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Q: Why do they play the background music in movies and TV shows so loud? Many times you miss a lot of conversation due to this irritating music.

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Author: 
Adam Thomlison / TV Media

This is a question we receive fairly regularly, but every so often when the volume of questions rises (see what I did there?) we revisit it.

Unfortunately, there's not just one answer, nor is the problem likely to go away.

One of the reasons experts point to is show producers feel that a dramatic contrast between music and dialogue is exciting and "cinematic."

The BBC in the U.K. caused a minor controversy a few years ago when it responded to this criticism of one of its shows, "Wonders of the Universe," featuring celebrity scientist Brian Cox. It stated publicly that it would release a remix of the show with the music turned down. Cox criticized the decision, saying, "It should be a cinematic experience -- it's a piece of film on television, not a lecture."

However, there are a number of other factors feeding in as well. That "cinematic" ideal may only work when you're working on cinematic timelines, and with a movie theater's sound system.

Some experts point out that the volume problem on TV is the result of the hasty editing that often occurs in the TV biz, which works on much shorter deadlines than film. They also point out that our ability to distinguish different types of sounds depends on the audio system we're using. If a show's sound editor mixes it for a high-end home sound system (let alone for a "cinematic" experience), the result won't work as well on the speakers of your average television.

Unfortunately, it also depends on the ears we're using. Some people, particularly older ones or those who have experienced hearing damage, have more trouble picking up some sounds.

This brings us to the good news, which is that there are some things you can do about it. Investing in a set of external speakers will likely help, as they are usually better able to pick up the higher sound range where speech happens (music, on the other hand, tends to happen more on the low end, which is picked up better by built-in speakers).

If your TV allows it, you could also try playing around with the sound settings. As a last resort, some experts suggest listening through headphones.

 

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Have a question? Email us at questions@tvtabloid.com. Please include your name and town. Personal replies will not be provided.