Thursday, 21 April 2016


I love science.  I love the scientific method – the best thing we puny humans have ever devised to tell the difference between something that’s real and something that’s homeopathy.

There has long been a dual version of the world, with science in one corner and art, creativity and emotion in the other.  I’ve never thought this was a good idea.  I love both!  I’m equally proud of my rational scientific left brain, and highly irrational, artistic right brain.  I think they’re both just lovely, and all balancey.

Six weeks after first playing There’s Always Someone on Spotify and thinking “hmm, that sounds rather quiet”, I have gone completely insane. But on the plus side, I have also learned a great deal.  I have unfailingly walked into every known and unknown bear trap there is to walk into when it comes to these matters.  I like to think I’ve confounded the experts, revealing whole new ways to screw up that no-one even knew existed.  And I’ve learned an amazing amount of factual information about the whole scary-but-tedious subject of Loudness when it comes to music.  I’m now a veritable gold mine of boring Loudness facts.  I could have it as my specialist subject on Mastermind, if only John Humphries could stay awake long enough to ask the questions.

And yet, after all this time, I find myself finding words like “voodoo”, “dark arts” and the ever popular “black magic” when trying to work out what level a track will actually play at after it is unceremoniously spat out of the Spotify black and green box. In the past 48 hours, I have created two different new versions of There’s Always Someone, almost indistinguishable from each other to anyone except me.  And I’ve found two different ways to measure their Loudness, and predict its imminent change in level as according to Spotify – Dynameter, and Audacity’s ReplayGain plugin.  With Song Version A, both agree that Spotify will LOVE it.  With Version B, one says it will be twice as loud as the other.


And here’s the really fun bit – the creators of both measuring devices say that they honestly don’t know which is the more realistic representation of what will actually happen.  Because – snigger - nobody actually knows what Spotify actually does.

Let’s just enjoy that for a moment.  Even the greatest experts in this field, who write the code to measure Loudness, don’t actually know how Spotify determines how loud something is, or how to accurately predict it.  So if you’re an artist or producer or mastering engineer, and want to know with any kind of confidence what something will sound like on the world’s largest streaming platform, then tough. You can't.  Ha!

It’s 2016 for crying out loud.  Has it really come to this?!!!

Look I’m getting all emotional.  That’ll be my right hand brain.  Time to employ the left handed brain instead.  Enough of this whining vaguerey. Science, and its adorable scientific method, to the rescue.

Spotify exists.  The original recordings exist.  We can measure what Spotify does to them.  And we can see what these meters THINK Spotify will do to them.  Well then… that’s all we need, right?  We can propose our hypotheisis – say, “The ReplayGain plugin in Audacity will accurately predict what Spotify will do to any given track”, and test it against real world data.  Well then, it’s just a case of some hardcore data logging and then some analysis.  And as world’s-greatest-TV-show Mythbusters* say, “the only difference between science and screwing around is writing stuff down”.

So I’ve been writing stuff down.  Til 3am.  Measuring, logging, looking for trends and causal relationships (that’s what people do on the internet at night, right?  Or did I mis-type?)  And in what will likely turn out to be my 27th false dawn, I may have found something.  Something to explain all this madness, actual light at the end of the tunnel, not hallucinatory light (damn stupid hallucinatory light).  A magic formula, with which I have successfully used to predict what Spotify actually did to actual tracks.  I rose up brandishing my new power wand like some mighty powerful wizard of opaque loudness.  I can’t possibly tell you what this formula forged at the very coal face of decibels is – it obviously has to be further tested, written up, submitted to a reputable academic journal and gone through peer review before it can be shared with a credulous world.

On second thoughts, I’ll just see what Ian thinks of it.  I’ll let you know.

*Mythbusters was only the greatest TV show ever for between about series 3 and series 5.  Series 1 and 2 have plenty of charm – and I did like Scotti and some of the other earlier build-teamers - but it was only really with the arrival of Kari, Tori and Grant that the series got into it stride, each bringing a ton of personality (and it Tori’s case, taste for spectacular personal injury) to their amazing skill set.  But before long – around series 5 or 6 - the dumb producers started scripting and staging more and more.  While still entertaining, it lacked that sense of eye-popping reality that made it such an essential watch.  They missed real reactions and substituted fake ones, edited round blind alleys and tangents.  It still felt scientifically valid in their bonkers way, but you felt shut out rather than included.  But then for series 10 the producers committed their ultimate sin by getting rid of Kari, Tori and Grant and turned it into a ghastly headache-inducing macho testosterone-fuelled joyless noise-fest.  The writing was very much on the wall and I didn’t mourn its recent passing as it was far from what it was. Besides, word on the street is Kari, Tori and Grant have a new science show in the works… just please don’t edit and script it to death…

No comments:

Post a comment