EDM vs Dynamic Range Day 2015

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Dynamic Range Day 2015

So once again, we’re approaching Dynamic Range Day; a campaign started by mastering engineer Ian Shepherd to raise awareness of the Loudness War to all producers, studio engineers, and mix/master engineers. The idea behind the campaign is to try and get us all to really think about whether we really want the dynamics squashed out of our music at the consumer end, and if there really is any kind of advantage to it (spoiler alert: no there isn’t).

The Dynamic Range Day website explains it best:

The Loudness War is a sonic “arms race” where every artist and label feel they need to crush their music onto CD at the highest possible level, for fear of not being “competitive” – and in the process removing all the contrast, all the light, shade and depth – ruining the sound.

In order to achieve these super-high levels, the music has to be squashed up against the digital maximum level “ceiling” – reducing the difference between the peak and average levels in the music. In the process, the contrast between loud and soft moments (often referred to as the dynamic range) is dramatically reduced.

(Strictly speaking, this terminology isn’t quite correct – the “Loudness War Sound” suffers from limited crest factor, low RMS variability and in the worst cases distortion. But “limited dynamic range” is an intuitive way to describe all this for Dynamic Range Day. For a more rigorous technical analysis, click here.)

Here’s a video clip that also explains it better than my words ever could:

And here’s the latest promotional video showing lots of support from some of the worlds leading engineers:

The main goal of DRD (Dynamic Range Day) is to challenge all engineers to master a track that has at least a 10dB peak-to-loudness range (DR10).  Now I whole-heartedly support and agree with all of the arguments for Dynamic Range Day, and I much prefer to listen to music with more range, and a bigger overall impact, and I do feel that all studio engineers and producers need to start working together towards these goals.  HOWEVER… There’s bit of a snag when it comes to EDM (and by that, I mean Electronic Dance Music in general, not the more recent genre that seems to have stolen the abbreviation from the rest of the industry).  The thing is, when it comes to the consumer listening experience, we have technology like the iTunes “Sound Check” which automatically adjusts all music to -16LUFS (a somewhat new standard in average dynamic range measurements) which is all great.  iTunes Radio also has that enabled for all streams, and I understand that many other digital radio stations are doing the same.  This means that it’s pointless for an engineer to squash the life out of a track to make it “louder” because it actually won’t appear any “louder” once it’s be readjusted in broadcast.

Now for almost all genres across the spectrum from Classical to Rock, this is moving forward at a steady pace.  Reason being, most Rock fans buy the CD (or download) of their favourite band, and then go to see them play live in a venue where mix levels can be completely different to the studio recording.  But when it comes to EDM, things are a little different.  Although most electronic music is of course also on the radio and being streamed online, the key focus is usually within the context of a DJ playing the final master recording at a nightclub.  Even worse, is that the DJ has to mix multiple tracks together, fading from one to another seamlessly, which means that every track is competing against each other side-by-side, and everyone on the dance floor is unknowingly judging them by their appeared loudness.

Of course, the loudness war is still detrimental to the clubbing experience, but there doesn’t seem to be any movement in trying to change this.  I still receive promos regularly hitting a Dynamic Range of DR3 or DR4, and I would say the vast majority of promos I get are around a DR6 reading which is still pretty darn squashed.  I also know that with some dance music, there’s actually very little room in the first place when all synths are using square waves and the drums are over-compressed on purpose for artistic intent before they even reach the mastering engineers desk, but with these issues all combined, I wonder if perhaps the goal of DR10 will actually happen?

I wonder if perhaps we need to also campaign for night clubs to start using some form of the iTunes “Sound Check” technology to start balancing out the overall experience?  Is this even possible to achieve in realtime?

I don’t have the answers myself, but hopefully by reading this post you’re at least now aware of the loudness war and what Dynamic Range Day is trying to achieve.

HeRe’S tO tHe FuTuRe…

UPDATE (06-03-2015 @11:48):

For another interesting read about EDM and dynamics from Ian Shepherd, head here: http://productionadvice.co.uk/edm-dynamics/

And for a superb video example of how Skrillex sounds way better with a bigger dynamic range, head here: http://productionadvice.co.uk/skrillex-dynamics/