Probably the hottest topic in mastering in recent years is loudness, and certainly one of the most important jobs for a mastering engineer is to achieve a satisfying, consistent level between all the tracks on an album. However the arrival of digital signal processors during the 90s, coupled with the perception that "louder is better" has led to the infamous "loudness wars" - a gradual increase in the loudness of albums over the years, to the point where some are hugely distorted and very fatiguing to listen to.
If you come to SRT wanting your CD loud, we'll be happy to oblige, but my own personal motto is "Louder is better, but Too Loud is worse" - meaning I believe there is a "sweet spot" for every recording where it's loud enough to "work" given the limitations of the original mix, but is not so loud that it suffers. Push something too far beyond this sweet spot and the effects are only negative.
Why is Too Loud bad ? Apart from problems like distortion, pumping or dynamic inversion, a great way to answer that question is to point you here:
Just check out the video for a great, simple demonstration of why louder is not necessarily better, plus a great selection of "loudness war" links at the bottom of the page.
In a later post I'll discuss how loud is "just right", and the best way to achieve it, but there's other ground to cover before then.