with its analysis. If this were just about trends, rather than about taste, we might get something more about other types of music -- what about early jazz? Even if we want to talk about only popular music from the '70s-'80s vs. popular music now, there's no early hip-hop, no disco. Furthermore, we could look at other tendencies that correlate with top albums, or about some of the limitations of that methodology -- there are a lot of reasons music becomes popular or stays popular.

  220. The other thing missing from much of today's music is the use of stereo sound staging. When each channel does more than blast the same sound, the result can be a three dimensional delight. But, that too seems to be a dying art. On an old Crosby, Stills, and Nash recording, you can close your eyes and hear three distinct voices coming from three different places. The way that voices and instruments blend to create a sound stage with both breadth and depth on The Grateful Dead's American Beauty album is nothing short of ethereal. The way the drums rise to envelop the listener on Peter Gabriel's Lay Your Hands on Me is intensely emotional and almost claustrophobic at its most acute moments. But it should come as no surprise that compression and flat sound staging rule the day because today's audio equipment used for casual listening has surrendered to the idea that pumping bass is equivalent to good sound. The second generation echo show sounds more compressed and bass heavy than the first generation. The upgraded system in my car sounds drowns the highs with too much thump even when there's no real thump in the recording. It's a good thing I still have that system I bought 20 years ago for when I want to actually pay attention to the music.

  221. @John I call that 60s stero. When stero first came out, separation was important. Problem was that the driver heard a different version from the passenger. Unfortunately the other extreme is now popular where the same mix is on both the left and right speakers which seems boring.

  222. The problem with pop music isn't necessarily its "loudness," though I will agree that often modern (approx. the last couple of decades) music does have a deficiency in volume contrasts. People in their 30s will remember that a lot of music in the 90s had such volume contrasts galore. But that isn't the real issue. Most pop music is awful because the lyrics are written by committee (as usual, the best tunes, such as this year's "This is America" are exceptions to this) and the backing beats or instruments are planned out as if by focus group. "Overproduced" is a word that might come up a lot. Just as you can tell (say) a popular 80s song by the characteristic drum machine echo/fadeout on each beat, or by the synth or synth-adjacent backing melody, you can tell a song from the last decade or so by the peculiar slotting of every pitch range with a laptop-generated track. Go back to the 60s and you have a huge amount of songs with the James Bond theme guitar styling and electric organ. So even though the slogan has been a legitimate complaint since the first music was recorded, it really is true - "all music sounds the same these days!"

  223. I am also a longtime recording and mastering engineer and I have won a Grammy for a record by James Moody that respected the need for dynamic range. One thing that I haven't seen commented on is that even though I work on music where wide dynamic range is understood and appreciated, many of the jazz and avant garde musicians I work with will choose the more compressed version of a master when I give them the choice. I don't really blame them considering the environmental noise we live with every day has increased so much that they want their music to cut through the din. The assault of attention seekers is so intense now that everyone needs to be hyper aggressive. I certainly do agree that this trend has made it very hard to present music that requires extended listener attention. Engineers are caught in between these two conflicting priorities.

  224. Too much compression is also why I don't like to listen to audio books. I feel like the voice is assaulting me relentlessly, without the nuances of dynamics that a live reader has. And in fact I've heard some leading audio books voice talent read in person. Much different, much more human experience.

  225. @C Wolfe Even radio stations pile more "processing" on top of the already compressed recorded music, and compress their announcers voices until it hurts listeners' ears.

  226. Give me old school jazz, soul, and rock, music made to get into your heart and head. I have noticed the dynamic range differences between recordings by great jazz players and singers of yore and today's talented performers. There is no comparison. The dynamic compression done nowadays does a great disservice to today's artists.