Noises on

Writing in The Observer, James Tapper examines an unlikely but increasingly lucrative branch of the music industry: Recordings of non-musical noise, promoted as enhancing concentration, relaxation, sleep and other desirable outcomes.

The Sleep Foundation identifies three types of potentially beneficial noise: white noise, “containing all frequencies across the spectrum of audible sound,” comparable to static; pink noise, having “sounds within each octave, but the power of its frequencies decreases by three decibels with each higher octave,” as heard from a waterfall; and brown noise, which “contains sounds from every octave of the sound spectrum, but the power behind frequencies decreases with each octave,” resembling the sound of rainfall.

“Noise fans say that studying, sleeping and meditation are all enhanced by listening to these sounds at modest levels,” Tapper writes. He notes that an audio track called “Clean White Noise – Loopable with No Fade” has been played more than 830 million times, “worth an estimated $2.5 million in royalties.” (Playing it on a continuous loop for seven hours wracks up 280 plays.)

“This just drains the money away from things that have cultural value,” says Tom Gray, guitarist of the rock band Gomez. “There are amazing artists working in sound design, but a lot of the stuff we’re talking about isn’t that, it’s just someone sticking a [microphone] out of the window.”