First off, I apologize for the nerdiness of this post.  But I’ve been thinking about it, so I’m going to write it anyway.

I was listening to the movie version of Rent (nerd point No. 1), and was kind of taken aback by the recording quality (nerd point No. 2).  It wasn’t so noticable at first, but it barely had any dynamic variance at all.  I understand how this could be a good thing on, say, the radio, but I don’t really get it in a movie mixed in 5.1.  Take this clip for example:

(You probably want to use a good set of speakers, or at least headphones, to hear the point I’m about to make.)

Now, we can hear her voice just fine, and understand all the words.  I can hear the piano pretty clearly panned slightly left, the bass is pretty present, the drums (including what I can only imagine was a kick drum made of cardboard) are clear, and the guitars are audible.  However, pay attention to when the vocals get “louder.”  Do they seem farther away?  The compressor clamps down on the voice, and while the overall level stays the same, the dynamics are all but removed.

Now, this does seem pretty terrible from a sound reproduction standpoint, but then I got to thinking.  I can hear all of the parts in this recording.  Now, which is more important?  Should the peaks in the vocals momentarily drown out the ride cymbals, or should this kind of compression ensure an even mix among all the parts?  Put another way, if you paid someone to mix a recording of a musical, would the compression and dynamics in the above clip be acceptable?

I’m not sure what the answer is, and this is why I’m putting it out here.  What’s your take?