How Producer Crunch Compressed Music Sales
Producer Crunch is a cartoon character I created on April 2, 2017. I had just completed a study of how music production in the 21st century has dramatically slipped along with music sales. I gave up awhile back thinking this century would bring us something as artistic as The Beatles or Pink Floyd, although it's still possible to find great music in the indie world.
It's not because of lack of talent or creativity that a lot of songwriting is shallow from the major labels that control the universe of music that gets played on radio and other media outlets. It's because of lack of vision in the music industry, which hasn't been run by visionaries in at least two decades. Now it's run by corporate types who just care about quarterly earnings. Somehow they stumbled upon over-production as a gimmick that's now lasted almost 20 years. It sells to a shrinking crowd of brainwashed zombies who still imagine that listening to whatever's on the charts automatically makes them hip.
The gimmick is to make the recording sound as loud as possible in the mix and then try to make it even louder in the mastering process until the sound crunches. That's why 2000-2017 should be remembered as the "crunch era" in which most of the production from major labels sounds the same. No peaks or valleys in the sound. Instead of natural dynamics that allow the music to breathe, it all sounds like one big blast of crunchy-sweetened effects.
Pop artists kind of get away with it, since pop is more of a fashion show stacked with lipsync manikans. In the studio they're super off-key until Producer Crunch goes to work and drowns out the off-key notes with 1000 simulated voices pitched to the proper frequency.
On the surface Producer Crunch may seem like a star maker - someone who helps take artists to the next level. The problem is the music biz is only making half the money it made 20 years ago. CEOs probably make more money, since it's all about playing with bank loans rather than turning a profit, but they've still had to make cuts. So they've cut their staffs and trimmed their artist rosters. The producer gets paid upfront (either by the artist, the artist's manager or a label cash advance that really was borrowed from a bank. That's why the music biz is so deep in debt.
Whether or not the compressed, over-processed sound has added to the industry's collapse is debatable, but it's a fact that it sure hasn't helped. But Producer Crunch doesn't care because he makes $200k per album, whether it sells or flops. His job is to keep the cost expensive so that the crunch sound is the norm (he spends hours compressing and crunching the sound, running up huge studio bills at $200 per hour. As long as the public thinks this over-saturated sound is the norm, the top labels can convince radio stations to stay away from thinner sounding indie music that does not meet the industry standard for loudness.
At some point there may be an awakening across the upper levels of the music biz that crunchy sound isn't really what the audience craves. As much as music execs may think people respond to loudness and brightness, music fans actually have more intelligence than that. The focus of any recording project should be the songwriting and the performance and the production should enhance the art, but not bury or become the art. Certain exceptions apply, such as sonic experimentations, but most major label releases don't even try to be experimental anymore. They're too busy spending hours on making that crunch sound corporate, generic and bigger than life.
Historically, the producer was the genius that helped artists realize their musical dreams. But Producer Crunch doesn't really care what the artist thinks because he has an agenda to serve the labels. Even if the band pays him upfront, he still has the final say on the finished product, which he makes sure conforms to label demands. Hopefully, sometime in the near future, creative indie producers and artists will rise up and overtake the crunch scene and restore music to a more organic state.