Your Parents Are Right: Music Really Has Gotten Louder

Illustration for article titled Your Parents Are Right: Music Really Has Gotten Louder

You know how your mom or grandma or whoever is always complaining about how "kids these days" listen to louder music than when she was young? Turns out, she was scientifically correct.

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Echo Nest, a Boston-based startup that builds music recommendation engines for folks like Spotify, just released a study that analyzes the top 5,000 songs since 1950. Indeed, the average volume of the songs climbs steadily until about 1990 when Kurt Cobain (probably) turned up the volume on the world. From that point on, the graph shoots upwards.

Illustration for article titled Your Parents Are Right: Music Really Has Gotten Louder
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It's very important, at this point, to specify exactly what the researchers mean by "louder." This is not the actual volume of the music, the kind that you can turn up and down with a knob. Rather, this measure of loudness considers the difference between the softest part of the song and the loudest part. Over time, the softest parts of songs have been getting increasingly louder while the loudest part is getting closer and closer to the max. Try playing Rage Against the Machine and The Supremes at the same time. You'll get the point.

But that's not all. Music has actually been getting consistently more energetic—"energetic" being the mix of volume, beats, structural changes and instrument sounds. Echo Nest did a similar survey of those 5,000 songs and found that music today is about three times more energetic than it was back in the days of sock hops.

So are we just a fiercer generation, one that wants MORE all the time? More volume, more energy, more power? More, more, more! Nah. Actually, we're lazy as hell. [FastCo]

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Image by Shutterstock/Asier Romano

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DISCUSSION

jstevewhite
J. Steve White

Audio engineers are constantly decrying the compression of audio and the "wall of noise" you get on modern CDs. You don't even have to listen to see the difference. Load up any 1970s cut in Audacity, and next to it, pick any modern pop or rock song. There's obvious visual variation in the envelope of the old stuff, but the new stuff looks like a big, solid bar with (usually) tapered ends.

I don't know that it means anything, honestly. When I was a kid and went to see bands in person - the case I like to use was the Rush Signals tour - which was the loudest concert I've ever attended, and I attended SummerJams in Arrowhead Stadium - and the experience of the concert was much more like modern music. Music in the past was mixed for lower powered amplifiers that would distort and waffle if you put too much juice behind a kick drum or bass guitar - but if you stood in the audience, you could feel them in your bones, much like a high-power stereo with subwoofer today.