Bob Ludwig Says The Loudness War Is Worse Than Ever

With the advent of loudness normalization in virtually all streaming services, and in many devices too, (but not CD players), I have generally been declaring the loudness war over for the past couple of years. It is literally futile to make loud recordngs these days, (unless perhaps you are going for a CD-only release), so it’s interesting that Bob Ludwig says the practice is worse than ever.

When I am mixing/mastering for clients, I always have a consultation before doing anything, advising them of their options. Very rarely do they go for a loud master after this discussion, so I wonder if the reason for the continuation of the practice in Big-Boy-Land is simply a lack of reliable information.


I think it is because it has a certain sound, and that sound has been the sound of modern music for like 20 years. I don’t even think it’s a loudness thing anymore so much as a density thing. All that compression and limiting gives music a certain density to the sound that people are used to hearing at this point.

Didnt it used to be the mastering guys that crushed everything? Now theres Bob Ludwig complaining that the mix engineers made are making it too loud. I’d say it’s probably because they are going for that sound that has been the sound of finished records for so long now that their mixes dont sound right to them until they have that density and compression.

So, what with loudness normalization I think it’s kind of an artistic choice at this point. Over time maybe more dynamic mixes will come back into fashion, but for now the “modern sound” is loud and compressed and dense sounding because it has been that way for so long. That’s my theory anyway.


Just for kicks, grab a Steely Dan song, and then queue up an Imagine Dragons song to play immediately afterwards. (Happened to me on Apple music the other day). I had my system on a semi loud volume (I was jamming to Queen!) and the effect was jarring. I went from soft guitars and vocals, to a sheer wall of energy.

I can see where that dense mix can really get a crowd moving, but 2 or 3 songs in and my brain can’t take much more.

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About 5 seconds of an Imagine Dragons song and I cant take anymore lol. :face_vomiting: Seriously though I see what you are saying and I think there is something to be said for the wall of energy sound, but it can be taken too far as well. It also seems to be a preference thing that people either like or hate, and a lot of audio people especially seem to hate it.

I think this must be part of the reason. EDM for example was ‘born’ in the loudness war era, loud is the only type of mastering it’s ever had. My son is an EDM artist, he says you just couldn’t get away with a dynamic mix.

Listening to a very loud album all the way through is like having someone shout in your ear for 40 minutes without a break, so ironically, the net result is that often, loud albums are turned down by the listener at some point.

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I really think this is it. Music recording has never been about objective quality and has always been about “sounding professional,” and the sound of professional music is always changing. For a long time, the sound of professional music has been hyper squashed, so that’s what people do to make their music sound professional.

It sucks because some music sounds fine squashed, and other music gets completely ruined. And yet, it’s become a standard.

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Generally I agree, but with some caution: in my own experience (which could be an outlier of course), artists usually ask me to master loud - not because they like they like the sonic characterisics of a squashed recording, but specifically because they want it loud.

Right, I think this can be called the “trendy” aspect of it. Going along with the crowd, pleasing the record company executives and music critics, and audio industry peers. Of course, ultimately the fans will vote. When Punk emerged, mouths were agasp that people would actually like raw trashy music, and it shifted music history. Same with Grunge, better pull that plaid long-sleeve shirt out of the closet. :roll_eyes: And have a seat, that jam track could go on for 7 or 8 minutes. :sleeping:

Man, do I ever agree with this. It is exhausting! Like JC, I can’t take it for more than minutes at a time…

@madpsychot my brain can’t take much of Steely Dan or Imagine Dragons, but yeah…listened to original Napalm Death (Scum) and one of their new albums and the change was jarring.
The recording also was much faker, the original had that loose analogue quality while this new one was super dense, with triggered drums, etc.

@Jclampitt clients nowadays don’t want to use an engineer unless he makes it sound like a finished mastered production, In a way I like that cause the mastering guy can screw up very little and as mix engineer you retain your “sound”.

On our last EP we went for middle of the road “loud” and in comparison to most other productions we sound tame.

I think we’re actually approaching a renaissance in terms of music. I really do. Whereas my students all flocked around the “music of the day” whatever that happened to be, I hear a lot of mumblings from them about stuff just “sounding the same as everything else”. I’ve introduced a few of them to The Beatles, or 80’s pop, or 70’s prog, and each time the response is priceless. That look in their eyes that just shows you that their minds have slightly melted hearing those “new” sounds. Once they hear it, they can’t unhear it. My favourite is when they come to me months later and say stuff like “have you heard of Genesis?” It’s brilliant.

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It would be about time :beerbanger::beerbanger:

That’s exactly what young people need - a renewal of music appreciation of biblical proportions. :wink:

What were you using to play the music when you did the comparison? In what way did the production sound tame?

The digital age is often blamed for negative developments in music, but I think the internet has opened up a whole world of music to people who otherwise would not have listened to and enjoyed most of the music on their playlists.

All four of my adult chidren are just as likely to listen to music from the '70s '80s as they are contemporary recordings. This would be the equivalent of me frequently listening to music from the '40s and '50s at their age. I mean - that just didn’t happen.

Admittedly my experience with my kids constitues a very small sample size but it suggests that people today have a very eclectic taste, which is surely a good thing.

I did a recording session for a 15-year-old girl recently who attended the studio with her parents. During a break in recording she casually strated singing a song quietly to herself. It turned out to be Sister Christian by Night Ranger. I sang it with her, then asked how she knew it - bearing in mind that virtually no-one has even heard of NIght Ranger in the UK. It was the last thing I expected to hear a typical young girl singing. Her parents knew nothing about the band, or the song, it was the first time they had heard it. She said it was part of a collection that had been pre-installed on her phone when she bought it.

I took great delight in telling her all about the band, and their music. It was an uplifting experience, and one that - on a digital and technological level - simply would not have happened even 20 years ago.


I had an experience somewhat like this, but going the other way…

My father, who was 40 when I was born in 1960, grew up listening to orchestral and big-band sounds, like most of the WW2 generation. By the time I was a young teenager and heavily into 60s and 70s rock, his tastes were basically elevator music, “Muzak” for those who recall. Mantovani was big for him. He disdained and disparaged rock music in a big way.

In 1975, when I was fifteen, he had the first of two heart attacks, the second a couple years later. By the late 70s he’d undergone something of a mid-life change, his perspective really evolved on lots of things. He greatly broadened his tastes in food and drink, movies, travel, etc. I was able to get him to start listening to real music, starting with the kind of acoustic-based rock I still love to this day. Little Feat’s Waiting for Columbus was one that really had a huge effect on his musical worldview-- he loved Dixie Chicken and Old Folks Boogie in particular.

Music became one of the many ways our relationship grew stronger and stronger over the years. After I left home for college, I would always bring him a couple of CDs every time I came home to visit (a few times a year), and for his birthday and Xmas. We would sit and listen and spend great quality time together. He got into the habit of going to music stores and browsing the shelves, and talking to the staff about whatever they had playing in the store if it appealed to him. I count it as one of the great achievements of my life to have gotten him to embrace good music.

And finally the punchline: One time when I came home for a visit, he reached for a CD that he had just bought after hearing it in a store, and excitedly put it on. “Dave, you’ll love this-- have you ever heard of a guy named Eric Clapton??” (It was his Unplugged record). “Why, yes Dad, I sure have…” Completely awesome!


Tame compared to most “commercial” big label material in this genre.


Whatever it is you don’t like about your own recording, I suggest it’s nothing to do with the loudness. Your track sounds significantly louder. That’s because YT has attenuated Metallica by about 9 db, so that any advantage it had is completely negated, and all that remains is the bad side of very loud recordings - an extreme lack of dynamics.

Your recording, however, has not been attenuated by YT as much, and because it has more dynamics, it actually sounds louder - or at least it has significantly more impact.

I guess the word ‘tame’ is interpreted on an individual level, but the ‘tame’ recording is the Metallica one to my ears.

You know @AJ113 I didn’t really think much when I posted it, I just grabbed the links, but you’re right, ours sounds much louder today when compared to that Metallica track that is squashed to death.

What I was referring to are some people that bought the CD and have compared the mix and master to other CDs of that genre. If you were to play the CD next to the Metallica CD on my home system you’d notice the Metallica is almost two times as loud, but as you mentioned - on radio and other sites that employ compression that is not true :slight_smile:

That is why I asked you what you were using for playback.

CDs are problem when it comes to loudness because CD players do not have loudness normalisation. The loudness of the master is, therefore a genuine issue in cases of CD publication, and must come into the equation when making mastering decisions.

Some people make separate masters with varying levels of loudness to suit each playback platform. Others do as you did, and choose the middle ground. FWIW I do the same with my own band so you’re in very good company. :smiley:

If anyone out there in recording land is interested, I have found the optimum loudness for rock and pop to be -10 LUFS. Loud enough for a CD, but dynamic enough to kill it when streaming. You may not agree, but it’s a good ballpark figure to start with if you’re not used to this stuff.


This one almost slipped by me, I’d thought I’d just clarify:

Only radio use compression. Other platforms use loudness normalisation - an algorithm measures the perceived loudness of the track and the volume is simply turned down by a corresponding level. There is no compression involved.