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There’s A War On Your Ears… The Loudness War

Noise Induced Hearing Loss FactsHow the media is soundbombing for your attention.

Today, more than ever, there is a war for your attention.  The victim?  Your ears.

How many times during your favorite T.V. show have you had to reach for the control and turn the volume down during commercial breaks?   Why?  Advertisers make commercials louder to grab your attention.  It’s a fairly well known dirty trick.  What’s less obvious to the general population is that despite not actively paying attention, they still have captured it.   The sudden spike in volume subconsciously hones your attention on the ad.   This is an old Neuro Linguistic Programming technique.

The FCC says they regulate volume.  The requirement is that commercial volume levels be based on the average of the corresponding television show.  However, this average is hardly practiced and rarely preached.

Television isn’t the only culprit in the war for your ears.  Concerts venues have increasingly become louder to compete with their rival establishments.

Red Rocks, a famous Denver-owned live performance venue, had never experienced any complaints from Colorado residents.   However,  a recent electronic music festival had residents in arms about noise levels.  The city is examining dB regulations and fines of $5,000 up to $10,000 for violations.

“You can get the craziest Metallica concert, and that’s not even close to what we’re talking about,” local Mayor Sean Forey told the Denver Post. “This is something new and different than anything in the past.”

What is making everything louder?  Live performances today are indeed very loud, but traditionally they’ve always been high volume.   It’s the way music/sound is created today that is fighting for your ears.

Bob Dylan commented on today’s increasingly high volumes, “You listen to these modern records, they’re atrocious, they have sound all over them. There’s no definition of nothing, no vocal, no nothing, just like — static.”

Dylan couldn’t be more true.  Sound today is over compressed.   Music industry titans in the 90’s started to prefer songs with higher dB levels instead of traditional dynamics.   The basic idea was that “louder is better” and that customers prefer it that way.   This is a actually a myth that has snowballed for so long that many in the industry still believe it to be true.   Studies have actually disproved this idea that proliferates “louder equals more sales.”

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Two waveforms of the same song by Metallica.  The bottom is the original CD release.  The top represents the Guitar Hero version.  The top is more compressed.

Radio stations are also competing in the Loudness War.   It’s gotten so out of hand that in Europe that legislatures are moving to make regulations on dB levels.   The United States is considering joining Europe to make International standards.

Other than broadcast regulations and local noise complaints, the Loudness War isn’t being widely discussed.  The fact is many complaints go unaddressed.  Most people can’t tell or don’t care.

It’s dangerous for those who are unaware of the excessive noise they are exposing themselves to.  It’s even more dangerous to the group who doesn’t care, who will crank up the volume far past safe levels of listening.   Combined with the current trends in headphone and earbud practices (which have their own negative impacts) it’s important to keep the public aware of these undiscussed issues.

Louder doesn’t mean better.  Louder means clipping, distortion, bad quality, and most importantly damage.  Until consumers can vocalize this, we are caught in the crossfire of the Loudness Wars.


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