Why You Might Not Listen to Music As Much as You Used To

Spoiler:  Because it’s too loud.

I’ve discussed the insanity of The Loudness Wars many times in this space and it’s a battle I believe that needs to be fought.  Here’s another take on the situation from The Aporetic:

There’s a good rea­son why you might not enjoy lis­ten­ing to music as much as you used to: It’s got­ten too loud.All music has “dynamic range,” vari­a­tions in vol­ume between the loud parts and the soft parts. Peo­ple sing and play at dif­fer­ent vol­umes. Indi­vid­ual notes have an ini­tial attack and then a grad­ual decay as they fade to silence. But most of the music you hear today–and by “most” I mean “every­thing except clas­si­cal music” has been treated to have lit­tle or no dynamic range. It’s been “slammed” and “loud­ness maximized.”

Audio engi­neers man­age this with some­thing called “com­pres­sion.” A com­pres­sor is a hard­ware or soft­ware device that sets a limit on how loud a piece of audio can go. It sets a top range, and when the audio sig­nal exceeds that point, it turns it down. Imag­ine you are lis­ten­ing to a piece of music, and a really loud part is com­ing up, and you turn the vol­ume knob down just as that part arrives. It’s like that, only auto­mated. How does this make things louder?

It lets you set an over­all high level, and squishes every­thing that was over that level down. So let’s imag­ine a piece of music. “Ten” is the max­i­mum vol­ume of the loud­est parts. The singer is scream­ing: it’s really loud. And three is the level of the qui­etest parts. If you increase the vol­ume level so that the qui­etest parts, for­merly 3, are now at 10, and the com­pres­sor is squish­ing the loud­est parts so they stay at ten, the result is a record­ing that comes to your ear at ten and only ten. The hushed and quiet pas­sages are just as loud as the crescendo. Imag­ine that a whis­per and a scream are the same vol­ume. That’s mod­ern music.

If you love music, keep reading.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

One thought on “Why You Might Not Listen to Music As Much as You Used To

  • January 30, 2014 at 9:23 am

    I have another theory….new music today sucks.


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