To prepare for each week’s new Under The Influence broadcast on Digitally Imported Mainstage, I spend my Tuesdays sifting through anywhere from 500 to 1,000 new tracks that land in the R7 promo inbox and new releases in the Beatport queue. From there, I narrow it down to about 15 tracks that I think represent the best and most exciting productions in electronic music for the week, no matter if they were produced by heavyweights like Zedd or deadmau5, or an unknown newcomer just breaking on to the scene. We play the top tracks, not necessarily the top names.
After a while though, certain patterns emerge and part of my job is to recognize them. For example, by paying attention to what various labels are releasing, it becomes clear what styles and micro-genres are on the way up and which are on their way out. This is because certain labels are consistently on the leading edge while others always seem to pick up on the hottest trends just a few months too late. If you examine our playlists over the past 100 or so episodes, you’ll see which labels so often make the cut while some otherwise well-known labels never seem to get any love on our show because they are stuck behind the curve.
Lately, I’ve begun to notice a new current among many of those “leading edge” labels and artists: a noticeable shift away from pure loudness in favor of clarity and dynamics. And just as with the latest trends and sounds, so many of the “follower” labels are left playing catch-up with a dying trend as they continue slam their masters as close to 0dB as possible. There was a time when soul-crushing loudness was the trademark of the majors, but with the widespread availability of today’s new mastering tools and techniques, those days are clearly over. However, one thing that still separates the top tier from most everyone else is the ability to wield those tools and techniques with pro-level finesse and purpose.
Fast forward to 4:18 for some choice words on the topic from one of the pioneers of modern electronic music.
“You’ve got a volume knob for that, dude…and if it’s not loud enough, buy an amp and some better speakers.” – Deadmau5
As more of the major labels and artists continue to hold on to the spotlight with quality mixes that aren’t pure decibels, it seems possible that the loudness wars might almost be over. So if your primary goal for a master is to max out your RMS and fill out your waveform like a sausage, then congratulations…your ears are bleeding while everyone else is already moving on to dynamics and quality.