Ohhhh, this post was due a long time ago… Anyways, here comes part two of my thoughts on loudness.
First, a correction: modern classical orchestras usually tune 440 or 442, they do not go up to 445 anymore.
I personally think that the reasons for reduced dynamics in story arcs, film music and tv programmes have their roots in the developments of audio and video engineering in the 90s. Digital mixing lead to rapidly increasing loudness levels, resulting in the decrease of micro- and macro dynamics. One cannot blame the engineers for that “one louder” behavior, since they would have lost their clients if they would not have complied. Today, more producers care for dynamics instead of loudness, so the loudness war might come to an end bit by bit. The effects on other “loudness problems” as discussed in the previous post however cannot be reverted easily – we have to live with them now.
Another reason behind the urge to produce “loud” pieces of media (e.g., videos with a high scene cut rate) might be the loss of control on the context in which the media is presented. For instance, a YouTube video might be watched on many different kinds of devices, half of them having shitty displays, half of them having shitty speakers. Therefore, video producers try to create something which works on all possible devices, like audio engineers mix music which does even sound good on the cheapest playback system you can imagine. In music, this goal results in louder mixing, in video production, the need to support many devices and viewing contexts results in “loud” (i.e., intensive) videos.
Luckily, there are settings where artists still have control of the context, like concerts, exhibitions, special events and so on – basically every occasion where the art piece is connected to a specific context like a concert hall, museum or gallery.
In music, one could move away from conventional formats like mp3 and release material on different platforms and in different ways. Interactive music has a promising future, because it can be tied to interesting contexts, like games or everyday objects, and provides a longer experience before the listener (or player) gets bored. Additionally, interactive music is simply a consequence of the larger capabilities of playback devices. For instance, compare a minidisc player from the 90s to nowadays smarthpones. Why should we still use static mp3s on mini-computers with a quadcore CPU and 1 GB of RAM? Interactive music does not need to scream for attention, because it is either meant to stay in the background anyway (which is fine) or easily captures the listener’s attention because it is meant to be played with. The engineered loudness problem would also be partially solved since the interactive content cannot be completely mixed and mastered in advance. Even mastering the audio in realtime is not an option since it is not (yet?) feasible to implement the whole mastering chain on a consumer device.