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Music Entertainment

Quiet Victories Won In the Loudness Wars 251

Stowie101 writes with a few pieces from an article on what's been happening in the fight against over-compressed radio music and deafening tv commercials: "The first major step towards the elimination of heavily-compressed music could be the International Telecommunications Union's ... measurement of loudness that was ... revised in 2011. ... Acting to rectify the problem on the broadcast side of the issue, many European and Asian broadcasters are adopting loudness standards that are based on the criteria first introduced by the ITU. Here in the U.S., the federal government has also been proactive to improve the quality of broadcast television. By the end of 2012, the broadcast community will have to follow the CALM Act that requires commercials to be played at the same volume as broadcast television. In terms of music and recording, these broadcast standards do not apply. But Shepherd theorizes the measurement standards will be applied to the production of music. 'Measuring loudness, in general, isn't easy. Now the ITU has agreed on a new "loudness unit:" the LU. You can measure short- and longer-term loudness over a whole song. They've also agreed on guidelines for broadcast; what the average loudness should be and how much you can vary it. The recommendation has been made law in the U.S. for advertisements and is also being adopted in the U.K. and all over the world. All the major broadcasters here — Sky, the BBC, ITV — have agreed to follow the standard.'"
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Quiet Victories Won In the Loudness Wars

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  • The what? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Zadaz ( 950521 ) on Monday June 25, 2012 @11:04PM (#40448215)

    "By the end of 2012, broadcast televisionâ¦"

    Broadcast what?

    Oh, I think I've heard of this. It's like YouTube if you could only choose one of 6 videos to watch, someone else decided when to hit "play" and they made you watch 3 minutes of ads for every 7 minutes of video.

    • Re:The what? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by artor3 ( 1344997 ) on Monday June 25, 2012 @11:35PM (#40448431)

      Oh ho ho, aren't you clever? Some of us still like watching sports, or the first runs of shows that we can enjoy with friends. Getting high def on a big screen without needing half a dozen different solutions to pipe it over from the PC is also quite nice. "It just works", you know? No need to worry about blockiness or buffering or the audio being out of sync.

      Seriously though, what point are you trying to make? That the law is unnecessary because "nobody" watches TV? If so, I posit that you don't know very many people.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DogDude ( 805747 )
        He's right. TV is really just for the old and the dull, now. I mean, really... paying out the ass to be force fed advertisements? I know that's seen as "normal", and has been for a long time, but objectively, that's insane.
        • That's a very fitting description; "the old and the dull". I could not agree more, that's exactly how I view people that watch TV these days. My parents generation still watches TV, but everyone else I know and my siblings stream/torrent their content.

          I remember reading this article about an ABC executive and her daughter, it described the new reality very well:
          http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/04/business/media/04hulu.html?_r=1&ref=global [nytimes.com]

          • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Tuesday June 26, 2012 @10:30AM (#40452187) Homepage Journal

            I'm 60 and I stopped paying for cable a long time ago. I have an antenna for local news, the bar down the street for sports, and the internet for everything else.

            Thirty years ago cable made sense. Ten bucks a month of ad-free watching (except local shows) including HBO, and it was long before Discovery and History and other such "educational" channels stopped educating and started sucking.

            If they would offer networks by the channel (I refuse to pay for the Golf channel and the cooking channel and BET and LifeTime) for two bucks a channel, they might get ten or fifteen bucks a month from me again. But fifty bucks for a hundred channels of pure crap when I might watch five or ten once in a great while? I'd be a fool.

            The end of the loudness wars (if this is accurate) came way too little and way too late for me.

        • He's right. TV is really just for the old and the dull, now. I mean, really... paying out the ass to be force fed advertisements?

          I pay may for my internet than I do for my cable... My internet forces me to watch way more ads than my tv does. At least i can fast forward through the tv commercials (if I wasn't so lazy)

    • by Trogre ( 513942 )

      Oh, I think I've heard of this. It's like YouTube if you could only choose one of 6 videos to watch, someone else decided when to hit "play" and they made you watch 3 minutes of ads for every 7 minutes of video.

      Don't worry, YouTube are working on that last one.

    • Oh, I think I've heard of this. It's like YouTube if you could only choose one of 6 videos to watch, someone else decided when to hit "play" and they made you watch 3 minutes of ads for every 7 minutes of video.

      And there's no comments section to concentrate the collective stupidity of mankind.

      • >And there's no comments section to concentrate the collective stupidity of mankind.

        I thought that was what Fox News was for ?

  • by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Monday June 25, 2012 @11:20PM (#40448345) Homepage Journal

    The summary is conflating so many issues.

    Yes, loud commercials are obnoxious.

    Yes, overly compressed music diminishes it. In a good listening environment a nice dynamic range is good.

    But compression isn't inherently bad. Large dynamic range stinks in my car, which is loud (I need to do something about the gasket by the driver's window). It stinks on the crappy speakers on my netbook and the built-in speakers on this display I'm using now.

    It can help (with a limiter) in having to keep going to the volume bar too, or for watching a movie at night when you don't want to wake the kids.

    If anybody wants some automatic control for PulseAudio I hacked up a workable solution [youtube.com] last summer, just 'cause I got annoyed one day. PA makes it a bitch to install these things, but I've got an SRPM at least for the library. Need to write a short doc and send the patches upstream still, but drop me a line if you want it anyway.

    • Yeah, but the point is that the signal should arrive at your playback system in a neutral fashion, and then you can set your car stereo to compress the signal (nearly all stereos made after about 1995 will have a loudness option).

      • and then you can set your car stereo to compress the signal (nearly all stereos made after about 1995 will have a loudness option).

        The "loudness" control on all the stereos I have has nothing to do with compression, it deals with changing the eq so that the volume of each frequency band is increased proportionately to the human ear's interpretation of "loud". I don't recall the specifics, but it has to do with low frequencies either being emphasized or deemphasized as the "loudness" goes up.

        One of them has both a volume and loudness control. You change the loudness when you want to make the sound louder and properly reproduced and do

  • by Tore S B ( 711705 ) on Monday June 25, 2012 @11:26PM (#40448371) Homepage

    I'm a broadcast tech at a license-funded TV station in Norway, so we don't have to deal with advertising volume jumps, but in general, we aim to follow the already-established EBU recommendation 128, which specifies loudness.

    Indeed, the spec is publically available: http://tech.ebu.ch/docs/r/r128.pdf [tech.ebu.ch]

    • As a fellow Norwegian I wonder how long it will matter? While your employer, Norwegian Public Television and Radio (NRK) is very innovative with its open source, free BitTorrent and multi-platform content streaming I foresee a bleak future. I imagine the costs are simply going to skyrocket with the future demands for streaming and development.

      Small European public broadcasters like ours are bound to either lose their access to license funding, have to accept commercials or must ask parliament to introduce n

      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        I don't see that happening in Norway at the moment due to public opposition to such "unfair" taxes. It would be far better if it was done over the national budget without the extra cost of invoicing students, families and the elderly. As one of the many that don't have a TV, don't pay the TV license and rarely watch your content, I strongly oppose more licenses. I would not mind paying a fee if I actually watched your content.

        Well I do have a TV, I do pay the license because I have a subscription to other channels but I rarely if ever watch NRK and wouldn't pay for it if I had the choice. And despite you not paying, you can watch pretty much anything you want at nrk.no/nett-tv [nrk.no]. It is just not fair at all. I think it's long overdue that the NRK license either moved to either being a subscription service or a public service, tying it to whether you have a TV receiver or not was probably a good idea in 1960s when they had a monopol

        • Yes, that was my point as well, I am very aware of their excellent streaming and the NRK Beta bittorrent offers. If I were interested in using them I would not mind paying, as I mentioned in my first comment.

          NRK has in fact asked for a license fee on all PCs, capable smartphones and TVs for this very reason. I understand the logic behind that request. It was denied and for good reasons. It is not "fair" to require non-users to pay for a service they don't want. The current license is tied to the ownership o

      • by Tore S B ( 711705 ) on Tuesday June 26, 2012 @05:31AM (#40450211) Homepage

        Taking off my trainee broadcast engineer hat now, and making this argument only as an individual here: Don't forget that much like a free press benefits a society whether or not you read the papers, the value delivered to society by media independent of commercial interests goes far beyond whether or not you actually watch it yourself.

        The nature of publically licensed media is diametrically opposed to the nature of advertisement-funded ones. With ad-funded TV, the viewer is not the customer, but the product. The repercussions this fact has in every aspect of content productions are difficult to overstate.

        Since the commercial pressure is alleviated, the networks also tend to be more informative and less tabloid. Which in turn means that voters are better informed about which representatives serve their interests - which means that everyone is more likely to get a fair shake in life.

        The proportion of the cost to television networks of distribution versus production has been steadily declining ever since television began. Largely the cost now lies in content production. But I certainly agree: The definition of what constitutes a television will become irrelevant in a surprisingly short amount of time, so it's also a significant political challenge.

        Putting on my Labour Youth member hat now to view this from a political angle: NRK needs to be completely independent from short-term political fluctuations, and must never be afraid to challenge the powers that be. The license has proven to be an excellent way of doing this, and folding it into the state budget has not. The solution is not obvious, but we need one. I've wondered that perhaps a constitutional amendment might be a good way to go about this. A free press bound to its stock holders' interests is not free. The country needs a press outlet which isn't so obsessed about ratings that they're afraid to discuss boring but important news.

  • Great. Now what are they gonna do about the loudness wars being waged every day by the children in my neighborhood? I finally got the brats off my lawn, now can they get 'em to STFU? It's like living in the Amazon basin next to a colony of howler monkeys.

    • Where I live, we solved that problem over a decade ago. Police officers carry V.U. meters and will issue citations for being too loud. We have ordinances that dictate that your music can't be heard from a certain distance from your car and we have noise ordinances that go into effect after 10pm. It worked surprising well. I live in the second largest city in my state, so it's not a small town with a friendly sheriff named Andy (Andy Griffin Show reference).

      There was only one instance (that I remember) wher

  • Lets not forget we are NOT talking about file compression here but audio Compression that adjusts the gain on an audio analogue input.

    Leaving out the discussion of Ad loudness, I always marvel at the many different ways that compression can be used in audio production. It's so easy to get it wrong and I always give it a lot of attention when I produce audio. There is aart in it :-) and the thing about using compression right is not to crush the transients that give music dynamic range. It terms of an emot

  • Everything should just be produced/engineered/mastered with the Replaygain 89 dB target in mind. All albums should come out needing zero correction to meet that, leaving all the more dynamic range intact. All TV soundtracks should be that loud, too. Movies used to follow a similar standard, and should again.

    • by bipbop ( 1144919 )
      RMS and loudness aren't the same thing.
      • Replaygain isn't RMS. It uses RMS as a starting point for its calculations - but it also takes psychoacoustics into account. One thing it does is use sort of an equalization curve while measuring the loudness, that compensates for how humans perceive different frequencies. We perceive a tone measuring x dB at 1 kHz as being louder than a tone of x dB at 15 kHz. Just as 1 example. It also takes into account variations in loudness (aka dynamics) within a track - louder and quieter segments of music. I'm not s
    • Movies have started to improve with THX certification. Over compressed crud doesn't pass muster. Now if we can get THX certified CD recordings to match.

      An explosion sounds impressive in the movies due to the dynamic range. An explosion on McGuyver does not rattle anything because it is compressed so talking is loud enough. If TV didn't compress programs, the commercials would be at explosion levels.

  • by WinstonWolfIT ( 1550079 ) on Tuesday June 26, 2012 @12:16AM (#40448717)

    Music is compressed because it's played in crappy environments: low end players, cars, etc. These days, cars come with compression features in their sound systems so that you can listen to something more high-end such as classical without breaking your ear drums in the loud sections in order to hear the quiet sections at all. Back in the day there was an astute observation that rock should sound great on a crappy radio.

  • by el_flynn ( 1279 ) on Tuesday June 26, 2012 @02:28AM (#40449399) Homepage

    People need to remember that one of the reasons the "loudness wars" started in the first place was producer/label/artist A wanted his song/album to sound "louder" than producer/label/artist B. The question is, why?

    A very simple answer: "louder" is almost always perceived as better. It's about standing out above the rest.

    Take for example - given a set of 20 songs played in a club, all at roughly the same "loudness". Along comes one track which is "louder" than the rest. Chances are very high that more people in the club will take notice of this track. We're predispositioned to perceiving anomalies in our everyday lives, so something that is out of the ordinary (e.g. the louder track in this example) grabs our attention more than the other tracks. And at that point, the crowd would go "man, that track is really pumping".

    The other issue is that the mastering engineer (who makes these kinds of calls about how "loud" or "hot" a track is before getting burnt to the master) is being paid to do something according to his client's needs. So if the producer wants the track louder, and is the one footing the bill, then there's not much the mastering engineer can do. So if the paymaster wants a loud track, that's what he will get. If mastering engineer A sticks to his guns, the producer's just going to go to another mastering house, which will mean revenue lost.

    Another way to put it - if the customer wants to buy Windows NT and is dead set on this, no amount of enlightening by the consultant about the benefits of a Unix-based platform is going to change what the customer wants.

    So yeah, these two factors combine and the result: the loudness wars.

  • by Zobeid ( 314469 ) on Tuesday June 26, 2012 @03:33AM (#40449723)

    "Some people are actually ripping vinyl because some labels are releasing vinyl with more dynamic mastering."

    I've seen this. The last few Rush CDs were sonically crushed. I just got their latest (Clockwork Angels) on vinyl, and the dynamic range is practically back to 1980s levels. I also got The Cult's Choice of Weapon (a nifty set with one full LP plus a 12-inch 45-RPM EP on white vinyl) which is a bit compressed, but definitely not crushed. It's faintly ridiculous that LPs are becoming the premium format, even though I'm quite sure that CDs can sound better when mastered properly -- but okay, at least it's possible to get my hands on a non-crushed version of the recording. I'll take it.

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