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The Loudness War Is Winning

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It seems obvious when I go to a show, the music sounds louder and louder every time, or it seems like it, I get the impression the decibel level at any show is following an exponential curve. You know what they say, if the music is too loud, you are too old, and may be I am, but musicians are more and more at risk for hearing loss and tinnitus, so this is a concern.

However, a two-month old study demonstrates that extreme loudness isn’t only reserved for shows, it is a general trend. Engineer and producer Ian Shepherd compared ‘the ‘selected high (and low) –lights’ of recorded music levels over the last few decades’, and the diagram above speaks by itself. Do you see who is at the top? Metallica and there is no real surprise there, but also Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift? Did they make metal albums? it sounds like this, their albums are actually much louder that AC/DC’s 1980 ‘Back in Black’ or even Motörhead’s 1986 ‘The Ace of Spade’ and this is totally insane because I had the impression Motörhead was the loudest act ever. Plus if you compare Metallica’s 1991 ‘The Black Album’ with Metallica’s 2009 ‘Death Magnetic’, well, there is no comparison, the newest album is much louder, and there is no reason why a metal band which has played the same kind of music for decades, should pump up their volume to that point… unless everyone is doing it? Then, if you look at the dynamic range (difference between low and high) on the horizontal axis, it is getting smaller and smaller.

‘As a result of the so-called loudness wars, mainstream pop releases are being pushed onto CD and into mp3 files at such high levels they’re technically much ‘hotter’ than some of the loudest acts in history, in an attempt to make them stand out from the competition,’ writes Shepherd. ‘Why is it crazy ? Because it doesn’t work. None of these “loudness” differences will be audible in any of most popular places we listen to music.’

Still people can listen to these albums at home and push their speakers to the max. May be this loudness war can explain the success of certain artists like Taylor Swift, this is what people currently want, and looking how high on the scale the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Oasis are, despite the fact their albums were released in the 90’s, you know who is responsible!

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