Most of the time, people who complain about “kids these days” or “music these days” are just grumpy and afraid of change. But those who complain about loud music might actually have a point. According to the company Echo Nest, music is actually getting louder every year.
We have the data, and it tells a fairly clear picture about loudness over time. The loudness of the hotttest 5,000 songs each year increased very slowly from the ’50s through the ’80s, and then more rapidly and steadily, all the way to the present day.
What do we mean, though, when we say that music is “louder” than it used to be? Can’t you just turn down the volume if you choose to? Actually, it’s not really about how loud the music coming out of your headphones or speakers is, but the difference in volume between the quietest elements of a song and the loudest elements. In any media format–vinyl, cassette, CD, MP3, you name it–there’s a maximum volume that an element can be, and that is not growing. It’s the quieter parts of a song that are getting louder and louder, resulting in a dynamic range that has continued to shrink over time.
And the curmudgeons might even be right that louder music (and louder everything these days) is bad for you. It’s not just about hurting your hearing, but about stressing your body. According to environmental psychologist Arline Bronzaft, dealing with constant noise is more dangerous than you might think. “People use the phrase, ‘I get used to it — I walk the streets and I get used to the noise,’ ” Bronzaft told the New York Times. “It means you’ve adapted to the noise. When you’re dealing with something, you’re using energy to cope with the situation. Guess what? That’s wear and tear on your body. So when you hear someone say, ‘I’m dealing with it,’ I say, ‘Yes, but at what cost?’ ”
So yes, grandma, the music is louder than it was when you were a kid, and you might even be right that your grandkids are being harmed by it.
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