Could the Loudness Wars be hurting music sales? After you listen to an overly-compressed master, are you more or less likely to listen to another album? Does the lack of dynamic range render music subconsciously – and ironically – less engaging?
One Earl Vickers has written an extensive paper [.pdf] on the possibility that listener fatigue might be a contributory factor in the music industry’s ongoing decline. Part historical explanation and part game theory, it explores the possibility that the use of compression to gain listener attention and/or engagement might be having the opposite effect.
“In the short term, louder tends to sound better so overcompression (or “hypercompression”) is commonly used to squeeze more and more loudness into the recordings…It is widely believed that hypercompression may damage audio quality by removing dynamics, creating musical clutter and reducing the excitement and emotional power of the music. It is also believed that hypercompressed music may cause “listening fatigue,” which can discourage continued or repeated listening.”