It’s a well accepted fact that concerts are insanely loud — everyone’s experienced it before.
The music that screams throughout the venue, bringing your ears to the threshold of pain even if you stand in the back. The bass that pounds in your chest and makes it feel like you’re heart is misfiring. The ringing in your ears that persists days after the concert.
Whether it’s a basement show, a club or the tour of a world famous pop star, concerts have always found a way to turn the volume up to 11. According to H.E.A.R., the average concert is between 110 dB and 120 dB. For a reference, a busy street comes in at 80 dB and the average conversation is 60 dB. That is loud enough that you will begin to suffer hearing damage after just 30 minutes of exposure.
But why are concerts so loud? And why don’t sound guys turn it down? There are a variety of reasons.
The first are practical concerns. Sound guys and showrunners want to make sure the artists are heard and have good energy, which can be hard in large venues. If the volume is too quiet, the performance could be awkward.
Also, concert venues are often stadiums, which aren’t good for music performances. Stadiums are designed to give you a good view of the sport being played, but the design that optimizes that tends to create a lot of reverb. When artists are performing in stadiums, they want to make sure they aren’t drowned out by their own reverb, and that requires turning the volume up quite loud.
The instruments can also cause high volume. Drums in particular are problematic, being 119 dB on average — the volume of a concert — and to be heard over the sound of the drums, the other performers need to turn up to their volume as well.
Of course, there are times when none of these explanations are valid.
When it comes to energy, it’s possible to attain good energy without turning the volume up to high. There are plenty of venues, like churches to clubs, that are able to have an energetic performance while only being at 80–90 dB, which is a lot more pleasant to listen to.
Also, while stadium venues can create reverb, a lot of artists don’t perform in stadiums. Especially with up and coming performers, they’re playing music in smaller venues and bars, places where reverb isn’t a problem.
When it comes to drums, they are a common cause for high concert volume when they’re being used. More and more, however, artists are turning to electronic music without real drums. The number 1 genre in the US now is hip hop, a genre comprised of almost entirely electronic instruments, meaning there are no loud instruments that the artist needs to be heard over.
Despite that, concerts are still loud. So is it possible that there’s another reason that doesn’t have to do with the practical side of things?
For many artists, the reason their performances are loud isn’t because of any specific reason, it’s just because they want it to be loud. Concerts before them were loud, so they figure theirs should be as well.
Having a high volume creates an intense experience for the performers as well as the audience, and there’s just this power that comes with performing loud music.
Artists have historically liked being loud. The loudness war has been going on since the 1940’s, and while theoretically artists are making their music loud to gain more attention, studies have found no connection between loud volume and more sales. Many artists have continued to record and perform loud music simply because they like it.
For example, in 2008 Metallica released one of the loudest albums ever, Death Magnetic. Despite complaints about it, the band held out that they liked the album for being shrill and loud, and wouldn’t change a thing.
Some artists legitimately believe that louder is better, and therefore make their concerts loud simply for personal reasons. This has been perpetuated by soundmen and showrunners who go along with it because, in their minds, it’s the way we’ve always done things.
However, this shouldn’t be the case. The volume at concerts is excessively loud, and while it might be nice for performers, it’s making the concert experience worse for everybody else. It’s causing hearing loss, ruining the music that’s being performing and forcing most people to wear earplugs to protect themselves.
Concerts don’t have to be this loud — there is a way to run them to make them enjoyable and energetic without having the volume so high. For the benefit of everybody, showrunners and soundmen should listen to reason, and the loudness of their own concerts, and turn the volume down.