Modern music is too loud for its own good

July 3, 2006

So says one blogger:

Why the “loudness wars” are killing today’s music.
(via reddit)

“Record labels for decades have tried to make records louder, on the mostly-correct theory that louder music is more likely to pull you in on first listen. But the way you make music louder is via “compression” … Compression shrinks the difference between the peaks and valleys, so there’s less dynamic range [but w]hen a song has less dynamic range, even if it’s louder we are — paradoxically — more likely to tune it out”

This is a summary of a much longer article from Stylus Magazine by Nick Southall. The conclusion there is pretty depressing, if a little sensationalist:

“[W]hen is it desirable for music to be at a consistent volume? When it’s not being actively listened to; i.e. when it’s intended as background music. Sudden (or even gradual) dynamic changes in ambient volume disturb people from what they are otherwise doing (shopping, eating, working) by making them pay attention to the fluctuating sound rather than the task in hand … So it is with music too—it may grab your attention more effectively at the start, but it’s ultimately easier to ignore too. All music becomes background music if it’s at one flat level, no matter how loud. And flat, hypnotic background music is a form of social control.”

Leaving aside the “OMG! Record companies are using music to CONTROL OUR MINDS!!!1” hyperbole for a second, he’s spot on. At the risk of sounding like an out-of-touch old-timer, I happened to be listening to a random mix on Winamp while reading through this article and it played a relatively old (c. 1991) Orbital track back to back with a recent track by M83. They’re both great bands, but the M83 track was ear-splittingly loud in comparison to the Orbital one. It’s a crude example, particularly because mp3s are hardly the be all and end all of musical quality, but it illustrates the point.

Of course loud music is better, but like the man says: “If you want to listen to something loud, there’s a simple method—turn it up.”


12 Responses to “Modern music is too loud for its own good”

  1. Margaret Says:

    I am suffering at church because the music is too loud. Have left services with ringing in the ears and headache, my husbands suffers too. Have talked to the music director several times, but I think they want it loud. What are people like us supposed to do. We have a right to go to church too. Why is church music getting so loud. I dont want to lose my hearing.

  2. S. A. M. Says:

    The recent report of church stats that I saw didn’t cover this, but I would guess that this is a problem for more people who quit going to church than we will ever know. I get migraines myself and I have a problem finding a church that doesn’t use sound systems period. I’m currently going to a church that keeps harping on Hebrews 10:25, but I think they are driving people away. Seems to me that the church needs to cut back if they want people to stay – it’s church – not a concert!

  3. […] Loud Is Bad Last year I blogged about why the loudness wars are destroying modern music. Now someone’s released a youtube […]

  4. Anthony Says:

    I am suffering at church because the music is too loud. Have left services with ringing in the ears and headache, my husbands suffers too. Have talked to the music director several times, but I think they want it loud. What are people like us supposed to do. We have a right to go to church too. Why is church music getting so loud. I dont want to lose my hearing.

    Well, maybe they do not understand. The reason they have loud music, probably is because the bible says to have loud music. Read Psalms 47:1. The bible says to SHOUT praises to God. King David, under the anointing of the spirit, would dance around the Temple and shout to God. In Chronicles 5:13-14, the Priests sang loud music and fainted under the spirit, so vibrant, loud worship is a biblcial thing. Which is probably why they have loud music.

    • Kelly Hardin Says:

      I don’t think that you fully inderstand either. We have music in churches so loud now that it is DAMAGING TO OUR HEARING!Where in the Bible did Christ HURT SOMEONE? The answer is-He didn’t. I also can’t believe that you use scripture to defend music so loud it hurts people. Yes, the bible says to Shout praises to God and they played loud music, but they did NOT HAVE AMPLIFIERS AND 1000 WATT SPEAKERS!. Don’t let the devil cloud your mind. If it hurts people it is NOT EDIFYING…PERIOD. ROCK CONCERTS ARE OF THE WORLD-NOT OF GOD.

  5. lostmoya Says:

    To be honest, I’ve always been one for better music at church. Louder doesn’t necessarily = better, but it often helps. If you don’t like it, perhaps stand nearer the back or go to another service/church which has quieter music, though like SAM says, it’s possible for churches to become too much like a gig.

    In any case, this post was about compression in pop music, which is a different thing because it’s taking all the dynamics out of the music. That’s definitely bad in my book.

  6. Bobby Harper Says:

    The music has gotten too loud at our church as well. For several weeks it has been brought to the attention of the church leaders, but it is still very LOUD!! This past Sunday my left ear was aching during the service and did so for several days afterwards. I am bringing ear plugs with me this Sunday. It has really affected my church worship. Even my 5 year old neice was holding her ears and complianing about how loud the music is.(Normally they are in Kids Church) I have been going to this church for over 10 years and have never complained about the music volume. I would not want to go to another church, but if things stay like they are, I will have no other choice. Will all of you music minsters listen, or have you all gone deaf!!

  7. Mary Says:

    Yes, chrch has become a gig. The emphasis on music is greater than the sermon that teaches God’s Word. So much time is spent on singing songs with a couple of lines sang over and over. I do not recall in the Word where there was music before the teaching, nor have I seen where there is special music sung befoer ethe Lord taught. I do not see where there was music wars instead I have seen in God’s Word where the hymn was sung before everyone left and it was after the teaching. Most of all so much of the music is not scriptual but meant for industry to glorify man. The Lord is Holy and worthy of praise from a humble heart that is ever thankful. Words nor music can not express the gratitude for what God alone has done through His Son Jesus. I think christians have to get away from the industry and give the praise to God alone. I also do not see in His word where music is a ministry nor that anyone was paid for singing nor where the chrch had to pay to use a song.

  8. Pete Says:

    Mary, you have it right. My wife and I attend a local, small Pentecostal church. The music is painfully loud. I have spoken with an elder, with the Pastor, and with a deacon who often runs the sound board. The responses eloquently show that they could not care less about the issue. On a typical Sunday there are two or three guitars plus a keyboard, and a few weeks ago they moved the drums onto the platform. They sing what I call “7-Eleven” songs — about seven words, sung eleven times. The hymnals were quietly removed from the sanctuary because they had stopped using them. Both my wife and I have to use ear protection to tolerate the noise. And I have tinnitus, so it is doubly bad for me.

    This past Sunday I could only tolerate about 1 minute of the percussion compressing my diaphragm (no exaggeration) and I leaned to my wife’s ear and announced “I’m sorry, I have to leave. I can’t stand this crap”. I’m ashamed of having using that last word to refer to church music, but I was rather bothered, and it sort of boiled over.

    The Pastor says “We have world-class worship in this church!”

    I would leave, but my wife is deeply involved in the ladies ministry, and she loves it. If we attended another church they would still welcome her, but she would not be allowed to teach any more, and that would be a shame. So, we stay.

    We are hopefully moving soon, and we will leave this all behind us. But it is an affront to anyone with some sensibilities.

    I could go on about how shallow most of the “worship” songs are. And a few weeks ago the Pastor ridiculed people who say they miss the grand old hymns because they had so much Biblical truth. His example…”We Three Kings”. He said “It makes me laugh when people say how they miss the “grand old hymns of the church” (he said this in a sarcastic tone), when they have songs like We Three Kings in the hymn book.

    Enough said. I think it’s a shame…

  9. Jonathan Says:

    I know that we’re mainly talking about the issues of compression on recorded music, but I feel like we have the same problem with live music as well.

    At smaller venues, music is sometimes blisteringly loud to the point that it makes the experience unbearable. The balance between using volume for impact and it being a distraction for the music is a very fine line.

    One of the most precious aspects of live music is that the audience can interact and share the music. Hearing a great song and being able to say to your friends “this is great!” during a performance audibly is important – it makes it all the more memorable.

  10. Over the last couple years we have heard about many leaving church because of the loud music and lack of teaching. My wife and I have thought about starting a church that teaches and does not have loud music. Maybe we should call it, “Not Loud Music Church.

  11. Sandi Says:

    God’s house is a place for God’s family to gather together. His family consists of Mothers, Fathers, Children, Babies, Grandfathers, Grandmothers, and extended family members. If your family members came to your house, would you turn the radio up full blast or would you turn it off? Or would you turn it to a volume that the whole family would be able to enjoy? One morning at church, I was looking at a young 4yr old when the music blasted out. The young child immediately covered her ears. When the music causes pain, instead of worship, reverence and love for Jesus, something is wrong. The music should be drawing us closer to our Savior, not driving us out of the church. Could a spiritual stronghold be taking over God’s house?
    Please pray for God’s presence in our Churches and our obedience to do what he knows is best. Please pray for those in authority in your church to be obedient to God. It’s our responsibility to pray about those things in God’s house that do not co-inside with God’s word. We also need to pray for others that we see that are not walking in God’s word. As we need prayer to help us, so do they. If we didn’t see a problem, we wouldn’t know what to pray for. I will pray for each one of us that is affected by the extremely loud music that God will help each of us to pray and be gracious and for him to help us to handle the problems we see and hear, in the way he knows is best.
    God Bless all of you and may we all walk a little closer today than we did yesterday.

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