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Crank It Up! - Industry Standards For Recording

Jul 24, 2008
We've all been in this situation before: you are watching a TV program when suddenly, the commercial break comes up. The commercial is much louder than the program you were watching. You turn down the volume, only to have to turn it back up once the program resumes.

This isn't some technical error at your local TV station or even your cable provider. This is an intentional strategy in the broadcasting industry. The idea is to get people to pay attention to the commercials by making them so much louder than the program. This is something also done in the recording industry with regards to music as well. This is changing the way that people record music, even the way people listen to music has changed as a result.

Average volume levels were once much lower in the recording industry. The norm would be 2 to 3 as the volume standard. Recordings would be done at this volume to make for a more pleasant experience for the listener. This also allowed for greater dynamic range on recordings, with a better blend of sounds on record.

Lower volume levels gave engineers the freedom to showcase arrangements and instrumentation. It also allowed them the ability to create greater freedom for movement where volume was concerned. Volume while recording music is a range in which you can increase or decrease the amount of sound. When you work with negative numbers on your volume dial; somewhere between -6 and -1, you have a lot of room to increase the volume if needed.

However, the standard volume has increased as the recording industry has progressed technologically. Currently, the industry standard is closer to 0 - one of the highest possible volumes. Many people do not even notice this and just turn down the volume during playback. This decision by the recording industry has, however, changed the way everything is done in the music recording industry, from the way instruments are recorded to the way that people listen to records.

This higher volume has changed the way that musicians and recording engineers think about dynamics, volume range and instrumentation and arrangements themselves. This has eliminated some of the possibilities for recording which were once parts of the music industry's palate. If you take a close listen to music which has been recorded recently, you may notice that there is a lot less dynamic range than once was the norm, a change in the types of instrumentation used and so on. This is all due to the fact that the volume has been turned up as high as it can go! This has limited the possibilities for musicians and recording engineers.

Volume control and in fact, the entire process of mastering differs according to the format you get your music in. There is a different volume standard for the radio than for CD, which is in turn different than that for MP3 format. Those who have custom recording technologies and setups at their disposal, there can be more freedom in the volume levels and mastering process used. Before recording, you should think about what sort of volume you want your finished product to be at. This will help you make your own way towards the industry standards of producing CDs.

When recording, you should always think about the different volume levels which you can use and the big differences they can make to your recordings. You certainly don't want to sacrifice your vision for the recording for the sake of volume. While you do want to fall within the parameters of industry standards, you also want to give yourself as much room to create as possible. This will let you make the recording you want at a volume level that invites the listener to turn it up and have a deeper experience.
About the Author
Kevin Sinclair is the publisher and editor of MusicianHome.com, a site that provides information and articles for musicians at all stages of their development.
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