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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000058.txt from 2002/02

From: "Benjamin Maas" <>
Subj: RE: [kl] Earplugs
Date: Tue, 5 Feb 2002 15:46:37 -0500

I know this is sort of an old thread by now, but this was sent to me off
list and with her permission I am writing a response to the entire list as I
feel others may have a similar question...

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Linde Lynn []
> As a sound engineer maybe you can answer my question. Why is
> music played so loud? It's certainly not because it sounds
> better. I've never understood why people knowingly do permanent
> damage to their hearing. I read a few years ago that the average
> American 15 year old has the same hearing ability as a 50 year
> old tribal African. I don't recall whether this was a reputable
> study or just anecdotal, but it's quite believable. Even at
> small town community events, the sound system is always cranked
> up way too loud. I always try to "express my opinion" in writing
> to the ones in charge (in addition to getting as far from the
> speakers as possible) but I've not had any success that I know
> of. However, I'll keep trying. It's so sad when people go deaf
> from uncontrollable factors (such as Rush Limbaugh's ailment or
> radiation for brain tumors) but it's incomprehensible how many go
> deaf due to reckless behavior.
> Linde

Linde has managed to ask the questions that many of us that are involved in
reproducing sound for a living as all the time. Why does music have to be so
=#$%=!# loud?

I don't have a good answer to this, but I have a few thoughts on the
subject. It all starts with basic psychoacoustics. People will almost
always tell you that the louder of two things will sound "better." This is
the reason why when you go into a movie theater and see the trailers they
are cranked. This is why commercials are often louder on the TV and
radio... This is why music is compressed to hell that being released
commercially (for radio airplay...). Over the years people have come to
believe that music should be loud to be enjoyed.

Live rock music hasn't always been really loud music. Early sound systems
were not capable of reproducing music as loud as it is today. The first
group to need loudness on stage was the Beatles. They had amplifiers
specially designed for them and their guitars to be louder. The reason is
that the crowds were so loud that they couldn't hear themselves. It was out
of necessity that they needed volume coming of the stage... Competing with
crowd noise was difficult. Today, you will find that many of the engineers
that mix the rock music out there have lost substantial hearing. When we
listen to loud music for a period of time, our ears almost shut down and we
don't hear as well. To compensate, we turn up the volume. As we damage our
ears over time, we turn up the volume to compensate... As a result- causing
more damage.

The way that they make music "loud" is through the use of compression. I'm
talking about dynamic compression (as opposed to data compression) where
loud passages are made softer and soft passages are made louder. With
analog techniques of compression, there are physical limits to how much you
can squash music to get volume. With today's digital technologies, it is
possible to make music and sound very "loud." The reason for this is that
the computers in digital processing look ahead in the music by adding a
slight delay (usually a couple milliseconds) to allow for extra control in
the compression. When music becomes overcompressed, you will lose
transients that give the music its life... The result is a very flat
emotionless sound.

What can you do about it? If the show is too loud, complain to the
management... Perhaps they'll get the message eventually. If a CD is
overcompressed, write a letter to the management that you don't think the
recorded sound is very good. In "the industry" we deal with a lot of A&R
managers that don't have a clue about good sound. If the people they are
selling CDs to don't like the sound, the next disc may sound better.

Bring a good pair of earplugs to shows that may be loud. If I go to a rock
concert (of which I go to and work plenty), I always have my Etymotic
Research Musicians Plugs. My headphones that I use for monitoring when I
record also block out a lot of sound... Sometimes if I'm working a show
that is loud, I'll put on my headphones and turn off the headphone send so
that it just blocks out sound.

One last thing: Check out the Hearing Awareness and Education for Rockers
(H.E.A.R) and the House Ear Institute Websites... and They contain a lot of great information and links.

I'll get off my rant now... :-P


Benjamin Maas
Fifth Circle Audio
Los Angeles, CA


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