How Loud Should Your Home Recordings Be? - dummies

By Jeff Strong

Everyone wants his or her music to be as loud as possible. Louder sounds better. So, how loud should your home recording be? Test after test has shown that when people listen to two versions of a song, they nearly always prefer the louder one (regardless of whether it actually sounds better).

Musicians, producers, and engineers seem to be in a competition to see who can make the loudest album. If you compare a CD made about 20 years ago with a recording made this year, you’ll notice that the newer one is much louder. Give them both a good listen. Does the louder one really sound better?

You can test this by setting both recordings to play at the same volume and then switching back and forth. (You need to turn the volume up a bit on the older recording to match the volume of the newer one.) One way to do this is to record both songs into your DAW and set the levels of each so that they’re the same.

At the same volume, which song sounds better to you? Nine times out of ten, you’ll prefer the older song. This is because older recordings have more dynamic range than newer ones do. The variety is pleasing to listen to, whereas the song with only a small dynamic range quickly becomes tiring.

Do yourself and your listeners a favor, and resist the temptation to compress the dynamic variability out of your music. Your mix will be much easier to listen to and have a lot more life and excitement. You can always turn the volume up on your stereo if it’s not loud enough, but you can’t add dynamic range after you’ve squashed it out.