Infographic of the Day: Pop Music’s Getting Worse. And Louder

You’re not just getting older. Today’s music is really getting louder.

Infographic of the Day: Pop Music’s Getting Worse. And Louder

If today’s pop music has ever made you grouse about that damn noise on the radio, it’s not (just) because you’re getting older and grumpier. Music is actually getting louder. Sound engineers are tinkering with songs to make them stand out on the radio and on MP3s. Thus, pop charts have become the equivalent of an argument, where everyone keeps shouting louder and louder just to be heard.

This graph from NPR of the most prolific pop songs from 1979-2009 illustrates the point:

music loudness

The basic tactic that sound engineers are employing is to turn the volume of every component on a track way up–from high frequencies to low. That way, the relative volume—basically the midpoint between the extremes–seems to remain the same. But the track sounds louder nonetheless.

The graph above shows that data: The different colored bands show the volumes of the various frequency bands; when stacked, they allow you to get a sense of how loud a song seems. (The composite value is something that sound engineers call RMS levels.)

music loudness

A detail of some of the “songs” included on the chart:

music loudness

But if you really want a smoking gun that shows what today’s sound engineers are up to, check out this video:


Fore more, check out NPR.

[Via Flowing Data]

About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.



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