What is Compression and Is it Destroying Music?


When you listen to my recordings you may notice that it doesn’t sound as loud as the mainstream stuff. Why? Don’t my engineers know how to turn the volume knob?

They do, but they don’t overdue it, because  that turns the music into a loud mush. That’s what compression does in the mainstream music if it’s a corporate decision to sound louder on the radio, instead of an artist’s decision to get the song right.

Compression is when you digitally adjust all the parts of the music.  But if misused, you get a dynamic, loud sounding music for sure – but it never can get louder and never softer.

Musicians like me who like to start slow and quiet , build to a peak, and either end high or bring it back down, are not what the mainstream music companies want. right now

When one of my songs was included in a compilation Landmark Theaters’ promotional CD with a lot of other musicians, I was ecstatic ! But when I heard it, my song sounded so quiet, so out of place. I thought it was my fault – now I know it was compression on all the others that made the striking difference.

The mainstream music you hear on major releases is compressed to give a full sound on every note –  that’s fine if you leave it at that.  My music is compressed to give a better performance – that’s fine. But  you get a generic sound that soon sounds like a loud wall of noise with no where to go if you misuse it.

The links below, give you some of the controversy on compression, (or just google ‘compression in modern recording’ and see a lot of articles on this.)

Thanks Corporate Music (the Big 3: Warners/Universal/Sony) for trying to make music even more generic , robotic, and phony.


(Hear how the Nirvana classic would sound with compression.)

(see the graph for changes from 1985 – 2007)

(The Loudness War – wikipedia)


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2 Responses to “What is Compression and Is it Destroying Music?”

  1. John C. Says:

    Thank you for the article.

    I hope it is okay to post a couple of thoughts which may well cover what you know and feel, but are so dismayed by what The Loudness Wars have done to music, might have left out.

    Audio gain compression is not specifically digital, although the signal processing can be done digitally, or in the analog domain.

    Heavily compressed program material is anything but dynamic, in fact it is the “crushing” of the dynamic range that makes EVERYTHING loud, leaving typically 2-4 dB of dynamic range for non classical, non acoustic music.

    This is also very tiring on the ears and modern mixes tend to contain more high frequency energy so the music can be quite strident.

    It is possible to gently compress program material, and lift the overall gain while still maintaining excellent dynamics.

    Headphones, earbuds, and low grade playback devices helped start The Loudness Wars, and thankfully there seems to be a resurgence for dynamics to be returned to music.

    That ebb and flow is part of the magic, and should be part of the listening experience.

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