'Loudness', the music industry and vinyl: a happy accident?

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by norliss, Oct 11, 2017.

  1. Sid Hartha

    Sid Hartha Well-Known Member

    The Midwest
    Typical advice I've gotten from mastering engineers when submitting digital files for vinyl production:
    Chicago Mastering Service--CD and Vinyl Mastering Facility in Chicago, IL
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  2. mr. steak

    mr. steak Forum Resident

    tempe az
    A lot of very popular music is created using primarily samples and synths. They worry about the sub bass frequencies. Texture and manipulation is way more important than arrangement/composition. This is what they want to hear.
  3. 131east23

    131east23 Forum Resident

    Last night we went to a small local show, The Acrocats, which is a group of trained cats and their trainers. Totally fun and worthwhile. The little theater had a decent sound system and prior to the show they were playing all kinds of cat related songs and music. I bring this up because most of the music they played was messy sounding and unfamiliar, basically newer stuff. Suddenly, Al Stewert's "Year of the Cat" was being played on the same system that was giving us all this muddy music and it was so crystal clear and beautiful. For a few minutes the music was really part of the environment, not just background noise. In those situations, I feel like I am the only one that notices stuff like that.
  4. Tartifless

    Tartifless Forum Resident

    You know it could be the exact same master, as DR measurement is completely irrelevant for vinyl records.
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  5. dkmonroe

    dkmonroe A completely self-taught idiot

    Well, they don't sound the same, I can tell you that. The CD is very unpleasant to listen to but the LP sounds great.

    DR measurement doesn't really apply to LP's, but to digital rips of LP's, but still I think it does suggest that what you hear from the LP may be more dynamic than what you hear from the CD.
  6. InStepWithTheStars

    InStepWithTheStars It's a miracle, let it alter you

    Ah, okay. My mistake.
    I seriously doubt the "industry people" are bothered by it at all. For 20 years they've been told that louder is better. Thus, it must be. Baa, baa, baa.
  7. Vaughan

    Vaughan Forum Resident

    Nice initial po
    Nice post.

    Conspiracy theories are everywhere these days, a chicken can't lay an egg without some nefarious organization being accused of squeezing it out of them. I don't think there is any conspiracy here though.

    When it comes to the audience, the consumers of the music, I really don't things have changed all that much since the 70's. Most people have never cared about the concerns and considerations of audiophiles. When Vinyl was the standard, plenty of people used cassette tapes, made mixtapes, dubs. People also listened on AM stations, MW, and LW. They listened on rubbish walkmans, in crap radios in their cars, and on cheap stereos. It has always been this way. Audiophiles are a small subset of music lovers, always have been, and always will be, since there is a cost barrier to it, along with concerns above and beyond simply music.

    The one thing that I think is always overlooked is the difference between being a so-called "audiophile", and being someone who appreciates music. These are not the same thing, but they're not mutually exclusive either. I've known so called "audiophiles" who listen to their equipment, and not the music, and I'm sure others have too. At the same time, my own love for music was born from my developmental years listening on really really poor equipment. I swear, I appreciated music and its nuances as much then as I do now, although I have better equipment now. Having good equipment though does not automatically mean a person can better appreciate music, the equation is far more complex than that, imo.

    That said, what of the Loudness Wars etc? One thing is clear, the music industry as far as recordings are concerned, has always been about selling physical product. It's the only model they've really known. Even artists in the past have relied on selling physical product to buy their cars, mansions, drugs, and to set them up for life. Today that's pretty much only achievable by constant touring, but in the 70's a lot of people got mighty rich by putting out slabs of Vinyl.

    This is the dilemma of the music industry. The move from Vinyl to CD was a benefit to both the industry and the consumer. For the industry they got to reissue all their back catalog (something they're now repeating as they swing back to Vinyl, I'm sure to much boardroom applause). They also got a smaller, cheaper product to make. Quality control was easier, I'd guess there are less returns since damage in transit is less of an issue etc. Redbook, for all the gnashing of teeth, is perfectly adequate if done right. It encompasses the full range of human hearing, and has the ability to present a full range of dynamics. The problem is, we see this illustrated on too few occasions (it's important at this point to acknowledge the boutique labels who are doing reissues right, such as the various works Steve Wilson does, and that Steve Hoffman is known for). Remember though, this absence of fully exploiting the Redbook standard is a choice, a sad one.

    Of course, CD sales are declining. I do however think we need to keep this in perspective. The medium is being replaced not because it is inferior, but because the way people consume music has changed. Walkmans gave way to MP3 players, MP3 players gave way to smartphones, and individual files are giving way to streaming. It's the consumption model that is changing, it's not a reaction against CD as much as it is a move over to newer forms of consumption and convenience.

    Now, I can be intransigent. I have a few Gb, maybe 100Gb or more truth be told, of various MP3 and FLAC files on my systems. I could cut down the music I purchase by a good 70% in all likelihood by going purely digital, and more if I was willing to take on board streaming (which isn't free at the top end, but is still a lot cheaper than buying a copy myself). But the thing is, a FLAC file is not a CD. A CD is physical product. It's not just that the industry is wed to selling physical product, many (older) consumers are too. I admit, I just can't get along with downloads and streaming. I can do it just fine. I just don't enjoy the process. That extends beyond simply listening. I have 100Gb of digital music files - yet don't think I have a collection at all. I'd guess youngsters feel much differently. I very rarely listen to those digital files.

    It begs the question, what is a collection? For me a collection is a carefully curated journey through it's subject. When I go out and buy a CD I'm endorsing that release in some way. I'm saying, I like this music/artist, I've worked and earned money and I'm willing to give some of that money to the artist/label, and to give it space in my home. With digital files I am much more random. In fact, I might download something just because the title sounds like it might be fun. I'm not as personally invested in its selection. When I tried the digital file switch I did indeed find that I listened to a lot more artists, and a lot more releases. But, I enjoyed the whole thing less. I was playing things because I could play them, not because I really wanted to hear them. I found I replayed material less. I also found I spent hours getting crap software interfaces to display the types of information that was printed on the back of every record and CD I'd ever owned. Madness. For me. Again, I'm old. I'm afraid a set of FLAC files are just that for me, files. It's a data stream. A Word document, a video, the protocols we use to communicate on the web, the very screen we're looking at right now are all data streams of one kind or another. Music files are just another one of those, and I can't separate them out. In other words, they're pretty much valueless. A CD costs me, say, $12. I get something physical to keep, and I get the music. With a digital file I can grab it for free, despite the best interests of the authorities, and can store, delete, alter any way I want. It's not the same (for me!)

    The DR debacle is exactly what it looks like. It's not in my view a conspiracy. Given the way most music is consumed these days it actually does sound better. Which I know is like chewing on broken glass for audiophiles. However, if this were truly not the case, then I don't think the music industry would have continued with compression. I absolutely agree with most members here at SH Forum that it mostly sounds horrid, but we're not the majority, and most of us are not consuming music using these inferior methods. We have to face the facts. For example, I love to drive, but driving for me is 99% about getting from point A to point B. My vehicles need to do that, and beyond that I'm not much fussed. I don't need a new car every couple years. I don't need a vehicle costing $50k. I don't even need a working radio. Hell, I had an old car where the electric windows no longer worked, the lining on the roof was peeling off, and there was a oil stain in the passenger side foot well, and I was quite happy with it (I hasten to add, I actually bought it this way). To car lovers, this is no doubt fingernails on a chalkboard. People spend an awful lot on vehicles that only go to the same places mine do. They love their vehicles, whereas for me they're a method, not a lifestyle.

    So, it isn't that the mass audience don't care about music, they just don't care about buying expensive equipment, limiting what they can listen to, or having lots of micro-transactions for the various tracks they want. They want music on the go, and don't see a need for two or three devices when one will do. They don't want a collection of CD's in their backpack when they can stream from the net. It's a consumer driven market, and the market is driving into music consumption that doesn't fit all that well with an old industry - the music industry - that has always been slow to change.

    Actually, the main criticism I have of the music industry is that it has consistently been unable or unwilling to predict the future. It seems that the industry waits until its hands are forced, and then oversteer in an effort to swerve a problem that really could, and should, have been lucrative progress. So for example, the industry ends up handing Apple - who had no investment in making music - billions of $'s. That didn't have to happen, it wasn't inevitable. The problem was, the industry wasn't at the table. Instead they were stuck behind desks fretting over minutia.

    I know I'm going to get bashed for another long post, but I have a little more to add for the 1% of forum members who would ever get this far (I added a .75% to that number to appease a fragile ego).

    Sadly, I remember the 60's. I remember the 70's, the 80's. I grew up in a time when Vinyl was king (I even have some of my grandparents old 78's). On principle, I've nothing against Vinyl.

    In the 80's, I switched to CD. It wasn't that I didn't like the way Vinyl sounded, it was because CD had, and has, some inherent benefits over Vinyl. Mastered correctly, it sounds great. It also means I can hear 80 minutes of music in one shot. I can get true silence. I can (accidentally, of course) mishandle it and it won't need replacing. I can loan it to friends and not live in fear of getting it back covered in dust, scratched, or otherwise altered. I can store many more of them in the same amount of space. I can play them in my home, in my car, and on my hip without having to copy files or otherwise mess about. I can even trust my wife to touch them. CD has been a revelation over the years. From the inclusion of cuts made to fit Vinyl's running time, to track running orders that weren't dictated by how bass response on Vinyl changes as the groove moves toward the center, to the addition of bonus tracks and on and on. We tend to take a lot of that for granted these days.

    Still, there's no denying that the music industry, once again, has managed to get it all wrong. I won't deny they're busy destroying themselves. There's no good reason Robert Plant's new album is DR 6. There's no reason Steve Earle's new album is actually distorted in places. We have CD's of DR14. The industry perceived that with some compression they could gain a (dubious) advantage, but weren't smart enough to stop there. Would we be where we are today if they'd moved to DR 12, DR10? Probably not. But DR 6? WTF. It's like they're building a nice new home for you, but busting out all the windows before you move in to give the place more of a country ambience. Madness.

    So, some people have moved back to Vinyl (or indeed, never left). As I see it, this is a well worn path I've been through several times. To all intents and purposes, and two generations at least, Vinyl is new. So it's got this elite attitude along with it. It's sold at a premium price. A level of hip snobbery is sometimes involved as people fall over themselves to buy colored Vinyl, fake "Limited Edition" pressings, and various other trinkets and occasions, such as the perfectly horrid "Record Store Day", which may well have started with good intentions but have now devolved into a marketeers wet dream where the record buying public fall into a delirious brawl laced with pangs of angst; don't even get me started on the music "investors".

    I have been fortunate because I've side-stepped much of the DR issue. My musical tastes, while starting with pop and rock, moved quite significantly over the years to a point where I listen mostly to Jazz, Classical, and electronic, which - wonderfully - I've found is largely devoid of the issue. Still, that doesn't mean I avoid it completely. I really did want that Steve Earle album, and I was very much looking forward to the new Robert Plant. But here's the thing - I held off buying them until I knew what I was going to get. Once I found they did not exist in a usable fashion in the medium I use, I go without. My disappointment is momentary, I have trouble finding time to listen to all I want as it is. The way to beat them, is to take away the dollars. I'm not getting into a game where I'm format shopping.

    But why don't I just go back to Vinyl? Well, a couple reasons, one big, one smaller but not insignificant. The smaller is that I really don't want to go back to paying $20 or more per recording. I'm sorry, but given the choice of buying 2 or more albums on CD, or one on Vinyl, then the choice is easy to make. My tastes are wide, and the older I get, the larger the wish list (I always assumed it would go the other way, alas not). I work to a budget, and the prices of some of the Vinyl I'd want just makes me laugh.

    A larger issue though is something else entirely. You see, I'm not completely opposed to change. I'm not wed to CD. I am wed to some of its benefits (listed earlier), but not redbook. I not only could be persuaded to change, to an extent I have changed. That change though, is not going to be Vinyl. The future I could buy into is Blu-Ray. Blu Ray addresses the so-called limitations of redbook by giving us high resolution music. It's data storage capabilities means that some artists entire output can fit on a single disc. I can have a new stereo mix, an original mix, a surround sound mix, video, and text content, all in one place! It's possible.

    Of course, the industry is once again aiming the gun at their feet. The adoption of this logical successor to the humble CD is slow, and often half-hearted (hell, now they're making far too much from Vinyl.) They region lock some Blu-Ray. The packaging is sometimes feeble. They're afraid of giving away the crown jewels. If they give us the highest resolution possible, they are afraid they'll have given away their content and will have nowhere else to go (or so it seems). It's this very fear that has dogged them forever. They bumble and stumble along, rather than leading the way. So we have the worst of all worlds. We have music brutalized on CD's (which is not the fault of CD or redbook, but of the label), we have Vinyl that costs far too much, we have inadequate supplies of alternative physical media, and Amazon, Apple, Spotify, and Google skim off profit that could have gone to them, if only they'd been switched on.

    It's a shame. It's also done with the applause of much of the audience who don't seem to realize that there's no win in choosing a format, because as a music loving collective, we're all in it together.
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  8. stax o' wax

    stax o' wax Forum Resident

    The West
    As far as the industry goes you couldn't find a more incompetent and greedy bunch outside of Washington D.C.

    I like this post and agree with most of it's premise.

    16/44 is now antiquated technology but can be up-sampled if necessary.
    All things being equal well mastered/pressed Lp's on a very good table will outperform redbook....
    24/96k is a perceivable improvement over 16/44 in a system capable of revealing that higher resolution and dynamic range.
    But if the dynamic range is not on the master used for press.......I myself have sought out vintage vinyl with fair success in these situations.
    Newer releases we are at the mercy of the current incompetence.

  9. Vaughan

    Vaughan Forum Resident

    I'd need to do a proper study, but my general impression is that the music business has been having "New Coke" moments at least monthly since the 70's. It is staggering how often they have missed signposts, and continue to do so. Even to this day they put out box sets missing key ingredients, masterings that are butchered, a madhatter's ball of anniversary releases...... Then how they've handed their product to streaming sites who appear to actively work against the interest of musicians..... Just stunnin, I agree. I think they're beyond hope. When a software company cares more about sound quality than a record label, you're in BIG trouble.
  10. Robert C

    Robert C Forum Resident

    London, UK
    I noticed that too. The sound from my TV goes through my hi-fi. It was the worst my system had ever sounded! :eek:
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  11. Scope J

    Scope J Forum Resident

    Suppose they gave a Loudness War and nobody came.
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  12. This is an absolutely wonderful post and I entirely agree with everything said within. Well done!
    smokey545 likes this.
  13. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    I think you have a couple of misapprehensions here -- vinyl is still a tiny, tiny portion of the music industry dollar volume. Yeah, vinyl sales have been growing, but it's not really been a "shot in the arm" for the recorded music industry. Streaming -- and the enormous growth in revenue from streaming -- has delivered a shot in the arm to the recorded music industry. I talked to a friend at a major label a couple of months ago and he said basically for the first time in a decade people are breathing easier in the industry because streaming's numbers have stabilized the business. Vinyl is still a niche, novelty product -- we're talking about 10 million units sold total in a year in the U.S., vs 450 billion streams. Even sales of CDs, although shrinking, vastly outpace sales of vinyl -- last year 50 million CDs were sold in the U.S. vs. 9+ million LPs. And vinyl sales growth from 2016 to 2017 to date has been 3.1%; streaming's growth has been more than 40%. Vinyl is a small niche market inside the recorded music market as a whole, that's not driving big dollar or unit volumes or strategic decision-making.

    You also say "Even amongst people that are about as far removed from the audiophile community as possible (i.e. the Crossley-owning teen) there is a perception/belief that vinyl sounds better than CD/digital download/streaming..." I don't know that that's true either; I don't think that among the general public there's a perception that vinyl sounds better than digital.

    Outside of some kind of desire to serve a specialty market for one reason or another, vinyl and mastering music for vinyl are going to have no broad impact on how music sounds or how music is made. Streaming and mastering music for streaming will.
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2017
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  14. Raunchnroll

    Raunchnroll Forum Resident

    Avoid brickwalled music. Problem solved.
  15. norliss

    norliss Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Cardiff, Wales
    I'm aware that the level of vinyl sales is small beer compared to the 80s (and prior) but I maintain it has been a shot (albeit perhaps not a massive one) to the industry. If it hasn't been, why are they embracing it so heavily?

    You'll notice I didn't say "universally held". I've lost count of the number of the number of times I've heard/read comments from said demographic to suggest that quality is a big factor, so I stand by this.

    On that, I agree with you 100% albeit unfortunate that it is the case.
  16. yamfox

    yamfox Forum Resident

    I think we're in a weird impasse as far as loudness goes - some albums, like LCD Soundsystem, Mac DeMarco, John Maus, Leonard Cohen, and Fiest's latest records are being released digitally with MUCH more sensible mastering than they would have received a decade ago (DR9s and 10s), and recent remasters of older material have largely followed suit in easing up on the compression and limiting. We even got a mainstream metal album by Avenged Sevenfold released with a DR12 score!
    But others like Beck, Coldplay, and Nine Inch Nails are releasing albums that are absurdly squashed to a Death Magnetic-level (DR3s and 4s), worse than any of their previous records.

    The industry can't seem to definitively decide what direction it wants to go in, and I think it's because we're still in a transition phase given Spotify implemented normalization as standard and dropped the default RMS level only very recently. But I do hope that the positive trends continue for all but the modern pop music for which the extreme compression defines the intended sound. For other genres the purpose of doing so has greatly diminished with the average listener's switch to streaming platforms.
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  17. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    I'm not sure it is "so heavily." There's money there so a company will go there if the money to be made there exceeds to cost of chasing the opportunity. There's also a cool factor marketing aspect to it. But I don’t think the recorded music industry is going all-in on vinyl. It's been a very slow, tender embrace. There are people in the biz who grew up with vinyl, who love vinyl (the art directors like having the space to work with in the packaging), but I don't think there's a widespread impression among people at the record companies that vinyl is any kind of savior. Streaming though, that they see as light at the end of the tunnel.
    Robert C likes this.
  18. norliss

    norliss Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Cardiff, Wales
    I agree that it isn't some kind of saviour and I don't think the record companies see it as such. As I said in my original post, I don't think they're convinced of its longevity in any case.
  19. Dillydipper

    Dillydipper Sultan Of Snark

    I don't see any conspiracy here; what I see is, the recording industry doesn't want the public to realize they are not both after the same thing. In fact, they don't want an "identity" in your lives at all - that's what the recording artists are for.

    Thirty+ years of attending radio and broadcasting conventions, occasionally one gets to ask a record representative a question about sound quality of their product. The answer always comes back, "well, research proves the public doesn't care about sound quality". It's almost delivered incredulously, as in, 'how DARE you be so STUPID as to ask this!'. God help you if you ask this question in a crowded session during question-and-answer time.

    So I always ask the second question: "If you have proof they don't care...then why bother making it LOUDER in the first place? Why pay for the extra work? And while we're on that...how much research have you ever done to find out if the public thinks YOU don't care about the sound quality of your own product?"

    This is often when they have to catch a plane, and they don't have time to have this "debate". But meybe plenty of time for a blank stare.
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  20. jgkojak

    jgkojak Mull of Kansas

    Lawrence, KS
    I think the original reason for "loudness" was to make music standout on broadcast or streaming devices, where a majority of people listen to music.

    Once they figured out that people will pay for unbrickwalled product, I DO think, very recently (last 3 years) have decided to make the standard purchase digital format virtually unlistenable to force the real fans to pay for something decent.
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  21. motownboy

    motownboy Forum Resident

    Washington State
    Thank you! You singlehandedly and also are the first to explain the reason for the loudness wars and the general mentality of the music industry, which I think addresses the OPs comments.
  22. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    I think that's because it's not like there's a cabal of industry leaders sitting around deciding how to master records. It's more of a piecemeal decision by artists and producers and management and labels on a project by project basis, and then if something becomes popular -- a certain sound (like all those gated reverb drums in the '80s; or all that Distressor distorted vocal stuff 15, 20 years ago), other people start chasing similar sounds, so a particular thing becomes a trend, but not because it's part of a strategic sonic plan, it's reactionary and then it becomes convention. It's not like there's an overarching coherent strategic industrywide policy or strategy. People are making recordings they want audiences to like and listen to and buy or choose to stream, and maybe they're deciding that means it needs to sound hot, or modern, or popping. And with each individual recording there are a bunch of people in the decision-making chain: artists, producers, management, etc. And then you have the changing consumer preferences with respect to format and listening devices, which all these decision makers try variously to respond to. No one is making something they think sounds bad or with the intention for audiences to hate the way it sounds.
  23. Jose Jones

    Jose Jones Outstanding Forum Member

    Detroit, Michigan
    That shows you what people's priorities are these days. Thus, the catering of music recording, mastering, playback, and selling is all based around said "disposable" phone.
  24. Somerset Scholar

    Somerset Scholar Forum Resident

    I think the OP is right to talk about a shot in the arm as the PROFITS from vinyl must be considerable. My local HMV is charging some crazy prices. My local Fopp store too. It is not just a case of numbers although in this area, vinyl is certainly still "small fry".
  25. Jose Jones

    Jose Jones Outstanding Forum Member

    Detroit, Michigan
    Joe Jackson put out his Will Power cd in the late 80s that did (IIRC) point out somehow about how dynamic it all was. I got rid of it very quickly (possibly the first ever cd I bought that I traded back for something else) so I am relying on 30 year old memory now, but the music was barely audible for a long while and then a shockingly loud trumpet blast or something made me jump out of my chair. It wasn't very pleasant listening at all, it seemed like a stereo demonstration-type of disc.
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