Reality Pro Tip: Turn it Down, Will Ya?

In the wake of this month’s approval of the CALM act (CALM being an acronym representing “Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation”), wherein the FCC unanimously voted to make it illegal for advertisers to boost volume during ad breaks, comes my own gripe about too-loud-tv:  Uber-hot music mixes in shows.

A recent post by‘s Andy Dehnart on Facebook quoted a letter he’d received from someone who’d written to complain about how loud the background music was on a reality program.  While the humor of the post was derived from the author of the email somehow thinking that Andy was in a position to do something about it, it actually raised a very real question for me:  Why the hell have reality shows started mixing their music so hot lately?

Look… sometimes, field content isn’t all that sensational, so every once in a while, editors throw in a good drum hit, a cricket, or some other oddball “sting” to call your attention to a particular action or phrase.  When a whole scene needs to be spiced up, though, it’s time to bring the pirates over the wall.

Yep, I’m guilty of coining that phrase.  Two people glaring at each other over coffee isn’t that exciting, but if you build a driving piece of music to a crazy crescendo over it, you can hang the end of an act or even an episode on it — so long as you’re using those big “pirates coming over the wall” tracks.  They do have a tendency to get loud, though.  Pirates are noisy buggers, after all.

The problem with that is that you have to apply that kind of thing sparingly.  You can’t do it in every scene or act or the audience will get audio shell shock.

Another reason music could be mixed hotter than normal might just be the amount of music placement going into shows.  Some pop artist has a new track that a media company wants to showcase, so suddenly, that track (complete with lyrics) gets dropped into a show somewhere.  A rough cut or two later, there might be a request to boost the soundtrack a little bit, as — of course –the network really wants to show off the song.  The danger in putting music ahead of story is simple to understand — you can easily be completely yanked out of the scene if the music is trumping story content.

Here’s another of my goofy metaphors: Let’s say two people are arguing on the street and some guy walks by blasting Sir Mix-A-Lot’s classic “Baby Got Back” out of a boombox.  You might find yourself suddenly following the music instead of the fight you were watching.  THAT’S WHAT’S WRONG WITH SCREAMING MUSIC TRACKS.

See how distracting the all-caps are?  BOOM. CONCENTRATION BLOWN BY NOISE.

At any rate, story and editing superfriends, keep watching those levels and remember — make your decisions in favor of story over noise whenever you can.


2 thoughts on “Reality Pro Tip: Turn it Down, Will Ya?

Add yours

  1. Very informative post, as well as funny! I’ve been trying to catch more RTV, even if just surfing, so my next task will be to find some pirates and make sure not to invite them onto my ship.

  2. But don’t TV shows now simply increase their sound level just before and after the breaks so TV ads can be louder? That is what seems to be what shows are now doing. Even news programs are doing this with their splashes going away and coming back from commercials.

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