The volume wars, it looked like they might be subsiding, seem to be back with a vengeance. Maybe the pop music producers were just reloading their overzealous compressors, or maybe they were busy acquiring extras so they could can stack them up thus multiplying the un-dynamic over decibeled sound that has become the trademark of such acts as Katy Perry, Imagine Dragons, and too many others to list.
Take Taylor Swift’s new hit Bad Blood. Even if you have earplugs in and the volume on “1” the song is still so shockingly loud that it sounds like just a bunch of people screaming and yelling so that they can try to be heard above the drums that are all one completely compressed, no dynamic volume, Obscenely Loud!
To get exactly what I mean you can compare Bad Blood with Led Zeppelin’s Good Times Bad Times. No one is ever going to call Good Times Bad Times a ballad or wimpy tune. But you can hear dynamics, you can hear feeling, the outro has Robert Plant singing, even screaming, some great rockin’ high notes. In short that song is full-out scorching played by some guys who play loud, but with a sonic fullness that does not sound like an assault on the ears or freight train trying to run you over.
The Swift song has none of that nuance – what’s more is that Swift’s song does not contain any musical intensity at the level of Led Zeppelin’s, an interesting phenomenon that shows loudness does not equal intensity. Don’t get me wrong – I am a fan of Swift’s and enjoy her sound immensely. In fact Swift’s voice is so wonderfully full of expression that it is astonishing that her producers seem to have been able somehow surgically remove all emotion from her performance on Bad Blood. Swift’s producers have done this to her, and what else is her producers are not the worst offenders. I love Imagine Dragons, but good god someone needs to produce their songs in such a way as to let the band’s personality come through. That band has some genuine warmth that is buried under a mountain of tricky producer studio effects.
All in all we need a return to producers who can let the singers, the rockers, the alternative musicians, and the singer songwriters breath a little bit. I’ve heard some new music lately that sounds pretty good and pretty un-produced in a nice sort of way.