While I'm not a music producer, back in 2004 I helped produce my former band's first full-length album. Since we were doing everything ourselves (recording, producing, mastering, etc.) we basically had to teach ourselves all there was to know about small-scale music production. And, believe me, there's a lot to know.
Two of the issues that came up back then were those of overall song loudness (how loud we wanted to make our music) and of compression (which would make even the soft parts of a song loud but would compromise on musical texture and nuance). This is a big issue in music these days, with Rolling Stone magazine calling it 'The Death of High Fidelity'. I wanted to write about this back in August when Scott Rosenberg wrote his 'The Unbearable Loudness of Recording' blog post but I never got around to it. Now, thanks to the excellent Rolling Stone article, I don't have to write about it at all! So, if you're interested in music and the technical reasons for why modern music sounds so crappy, the article makes a good -- but long -- read.
In recent months I have been particularly disappointed with Bruce Springsteen's 'Radio Nowhere' which is an excellent song that is seriously compromised by it being too loud and too in-your-face. What's worse is that it's too loud and too in-your-face throughout the duration of the song. Compare that to something like Linkin Park's 'What I've Done' which is also loud -- it is, after all, a hard rock record -- but has so much more light and shade (i.e. musical variation) in it.