The loudness war is something that’s been going on now for quite some time. The fact is, most artists and producers want their material to sound as loud as possible. They want their songs/tracks to stand out among the mix and “dominate” the competition. They feel that louder songs, make better songs. Forget about the fact of writing catchy lyrics, developing great songs, and mixing tracks so that they blend o’ so perfectly together so that you can still hear the different aspects of the mix. No, a lot of producers today would rather slap a brickwall limiter or heaven for bid, “maxim” on a track, crank it up as loud as possible so that it smashes every last dynamic and sell it as is, to the first artist they can. What’s even more disturbing is that a lot of artists think it’s great because it’s louder than other beats that they’ve heard.
I can guarantee you that every professional audio engineer and producer would sign off on me saying: “Never record vocals over a stereo track that is already being pushed to its maximum.” Meaning it’s been squashed by compression/limiting so that it’s simply louder. I can understand if you have a song that has vocals recorded onto it and it is fully mixed, that you would want it to be loud. Every commercial album and recording is compressed/limited and this process is done in the mastering stage, AFTER THE VOCALS ARE RECORDED ONTO THE TRACK!
Ok, why can’t I properly record my vocals on a beat that is screamin’ loud? Well, for starters there isn’t any headroom left on the master buss. Most of the time these mixes are hitting around -0.3 to 0.0 dBFS, and this is without any vocals mixed into the equation. We must consider that every individual track that makes up a song gets added cumulatively and displayed on the master buss. So, when an artist buys a beat that’s been “mastered” already, here’s what happens. First, the engineer or in many cases the artist themselves will need to turn the track way down, which ruins the concept of proper gain staging. Next, when the vocals are recorded onto the track, you will need to place another limiter onto the master buss, causing the song to sound as though it was truly produced, engineered and performed in a bedroom. Even if it were, it doesn’t have to sound this way. We can achieve better quality recordings, mixes, and songs by doing things differently.
So, do yourself and your music a favor by either buying beats that have track separation available so that you can control each tracks individual levels or make sure that the stereo track of the beat that you want to buy has some headroom left on it. And preferably lots of headroom, so that you have room to properly record and mix your vocals onto the track.