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Waging War on the Loudness War

It’s getting loud in here; time to protect your ears and overcome the loudness war, once and for all.

We live in a dog-eat-dog world. To be seen or heard, you have to stand out. For individuals, that might mean sporting a unique haircut or outfit, or taking up a less-common hobby, such as making your own kombucha or building things with your own two hands. For the music industry, it means sucking any and all distractions out of the listening space, by turning the volume up… way up.

The loudness war has been going on for decades, since record executives first noticed that the louder jukebox songs seemed to attract more attention than those with quieter beats. Back then, in the 1940s, an assumption was made that the initial attention grab caused by turning up the volume would cause the music to sound better (or at least be perceived to be better sounding) and lead to more record sales. This, even though making records louder required a widening of grooves on the vinyl record, through a process called mastering. The result: songs definitely left their mark - on the records and on listeners’ ears - at the expense of fewer tracks making it onto each vinyl.

Yet, as each record label jumped on the loudness bandwagon, a war to be the loudest and proudest ensued. And in the 80+ years since, no one has been crowned victor; not even the labels with the greatest album sales and the largest spoils. This is because loudness does not - and will never - lead to positive listening experiences. In fact, in addition to slaughtering songs as we once knew them, the loudness war is an-out massacre of listeners’ hearing.

The damage is real, but with a little background knowledge and some proactive measures, you can break through this painful sound barrier and enjoy a better, safer, and more pleasant quality of sound.

The loudness war = volume + overcompression

Loudness doesn’t necessarily refer to volume, or at least not to volume alone. While volume is a measurement of loudness that can be adjusted by pressing a button or turning a dial, loudness itself is more subjective; a perceived strength or amplitude of sound pressure, regardless of the volume obtained. Or, in layman terms, it’s loud if you feel that it’s loud. This is caused by a process that is layered into the music in the mixing room: compression.

Audio compression reduces the dynamic range between the loudest and softest sounds in a track, creating a more polished piece of listening material. However, in doing so, a higher average loudness is achieved, making it seem like the singer or orator is shouting, even if they aren’t. The result of compression: competitors subsequently overcompress their tracks to keep up with the Joneses and drive increased listening, while listening fatigue sets in among the listeners themselves, motivating them to turn the recording off altogether.

In the age of music streaming, it seems like the loudness war is more than a nuisance; it’s the kiss of death, and not just to endless sales and profits.

The damage isn’t only to the music industry

Unfortunately, the loudness war’s bombardment of ears everywhere is not skin-deep. Listening to loud - or perceived loud - music can also be damaging to your ears. The more a song, movie, or other sound byte is compressed, the fewer quiet spots it contains, and the more likely listeners are to suffer from irreparable damage to their ears and hearing loss. As the harm caused by excessive noise exposure is a “function of the average sound level and duration of exposure,” overcompressed music may cause hearing damage over time, simply because it does not provide listeners with “rest periods” between loud listening experiences. Much like athletes need to rest their muscles in between training sessions, by taking baths, receiving massages, or napping, our ears need to be given respite from loud sounds to allow hair cells time to recover and prevent long-term damage.

It’s no wonder Chris Neal, in his 2010 Music & Musicians Magazine article titled “Into the Red,” quoted Friedemann Tischmeyer, who said, “We have already a lot of evidence that this is the main reason for the drastic increase of hearing damage in the young generation.... I personally believe that this is not just a matter of good taste anymore, it is a matter of responsibility to protect the pleasure of hearing.”

Stand out from the crowd by protecting your ears, with Tunefork

If the facts brought forth in this post aren’t exactly music to your ears, you’re not alone. But it doesn’t mean you need to run for the hills with your hands over your ears, everytime a song begins to play. You can adopt safe listening habits that allow you to better enjoy music, lectures, and other recordings, without risking your hearing, like Tunefork.

Tunefork’s audio personalization technology perfectly matches your smart listening device to your unique hearing needs, so you can benefit from absolute sound clarity, while keeping your ears safe from loud sounds and overcompression.

Want to win the war on loudness? Download the Tunefork app today!

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