A few months ago I attended a songwriters conference and learned about the mastering volume war that mainstream music has engaged in. Have a quick listen to some old tracks (60’s and 70’s) on your iTunes, then listen to something new (John Mayer).
Notice a difference? Does it feel like the new music is screaming at you. Check the volume. You didn’t change anything. All that has been modified is the tastes of music mixers and master-ers.
Modern music has left the idea of subtlety behind. Especially on records that have any potential of radio play. The idea is that you need to stand out from the last song played. If you stand out, the public will buy more records, but we all know how that went. Yet the overall loudness is still present.
I ran across this great NME article about the important role that mixing and mastering has had on albums. The article gives great examples of mixing and mastering mistakes that have happened to some great bands. Metallica’s new record Death Magnetic is particularly interesting because even the head engineer on the record has disowned it. There is no subtlety, only one thick wall of sound. And as laughable as it sounds some Metallica fans prefer the Rock Band version (more dynamics) to the official album version.
Metallica were never really a subtle band but they still had space in between their music. That was what made it truly powerful. Miles Davis is famous for saying “Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there”. The idea that music is really about the space in between notes has been missed by many artists and record producers. It’s all about dynamics.
Take Control of Your Music,