Audio Track is a Blast

A grey tabby cat is jumping off a ledge. Nearby is a lamp that looks like a microphone.
Audio Track is a Blast for the Cat too

Dear Ms. Smartphone: Is social media like noise pollution? This audio track from Reels (on Instagram) is a blast. It wakes up my girlfriend’s baby, sends the cat flying across the room and spikes my blood pressure as I search for the volume control. After I mute the sound I forget to turn it back so then I miss the incoming phone calls and some notifications. Am I alone in this rant or am I sound (!)? Ruben

Dear Ruben: If social media/reels was designed with people first, you’d be able to tap on the offending Reel and silence it with one stroke. That used to be the case, but today it takes fumbling with the volume controls on the side of the phone or muting the device entirely. Agreed- that audio track is a blast.

When it comes to the audio invasion, social media is borrowing its cues from the TV world (broadcast, cable, and streaming).  TV commercials are created to be loud and get your attention.  Historically  the commercials were designed to be louder than the volume of the programs they interspersed and ad makers took steps to game this further. Since 2011 The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is supposed to cap commercial audio volume, so that commercials do not have excessive sound, compared to regular programming. However, the FCC ruling is seldom enforced, and they do not have jurisdiction over streaming services. 

That puts us today in the Wild Wild West on social media and helps explain why the audio track is a blast. 

Others Agree:

But, to address your rant, no you are not alone.  The Digiday Media site says that 75% of people often keep their phone on mute, even while watching a video. Another widely cited poll indicates that 85% of the videos on Facebook (not IG) are watched without sound. Two words of caution: these percentages presumably vary, whether viewers are in a public place or at home. Second, always read and interpret survey numbers found on the Internet with a degree of caution. 

One take-away, if these polls are fair, is to save the effort and  make your IG and Facebook posts without the audio track. If you must, pay attention to the embedded sound levels – and adjust them lower- before you post. Adding closed captions will help convey the message but less so, the tone. Advertisers don’t miss a beat and are savvy to include both the sound track and closed captions together!

To Mute or Not to Mute:

If you post on TikTok, it might be a different story since the audio track there is said to be integral to the “experience.” Part of the appeal of TikTok seems to be the ability to modify the audio and automatically adapt, loop, or reconstruct it.  Would-be artists and musicians hope that their audio clip will go viral or become a remix. Still, there are other TikTok users who also complain about the audio-blast too. If it’s words, not music, that’s disturbing you on TikTok, the platform offers a way to mute the offending party.

The Audio Engineering Society (AES) says in a whitepaper that one of the problems of streaming services is that artists compare their own stream to the loudest ones- think of it like  audio one-upmanship. They don’t want to whisper if everyone else is shouting.  So  in social media where there are no rules, there is also no silence. It’s an annoyance when Reels wakes the baby or startles the cat. But, it’s also an attention stealer and it discombobulates different sounds and instruments. To experience this, look away from the video on your phone, and just follow the audio tracks- you’ll have a blast!