Go on. Ask your grandparents. Or your parents, even. Ask them what they find wrong about current popular music. Most of the replies will be typical: Some will say it’s too lewd. Others might argue that it’s disposable. But nearly all will cantankerously come up with one response: It’s too damn loud.
We usually dismiss such claims (how can music be getting louder, Gramps? You were just born in an era before deathcore existed), but new data has proven us wrong: Music has, in fact, gotten louder.
At least that’s the conclusion the Echo Nest, a musical intelligence company who analyzes thousands of tracks to identify trends, came to. They contend that music hasn’t just gotten louder—but it’s seen a massive spike since 1990. Music, by their number-crunching, has gotten nearly 40 per cent louder since the dawn of that ’90s—check the graph at the top of the page to see how music’s gotten louder over the years.
But before you go blaming the trends that emerged around that time—grunge, rap-metal, etc.—it’s worthwhile to understand how we define “louder.” Regardless of whether you’re listening to vinyl, CD, or cassette, there’s an upper limit to volume—that, of course, hasn’t changed.
So, what’s changed then? The dynamic range of songs. Every song has louder and softer moments, but the distance between them is compressed. The loud parts of songs are being pushed up the upper limits of songs; the softer parts of the song, meanwhile, are becoming amplified. This results in a song that, while having less dynamic range, sounds louder—think about what a Sleigh Bells song sounds like, for instance.
As the Echo Nest maintains, the trend is part of the so-called “loudness wars,” where musicians and producers are competing to make music that sounds louder than its competitors. Of course, aside from losing dynamic range in songs, this isn’t a danger to anyone; we’re not listening to music at higher decibels. But Gramps was right: Everything does, indeed, sound louder.