Do Dynamics Still Matter?

Posted by on Sep 18, 2012 in Recording, Studio Advice | 0 comments

Someone asked me via email recently, “How much do dynamics matter nowadays? I’ve noticed that with most songs on the radio you have to actually look for volume changes in order to notice them.” The following was my response, and I’d like to share it here for those.

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Dynamics is a tricky beast to conquer.. It is more than just volume levels, although radio intentionally kills volume by squashing music even more than it already is. My advice when listening for dynamics is DO NOT listen to the radio. Instead, listen to your favorite CDs or iTunes downloads. You’ll notice more in the way of volume changes between parts of songs.

One thing that hampers music in the modern era is the listener’s lack of attention. Most people put on music while they do a task so music almost becomes background noise. Mastering engineers try to eliminate the need for turning up songs during “the quiet part” by making it less quiet. The result is a less dynamic sounding song even though that may not have been the desired result.

Conversely, a modern movie has more dynamics in it because the modern audience is focused on the film. It is an event that dominates our attention for the length of the piece, and so allows for quiet whispering followed by ear shattering explosions.

Where dynamics still play an important role in music is in the performance. The performance needs to convey appropriate energy… That really passionate power moment in the song needs to have all the energy available for it while the soft intimate part needs to be restrained. Even though the final recording might not have such drastic volume changes as the live concert, that change in energy will be apparent and deliver how it was meant to.