The technique of compression is frequently used in editing music. Basically, one takes the quiet sounds of a piece of music and makes them louder, while essentially leaving the loud parts the same.

Compression can be useful when using a wide range of dynamics over a certain course of time. A listener can sit back and relax without concerns of needing to turn the volume knob up or down.

However, over-compression is a certain pet-peeve of mine that seems to have developed over the years. This video explains some of it:

For the artist, there is a certain balance that needs to be struck. On the one hand, the artist needs the ability to use the dimension of dynamics, i.e. loudness. Volume is a major attribute of expressing emotion as well as for use in setting sections of music off from one another. This practice has been around for several hundreds of years. It can be seen in the writings of musicians of the romantic era such as Beethoven or heard in the modern era in the songs of Nirvana or The Smashing Pumpkins to hear this in effect.

On the other hand, the medium of music delivery has, most recently, been mainly radio. Radio stations need to not only compete with each other but also need to sound consistent from one song to the next. A listener would likely change stations if he had to continually adjust the volume.You may have noticed the nuisance of dealing with differing volumes if you have used something like iTunes. Putting all your CDs into one spot sounds all well and dandy until you hit “random” and the volumes begin to vary wildly from song to song.

For at least these reasons, radio has had to heavily compress the music. The very process of delivery has had to alter the dynamics of the music in order for it to be presented to an audience.

Since radio has, until recently, been the dominant medium of music delivery, the pendulum has been far to the side of heavy compression. Now that the medium seems to have changed over the last decade or so to include individual downloads and a distancing from radio, the pendulum may be ready to swing back. The artist’s vision of presentation may be better represented.

The problem of ready listening returns, though. For example, I tell listeners not to listen to albums I’ve made in the car. I like to use stretches of silence and quiet moments offset by louder stretches. As a result, when it is heard in a quiet room, the wide dynamics are more strongly felt. Loud sections are heard quite differently from the quiet and can have a dramatically different impact.

Ultimately, it creates the odd paradox of artistry about which I continue to think. There is a certain solitude in creation – an attempt to connect to one’s inner self. Yet, at the same time, the artist must think of how best to deliver or present the work to an Audience. An Artist’s work is not only in discovery, but also in communication of those things discovered.