Robert Estrin - piano expert

What is Music Pollution? Part 2

The second part of the "Music Pollution" series

In this second video answering the question, "What is Music Pollution?", Robert dives more deeply into the concept and the many opinions about it.

Released on February 22, 2017

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi. Welcome to and I'm Robert Estrin. Today, we have a response to the "Music Pollution" video. It was so tremendous, all the comments, I really appreciate it. And it's nice to see that there is almost unanimous support for this idea that music doesn't have to be played every square inch of everywhere you go to be appreciated. In fact, quite the opposite. Music is something to be listened to and treasured, not something that's relegated to the background. And in fact, the danger is that people grow up thinking that you don't really focus in on music, as I discussed in my last video. Well, what more could possibly be said about this idea of music pollution?

Well, earlier today, I was on the phone and I went on hold, and you know where I'm going with this. That's right, the on-hold music. Sometimes this can be a loop of as little as 30 seconds, and if you're on hold for 4 or 5 minutes, it can drive you crazy. More than that, as you well know, the sound quality on a phone is often times horrendous, so it's something you can't possibly enjoy. Worse yet, my little complaint is why does the music have to be 10 times louder than the person talking? Well anyway, so, that's one example, but it permeates other aspects of our lives. You know, there was a time when music was extremely quiet. Musical instruments were not very evolved. Go back to the Baroque Era, before the piano was invented. Listen to a clavichord, such an expressive instrument that doesn't produce enough sound to be heard, even for someone playing halfway across the room. Even the harpsichord, the most robust keyboard instrument, really could only be relegated to small ensembles or little chamber kind of concerts.

Of course, musical instruments grew, and the orchestra grew to the symphony orchestra, the piano, and then even into the 20th century, instruments continued to evolve with louder instruments like the saxophone emerging. Then, of course, the electric guitar, and before you knew it, sound you know, could fill stadiums. But there was always the challenge of getting clean sound, and then we came up with systems that amplified music. It could really, really reach massive levels. And the way it worked was, earlier systems introduced distortion and it was a real problem. A problem sonically, it doesn't sound pleasing. More than that, distortion could blow up speakers. So, lights were invented so you could look at the levels and get the optimum level to have a good, clean, clear sound. Then the trouble started. Engineers, not being used to the fact that you had unlimited range of volume, would look in those red lights and, basically, tweak everything so everything was just under that red light. Well, that used to be fine before sound systems could produce 110 or 120 decibels beyond the threshold of pain.

So, where do we find ourselves today? How often have you walked into a club and want to hear a group playing music, and it's so unbelievably loud that the only way you could endure it for any length of time is to put something in your ears? It's almost like mass insanity sometimes. You walk into a room, it's like, could this really be comfortable for everyone? Now, even in movie theaters today, sometimes the sound could be beyond the level of comfort, because technology's gotten to a point where it's virtually unlimited how loud you can go. At one point, louder was better, but we certainly reached the point where engineers have to use more than their eyes to make good sound. It's important to use your ears. Now, there's a lot to this. If you know anything about equalization curves, it's possible to make something loud and satisfying without causing ear fatigue or pain, by having certain frequencies emphasized and some de-emphasized. In fact, in some more forward thinking restaurants even, they know how to peak down the vocal frequency spectrum so that you can carry on a conversation, but still hear the bass nice and full, and a little bit of the treble, and be able to carry out a conversation without having those other frequencies interfere. So there's a great deal of artistry to sound, to be able to do sound and sound reinforcement that comes into play.

In the mean time, I don't know what we can do as individuals to try to change the thinking that things have to be overwhelmingly loud in order to be enjoyable, particularly when there's acoustic music. Acoustic music, of course, you have to amplify, for example, in a jazz group, the singer has to go through a PA to balance with the louder drums and other instruments. But, often times, everything is amplified much louder than necessary to be able to enjoy the music. Here again, I know I've opened up a can of worms, would love to hear from others out there. Have you found this also to be the case, where amplified music, often times, is much louder than necessary and it could lose something when you are actually fighting the pain or trying to find a place far away from the stage because it's too loud? Or sometimes, one trick is to get closer to the stage, in front of the PA speakers. That's a trick you got to try. Others who have tricks and tips how to handle overwhelming levels and still to be able to enjoy live music that's amplified, love to hear from you. Again, Robert Estrin at and
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Christopher Slevin * VSM MEMBER * on March 29, 2017 @7:50 am PST
Yes, Robert, I believe that excessively lound music is dterimental in many ways. Once in a shoe store the music was so loud that I could not communicate with the shop assistant.

When the Cavern Jazz Club opened in Liverpool, I used to mix the sound from three microphones when the main man went across the street to the "Grapes" for a break.

It seems to me that the performers can only hear the volume when reflected from the farthest part of the aiditorium and they don't really know how loud their music is to the audience. I, and three of my friends once quit a dance hall in Orrell Park as the music was so loud that we could not "chat up" the girls. I liked some of their later compositions - the band was The Beatles.
Loud volume made it no longer necessary to make conversation - it was impossible and perhaps that had an appeal to those with limited conversation skills. Today iphones/texting etc seem to mimic this.
Robert Estrin - host, on March 29, 2017 @2:44 pm PST
When bands play in larger clubs, arenas and stadiums, there are 2 completely separate sound systems: the main system (which the audience hears) and the monitor mix (which the band hears). In larger shows there may be 2 engineers, one for each mix.

More sophisticated shows have multiple monitor mixes so each musician hears what they need to hear. Some concerts utilize in each monitors for complete isolation so each musician has a controlled mix they hear.

A new type of sound system was introduced a few years ago by Bose (which several companies now offer) which utilizes units that have subwoofer and towers of small speakers that disperse sound in a wide pattern. Each musician on stage has one. It enables the band (in smaller venues) to work with one mix instead of the traditional main/monitor type of arrangement that has been popular for years.

As for conversation being a lost art, one aspect of loud music in venues is that any conversation requires very close contact between people. So, it can create a unique type of intimacy.
Geoff * VSM MEMBER * on March 1, 2017 @5:07 am PST
I agree that music, both recorded and live, if often over amplified to the extent that it loses any subtlety and ceases to be enjoyable. For me, it is worse when the bass is turned up even more, creating vibrations that are not so much heard as felt in the heart and chest. The bass seems to interfere in some way with the natural heartbeat and leaves me feeling il and needing to leave immediately.
Robert Estrin - host, on March 1, 2017 @12:15 pm PST
Indeed, bass frequencies at high volumes can affect your physiology. Some people enjoy the energy particularly when utilized as dance music. But it certainly isn't for everyone!
Donald E. Whatley * VSM MEMBER * on February 24, 2017 @5:43 pm PST
Thank you so true
Akin-Ajayi Oluwaseun Collins on February 23, 2017 @4:13 am PST
The situation is even worse in my country, Nigeria. The sounds coming from our engineers could cause permanent damage to one's Ears if care is not taken.
Graeme Costin * VSM MEMBER * on February 22, 2017 @2:12 pm PST
Some years ago I went to a fund raiser dinner for a local school. Any kind of conversation with the person next to you was extremely difficult - in fact I thought the band was terrible. Then I left the auditorium and stood in the hallway outside. With the doors to the auditorium closed I could enjoy the music, and I discovered that the band was actually quite good - interesting harmonies, pleasantly nuanced melodies, good counter melodies. A good band was having its reputation trashed by amplification that was way too loud!
Robert Estrin - host, on February 23, 2017 @3:58 pm PST
The sound engineer is often times the most important member of the band! They must not only have a command over the technology, but they must be sensitive to the acoustics of the room, speaker placement, as well as the energy of the band as well as the interaction of the audience.
paul.plak * VSM MEMBER * on February 22, 2017 @2:05 pm PST
last time I wanted to have a drink in a moody place with a visitor in the evening, we walked from place to place only to find out the music was so loud that talking to one another and understand what we say was impossible or at least very uncomfortable. We finally ended up in the quiet but totally not moody hotel lobby. That's a shame ...
Kathryn Bowman * VSM MEMBER * on February 22, 2017 @8:56 am PST
This is truly a problem for me! Movie theaters are too loud, and I won't go to a rock concert without ear plugs. I have to protect my hearing because I play cello! I carry ear plugs in my purse! At wedding receptions, DJs play the music so loud, you can't carry on a conversation. When we have asked them to turn it down, they will turn it down for a few minutes, and then then turn it up again. It's maddening!!!
Robert Estrin - host, on February 23, 2017 @3:57 pm PST
What many musicians and engineers fail to understand is that when music remains loud for an extended period of time, it loses its energy. It is the contrast of dynamics which adds excitement to music. Not only that, but your ears get fatigued with extended listening at high volume.
Tosh * VSM MEMBER * on February 22, 2017 @6:55 am PST
My own gripe about unwanted musical background concerns the boring and incessant rthymic pounding of something that sounds like a synthesizer imitating cymbals, all of which occur in many tv crime shows, where little action is actually happening but where the incessant sounds seem to be an attempt to heighten suspense or tension. Irritating stuff to say the least, the foregoing has become an "auditory cliche" for many directors of fictional crime shows and reality shows. Makes me enjoy older classic movies which often had many scenes with "no" background sounds at all.
Mary on February 22, 2017 @5:25 am PST
I really enjoy your articles. I read every one! I even keep hard copies of some of the most useful to me. The one thing that really bothers me is your use of "gotta" got to and "wanna" want to in your Video Transcriptions. Why would you use words like that in an otherwise so professional presentation?
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on February 22, 2017 @12:08 pm PST
Dear Mary, thank you for your comment. Robert has nothing to do with the transcriptions we offer here on VSM, and I apologize for the written language which was incorrectly transcribed literally from the spoken video. I have just provided to correct your mentioned words with the more appropriate ones.

Please, feel always free to contact me with any other questions or ideas you may have, I will be glad to hear from you.

Thank you again for watching and following us!
Val Lennie * VSM MEMBER * on February 22, 2017 @4:07 am PST
I wish we could do something to reverse this hearing damaging situation. Thank you for publishing your views. They are the same as mine. Occupational safety regulations exist for Many health threats, but what about the vulnerability of every member of the public, no matter what age whose lives are bombarded with painful noise which belies the name of music.
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