Have you ever listened to a song or video, and after it ended, you felt like you did not understand half of the lyrics? Well, there is a good reason for it, and it’s probably not entirely the fault of your hearing. According to a recent study, the lead vocal to accompaniment level ratios (LAR) have been on the decline since the 1940s (Gerdes and Siedenburg, 2023).
By sampling the Billboard Top 100 lists, researchers found that in the 1940s, the LARs were closer to 5 dB, but as the decades rolled on toward the 1970s, the average LARs dropped to just 1 dB. Of course, there are variations between genres and between solo artists versus bands. Solo Country, Solo Rap, and Solo Pop artists have the highest LARs currently. Interestingly and perhaps not surprisingly, metal bands have a negative LAR value.
Audiologists know that to hear speech clearly, those with hearing loss need a greater speech-to-noise ratio. Now, we would never call the accompanied music “noise;” however, the current mixing levels do make it difficult for those with hearing loss to understand the lyrics.
With this in mind, another study explored level and spectrum-based music mixing for those with hearing impairment (Aravindan et al, 2023). The goal of this study was to obtain information regarding preferred mixing levels differences between groups without any hearing difficulties, those with hearing loss but not aided, and those with hearing loss using hearing aids. Results suggest that each group has certain distinct preferences that may lead to customized mixes for those with hearing loss. For more details, check out the links in the references below.
Benjamin AJ, Siedenburg K. (2023) Exploring level- and spectrum-based music mixing transforms for hearing-impaired listeners. J Acoust Soc Am 154(2):1048–1061.
Karsten G, Siedenburg K. (2023) Lead-vocal level in recordings of popular music 1946–2020. JASA Express Lett. 3(4):043201.
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