The term 'industry standard' when applied to recorded music is a total bugbear of mine - here I'm going to explain why I care and why you as a musician/engineer/listener should too.
Let's first look at the meaning of the term and how it's applied. The 'industry' referred to is... shall we say "a little all encompassing". It's a convolution of radio, record companies, television and the mass media. It never had anything to do with music or musicians.
Here I should clarify about the use of the term that makes me foam at the gills. 'Industry Standard' is just another in a long line of recitations that are regularly wheeled out to tell musicians that they aren't good enough - and it works! Even now, when DIY releasing is easier than ever, I see so many bands who never put out any of their music. Sure, some of them get it recorded and maybe one or two tracks will see their way to a Myspace page or onto Soundcloud but there are still a hell of a lot of artists waiting for permission to release music. By permission I really mean validation - a record label to decide if it will sell and therefore if it's any good. Since when did one company (or indeed individual A&R at said bastion of taste) decide what universally makes music likeable? More to the point, why do the rest of us describe recordings on their terms?
Don't get me wrong, musicians need criticism and feedback but the only sources you need it from are yourself and your fans. The industry standard is something that doesn't concern you unless you're dealing with the kind of industry that uses the term - i.e. people that like selling music more than they like listening to it. You want your recordings to sound great? Fine, but make sure it's by your standards (more on their standards later in this post).
Unfortunately though, this term isn't used exclusively by Artie Fufkin of Polymer records or the legion of coke-addled, slick-haired yuppies that are the cheap target of every independent music nut (like me) when we want to complain about 'the majors'. It's used by people like me.
Studios, mastering engineers, producers, battle of the bands promoters, etc, etc... we're guilty in worse ways than 'the industry'. Just google "industry standard recording", it's all studios advertising and people asking about what equipment they need to attain this mystical standard. At this point I must hold my hands up and say I'm almost sure I've used this term before, trying to 'play the professional' in my early years as an engineer. This post isn't intended to be a dig at those who do use this turn of phrase, just a plea to consider the ramifications of the language and terminology we as professionals use to speak to our clients. We've been mis-selling a term that shouldn't apply to them in my opinion. At least it's in the traditional industry's interests to maintain the impression that there is a standard that all others can only aspire to without their resources (read money), but I would have hoped that we - the people who make the lions share of the real and democratic music scene actually happen - could rise above perpetuating a term that reinforces the idea that unless you sound a certain way, you're not a real musician. If you are a musician and someone uses that term then I believe you have every right to take offense. You know what good recordings sound like, all you need is someone with the right equipment and knowledge to achieve the sound you want.
How does it make sense for any studio/individual/microphone/hair product to claim that they can help an artist achieve an 'industry standard'? It's meaningless in the first place. What does an industry standard recording sound like?
If we're being technical, here's what industry standard recordings tend to sound like. Below is a video comparing the difference between the commercial, 'industry standard' CD release of a track from the latest Metallica album with the same track from Guitar Hero. You can hear how much more dynamic it sounds when the industry doesn't get a say in how a record is made. Try and listen to the high quality version if possible and here's a clue, listen for drums that actually punch out through the mix, doesn't that sound better?
More info on 'The Loudness War' is available via the Wikipedia Entry
My rounding off for this rant is just to ask that we all stop aspiring to this fictional world of 'playing with the big boys' and just let the industry standard disappear from our biographies, our sales patter and our aspirations as artists. It's vulgar, it patronises musicians, effects their output and we all deserve better than that, especially our fans.
I'd love to hear other opinions on this so feel free to add some thoughts in the comments.