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November 24, 2008 9:28 PM   Subscribe

What's the psychology behind EXTREMELY loud music in nightclubs, concerts, and even some stores?

I think everyone likes music loud enough to hear it, but what's the reasoning behind places turning up music so loud that you feel vibrations in your chest?

It's something I've noticed forever (obviously), but I am really starting to wonder why is it necessary. When you're at nightclubs, it's really frustrating when you try to talk to your friends, or meet new people, but you can't hear ANYTHING because the music is so loud. It makes even less sense for stores to play extremely loud music, because customers and clerks need to interact with each other in order to make purchases.

It makes me wonder if it is something similar to the reason why nightclubs like to dim their lights...it's to cover up all the dirt and trash. But, what would loud music cover up? Is it a tactic to distract people from something?

Anyone who works at these sort of places or have a background in marketing, would you care to share the reasons why it is desirable to turn the volume way up?
posted by sixcolors to Society & Culture (29 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know about stores, but in clubs, isn't it so you can say "It's awfully loud in here. Do you want to go somewhere so we can talk?"

(I don't go to clubs.)
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 9:31 PM on November 24, 2008

This is completely my opinion on stores, so take it for what you think it's worth. But I've always thought that stores (especially clothing stores) did it more as a way to attract customers than anything else.

With the actual difference between the clothes being essentially nonexistent to someone who isn't dead set on a certain brand, the song could be what makes you decide to go into a store.

On a more subtle level, you might slow down because you hear a song you like.

My sister used to work at American Eagle, and they got music to play that pretty much when along with what was at the top of the pop charts.
posted by theichibun at 9:33 PM on November 24, 2008

In clubs, you can't converse, you can only drink, dance, read lips, and use sign language. Loud music probably contributes to drink sales.

Very loud music is supposed to be cool and exciting. It increases the hip factor. A lot of people want to be cool and hip and businesses know this.

I've been in these stores that play music that you can feel in your bones. They are usually cheesy gift emporiums in Key West. I have no idea why they do it in stores like this.
posted by Fairchild at 9:37 PM on November 24, 2008

They do it in one particular chain of American Eagle-style stores here in NZ malls. I figure it's to scare away the old fogies, like me. Well, yeah I do - I think it sets a precedence for the type of shopper they want. The volume and type of music presumably attract the tween/teen/early twenties clubbing crowds, which is the type of clothing they sell, too.
posted by tracicle at 9:40 PM on November 24, 2008

posted by phoenixy at 9:44 PM on November 24, 2008

My take on loud music in clothing stores is that it's meant to disorient you and make you feel like buying something and leaving as soon as possible. It makes it more difficult to objectively evaluate something you consider buying.
posted by pravit at 9:46 PM on November 24, 2008 [3 favorites]

The rock and roll [volume] threshold and how it relates to "the sensory system located in the inner ear that allows us to maintain balance and enjoy movements such as swinging." (Hopefully a med student will explain to the rest of us what that abstract means).
posted by salvia at 9:58 PM on November 24, 2008

When you can't talk, all you can do is dance and drink. Clubs want people dancing, because they want their dance floors full, and they want people drinking, for obvious reasons. It also lets people go somewhere and be entirely superficial - you can decide who you want to make out with on the dance floor based purely on appearance, because no one can talk anyway. And that's what the club atmosphere is all about - looking good, dancing, and being cool and attractive based on how you look and move. God, I hate clubs.
posted by Dasein at 10:00 PM on November 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

My friend Jen is deaf and dances to the beat because she can feel it through the vibrations. That's hardly the reasoning behind it, though, I'm sure.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 10:09 PM on November 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I once worked at a bookstore where we'd crank up Judas Priest whenever we saw customers on their cellphones. Possibly atypical causation.
posted by soma lkzx at 10:10 PM on November 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

What bizarre answers! It sounds like no one here actually enjoys music.

It's one of those things that's so obvious it's kind of hard to explain it. But basically- loud music is exciting and immersive. The term "volume" doesn't just mean loudness- it means the music is filling the space. This creates a communal, exciting experience among everyone there that could almost be compared to a trance state.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:16 PM on November 24, 2008 [14 favorites]

drjimmy11, I enjoy music, and loud music. I don't enjoy being deafened, which is what music at the volume of club music will do to you. I also don't enjoy not being able to talk to people who I've gone out with - that has nothing to do with the music that's being played.
posted by Dasein at 10:36 PM on November 24, 2008

Indeed, loud music fills up space, gets your pulse racing before you even step inside. It's an atmosphere. Even having to shout to communicate is exciting. You'll associate the shop or club with excitement and energy and, with luck and a fast enough pulse, you'll buy drinks/ shop/ etc. At the very least, you'll associate that place with excitement and buzz.

(Or it may leave you with a migraine, but that's just me.)

So basically drjimmy11 has it.
posted by tavegyl at 10:36 PM on November 24, 2008

There may also be a loudness war at play in clubs. A few hundred people in an enclosed space will make lots of noise, even if they mostly dance without talking. The music then needs to be cranked up, to dominate over the crowd noise, and people will talk louder, making even more noise.

Apart from that, like drjimmy11 says, some music is best enjoyed when you can feel it in your bones.
posted by ghost of a past number at 10:44 PM on November 24, 2008

Have you ever walked into one of these places when the lights are turned up, the music turned off and the crowds are gone? You think to yourself, wow, this is how small this place really is. To me, one reason out of many for them to turn the music up is because it makes the club bigger in your mind. You could scream and not get the attention of more than one or two people. The music, along with the low lights, shrinks your personal zone. When you're talking with a lovely lady the music forces you to lean in close, whisper in her ear.

Also, like others said, it makes you wanna drink and dance, and it's exciting, and it's novel and so on. There's really a lot of reasons.
posted by malapropist at 11:40 PM on November 24, 2008

It makes me wonder if it is something similar to the reason why nightclubs like to dim their lights...it's to cover up all the dirt and trash.

No, it's more to cover your blemishes (the choice in light colours especially for this) and let people feel more comfortable, looking their best, and less exposed and under the spotlight so they can loosen their collars so to speak, without being under a microscope. It is a lot harder for many people to find the courage to dance on a brightly lit floor.

As to the question, I don't know, but I find it helps considerably if I copy the staff and security - ie always bring earplugs. The right ones cut the volume way down to a tolerable level without cutting far into speech-tone volume, so you can just as easily understand people talking to you, but get rid of a lot of the sound system volume.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:41 PM on November 24, 2008

Apart from making people drink more loud music also forces people to stand closer to each other when they talk. This lets unscrupulous nightclub owners pack more people through the door.

When people say "its too loud to hear yourself think" that is precisely the point for many: it can make it a lot harder for whatever voice in the back of your head is inducing you to worry - to make itself heard.
posted by rongorongo at 3:16 AM on November 25, 2008

You've probably heard people here on the internet complaining about cell phones and people talking and crying babies in locations like movie theatres, restaurants and public transport.

Have you ever heard people complaining about other patrons' noise in clubs? No you haven't.
posted by Mike1024 at 3:19 AM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't actually believe this, but James-Lange theory would explain things nicely.
posted by dmd at 4:57 AM on November 25, 2008

Stores play loud music because loud music creates a party atmosphere, which loosens inhibitions. In this frame of mind, customers part with their money much more readily than they would otherwise and they also don't think critically about the merchandise on offer.

Abercrombie & Fitch is a good example of this.
posted by jason's_planet at 5:24 AM on November 25, 2008

Loud music + dim lights + booze = unaware of how unattractive and annoying everyone there is.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 5:40 AM on November 25, 2008

Part of it may be that you have better-than-average hearing, so what's excruciatingly loud for you isn't nearly so bad for the people around you. Part of the reason I'm no longer a live music engineer is because I have a ridiculously low ear pain threshold.

But when I was an engineer, I had to learn that what was uncomfortably loud to me was about where my bosses instructed me to set the main volume. It didn't seem to be uncomfortable to most people. Go figure.

Seconding what everyone above said about creating atmosphere. Some types of music are meant to be played / listened to at high volume. Some people really do enjoy the visceral experience of having music they enjoy literally shake their bones.

I can't speak for dance clubs so much, but in terms of live music, if you're looking to go someplace where you'll be able to talk to people, look into what type of music they're playing at the venue. Some kinds of world music, many acts labeled "acoustic," and anything with a harp will allow you to hear people a little more freely.

Oh, and earplugs help enormously.
posted by corey flood at 5:48 AM on November 25, 2008

If you spend 7 nights a week as a club DJ, your hearing is going to suffer, so your going to keep cranking up the volume. It's one of the hidden costs of working in the music club business. I theorize sometimes that I can tell how long a sound engineer has been working, by how over-tweaked the high-range is during his level checks.
posted by nomisxid at 6:04 AM on November 25, 2008

I once asked the people at Chipotle if they could turn the music down a little. Their response (said very politely): it's actually on a sensor so it goes up the more crowded the store is. The annoyingly loud music makes people leave faster, but doesn't actually stop them from buying stuff.
posted by Madamina at 7:20 AM on November 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

I've noticed that when something is really bothering me to the point I am so anxious I have to block it out even to function, and I go into a really loud environment, I can no longer effectively block the object of my fears; I even say them out loud sometimes-- 'what the hell am I going to do about the porch roof', for example.

I think this means that really loud music is disinhibiting because you spend all your powers of inhibition blocking the pain and arousal the loudness of the music would produce and you can't block much of anything else.

For stores, perhaps such a disinhibiting effect would raise the probability a shopper would follow through on an impulse to buy.
posted by jamjam at 9:16 AM on November 25, 2008

(background: i'm an old raver, as you can probably tell from the years-ago-bestowed nickname ;)

i don't know much about normal clubs because i tend to avoid them, but at raves or whatever passes for them in '08, the dancefloor isn't about talking. the bass is supposed to rattle your teeth and shake your bones and take you out of yourself to a place where you aren't thinking about the people around you or where you are. my preferred place to dance is immediately in front of the speaker where every time a bassline hits i feel it from head to toe.

that said, i never set foot in a club or concert of any type without my earplugs. i assume that if i'm going out to dance, sneakers will be on my feet and earplugs will be in my pocket.

at raves or whatever passes for them, though, there's also typically a chill room where quieter, more downtempo music is played and you're s'posed to be able to meet people/make new friends/talk to old ones. a good club playing any kind of music should also have that area in my opinion.
posted by groovinkim at 11:25 AM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Is there an element of rebellion, of defying social norms of acceptable behaviour, to it? You know, we're told to turn music down etc, so listening to it really loud seems naughty and therefore fun and cool and totally not what Mum and Dad would do.

I once asked the people at Chipotle if they could turn the music down a little. Their response (said very politely): it's actually on a sensor so it goes up the more crowded the store is. The annoyingly loud music makes people leave faster, but doesn't actually stop them from buying stuff.
posted by Madamina at 12:20 AM on November 26 [1 favorite +] [!]

How would that even work?
posted by oxford blue at 1:26 AM on November 26, 2008

Ghost of a Past Number makes a good point. Lot's of people talking in an enclosed space are LOUD. I DJ at a cocktail lounge/club on Saturday nights and am constantly raising the volume just to hear the monitors. It's at least a 14 db gain throughout the night.

Oh yeah, if it's too loud, you're too old!
posted by Jawn at 4:44 AM on November 26, 2008

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