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The Loudness Wars

Effective communication will always require some degree of irrationality in its creation because if it’s perfectly rational it becomes, like water, entirely lacking in flavor… Quite simply, all powerful messages must contain an element of absurdity, illogicality, costliness, disproportion, inefficiency, scarcity, difficulty or extravagance—because rational behavior and talk, for all their strengths, convey no meaning.”
Rory Sutherland

Grabbing the valuable attention of people in a busy media landscape requires to be loud. Everything has to be extra.

Good is not enough, it has to be the best. Disagreement bores, it has to be war. Inconvenience is forgotten, torture is remembered.

This trend toward the extreme happened in the music industry as well. When producers and executives realized that louder tracks got more attention, and therefore more sales, they began an escalation known as the Loudness War. Musicians wanted their track to be loud enough to stand out among others, leading to a sharp general increase of the audio level of recorded discs overall.

Loud tracks may get more attention, but there is a tradeoff: a loss of dynamic range. In other words, the difference between quiet and loud decreases. Nuance decrease. There’s art in the nuance. Suspense, intensity, and subtlety disappear when the dynamic range flatten.

Making things louder attract more attention, but preserving the nuance adds depth to the experience.

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