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Josh Woodward: Creative Commons Music

Are My Songs Too Quiet?

poll Are they too quiet?
I've never noticed, so no.
They're quieter, but you should keep it that way.
Too quiet, I'd rather have them the same volume as other music.
  45 Votes - 33 Posts

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Are My Songs Too Quiet?

Posted on Thu, Nov 8, 2007

I have a question for those of you who have my songs on your iPod, and dare to have songs from other artists on them as well (as if you need music other than mine? hrumph). You might have noticed that when you put your player on shuffle that my songs seem quieter than most other commercial music. Does this ever bother you?

Without getting super-technical or ranty, this is by design - I am a fighter against the loudness war. Basically, modern music is in an arms war to be the loudest, but after a certain point you need to trade sound quality and dynamics for volume. I avoid that, because to me it's important that drums keep their punch and a loud chorus can really jump out after a quiet verse. Volume is relative - if everything is always turned up to 10, there's nowhere to go: nothing can feel louder than anything else.

I've always figured it didn't matter - if you pop in one of my CDs, you can always turn the volume knob up yourself, and the few radio stations who play me seem to adjust the volume on their end as needed. But the more I think about it, I'm guessing the vast majority of people listening to my music are doing it on MP3 players, mixed in with loud commercial bands. Do you think I should give in, and at least start splitting the difference?

   Discussion: Are My Songs Too Quiet?
Emily (anon) · 9 years, 1 month ago
I came across your music just minutes ago; the first one I listened to was 'I Want To Destroy Something Beautiful'. I remember thinking that it had a most beautiful, delicate introduction, which made the punch of the chorus... well, it just worked! It really caught my attention, and I honestly think it sounds absolutely fantastic. Music has used variations in volume for centuries to change the mood in the piece, and that technique really shouldn't be lost.

This might just be coming from someone with sensitive ears, but your pieces (from what I've heard so far: I'm still listening!) make a welcome change. I rarely make an effort to comment on work I come across, but yours really got through to me WITHOUT besieging my eardrums. Please don't give in to the loudness war. It's nice not to be musically shouted at sometimes! =)
Josh Woodward Back · 9 years, 1 month ago
Thanks, Emily! "I Want to Destroy Something Beautiful" is a great example of what I'm trying to accomplish. If a major label mastering engineer got their hands on it, they'd kill the contrast between the verse and chorus, and the powerful punch when the chorus hits is central to the effect I was after. Glad to see someone noticed :)
Emily (anon) Back · 9 years, 1 month ago
Bother. I mistyped the post verification number and now it's eaten my post. Second time lucky, hopefully.
Anyway - no problem! It's rare that I notice something musical and technical, but I do realise when something sounds good.

Very seldom are the times that I enjoy playing music when I have a headache, when I'm working, and when it's late at night, but this is one of those times, particularly as I also enjoy the lyrics in themselves in your work. The only other artist I tend to give that depth of attention to is Nick Cave. Whether you've heard of him (or indeed, like his work!) I'm not sure, but the reference was intended as a compliment. =)
Keep it up, and thank you for sharing!
Nick (anon) · 9 years, 1 month ago
Never really considered it, actually. A lot of the music I listen to is quite quiet anyway, and recently I've been using replaygain so all the music is at a normalised volume.
Javs · 9 years, 1 month ago
Doesn't bother me; it's not noticeably quieter than anything else, for the most part.

I say keep things the way they are. It seems to be working quite well. :D
Jamie Dull (anon) · 9 years, 1 month ago
I have always loved your style and sound. You really have it pinpointed. I, however, am a big fan of a loud master. Not necessarily super loud, like the rest of commercial music, but I still enjoy good volume overall. Especially with an mp3 player, if I turn the volume up myself, I can only go so far, and even distort my stereo (in my truck... with the iPod hook up).

I definitely like what you do, but I've noticed that your acoustic tunes are mastered really hot, and the full band rock tunes are just a bit lower (i.e. Effortless into She Dreams In Blue)...

I think that your music would just sound better overall with a louder master. I don't think trying it would hurt, but then again, I love your music the way it is too.
Josh Woodward Back · 9 years, 1 month ago
That's interesting you'd think that as a drummer. The drums are usually the first casualties of the loudness wars. The transients vanish, then the bass drum's body is cut out (low frequencies are more "expensive", sonically), and all that's left is this harsh wash of cymbals.

Then again, your stuff is mostly rockier, and can take a lot more squashing. It doesn't strike me as overdone, though. It's the RHCPs and Green Days of the world that are killing their music. My favorite example: listen to the bridge of "Boulevard of Broken Dreams". When the breakdown comes in with the acoustic guitar, it doesn't get any quieter. And when the full band comes back in, there's no punch. Then, listen to "Jail" from your new album, contrasting the first chorus with the rock at the end. That's what rock's supposed to be. :)

Mastering acoustic and rock songs together is tough. Something like "She Dreams in Blue" isn't super-dynamic, so I can bring the levels up fairly far without killing it. "Effortless" has more dynamics, and single-coil crunchy guitars sound nasty if you push them too far. So I usually aim to keep the quieter acoustic songs at the same level as the rock stuff unless I'm aiming for a certain effect. But it's tough to decide. Every CD, I reconsider if I want to hire a pro mastering engineer, but I just can't justify it financially.
Jamie Dull (anon) Back · 9 years, 1 month ago
Right on man. Your music is already super kick ass. I will say that I liked the way that the drums were mastered on the "Here Today" record, even though they weren't live drums. The levels and drum tone is still great. Maybe thats just the effect I like hearing with your songs. Either or, I still give you props on your mastering of "Omaha". The rock in that song is just F'ing sick!!! You can really hit the rock sound right on, and that's very impressive! As long as you keep writing great songs, I don't think you'll ever have an issue with the loudness.

Oh and I happened to actually listen to "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" yesterday on the radio... Yup, you pinpointed it. So wishy-washy and un-dynamic. Plus, that song sucks. Ha!
Emily · 9 years, 1 month ago
Hmmm, no complaints here...

I've got some songs that are too soft, but I just go into iTunes and tweak it if I have to, but your stuff is fine...
Brad (anon) · 9 years, 1 month ago
What is this iPod contraption I keep hearing somuch about?... ;)

Josh - you are an amazing composer, musician, performer, engineer (this list is quite extensive, so I'll end here for now). What you bring to the music scene is a welcome alternative in many, many ways. You're an unselfish musician and player and kudos for that.

As far as the volumes go, I had a hard time with my album and I gave in to the "machine" of modern music's volume war - and I feel that the final sound suffered because of it. My mixes were too hot and lacked the dynamic changes, which truly give your music the expression with which it was intended.

My vote is to not give in, rather continue your stellar work finding that perfect contrast between swelling choruses and intimate verses. There are ways to sound big without having that monster master - and you know that very well.
Loretta Mini (anon) · 9 years, 1 month ago
I like the way you sing your songs. If I need to have it a bit louder I can turn uo the volume myself. You are doing great and don't need to change. I know of many people who love your music the way it is. I even have a friend who made one of your songs the theme of her wedding. So keep going the way you are.
Arbie (anon) · 9 years, 1 month ago
Hi Josh!
Here at the little campus/community radio station I volunteer at we use a program called Mp3Gain to even out our sound level. Particularly for overnight playlists and such it is important to the professional sound to not have big differences between tracks. Actually in the end its more important to the dynamic range of the station that we not send too high a signal from our board, the backend contains a compressor to tame anything really hot. Maximum dynamic range is achieved just before that thing has to kick in.
Chris (anon) · 9 years, 1 month ago
I don't really notice a volume difference compared to any other artists I listen to, be honest. But I do notice how volume in your songs varies according to the part/mood of that section. I agree that this is very important in music. It's like putting emphases on certain syllables, but in terms of volume and parts.

(Then again, I try not to listen to big name modern music. I've been resorting to 60-80's music that I've missed out.)
Ashley Taylor (anon) · 9 years, 1 month ago
I think dynamics in music are incredibly important and not just to emphasize contrasting volumes. The the loudness or softness of a sound when it reaches your ear conveys tone, mood, feeling, and intention. A whisper, sometimes, says more than a shout. Don't give in just because there are only a few of us that understand that. Good job Josh :)
Stay True-
Todd Tyrtle (anon) · 9 years, 1 month ago
I would say you should normalize your songs so that it reaches full volume at the loudest point. This avoids my turning up a quieter song then (as I'm often on shuffle) being blasted by something else. Other than that, I don't have a problem.
Nicole (anon) · 9 years, 1 month ago
Like Emily, I just came across your music not too long ago and no way is it a problem. It sounds perfectly fine to me, no need to worry. Those of us who are fans, both old and new, love it just the way it is!
Jesse (anon) · 9 years ago
Thank you for not compressing the crap out of your music!
Max Cantor (anon) · 9 years ago
Hold strong, man! I'm just an armchair music enthusiast (I'm completely inept with every instrument except the kazoo), but I've witnessed and read about the "Loudness Wars", and they bug me too! Your music sounds perfect the way it is--the growing cacophony of modern music is a tragedy, and I'm glad there are still indy artists out there like you who don't get involved in the nonsense.
Kelly C (anon) · 9 years ago
I have your music on the ipod which I am now listening to almost daily alongside other artists in the indie vein (Joshua Radin, William Fitzsimmons, etc.) and I've never really noticed much of a problem. I think there is one song that starts out really softly that had me adjusting my volume, but I can't remember which one it was. I'll let you know when I come across it again. Whatever it was, it wasn't enough to bother me, though. I think you have excellent production.

Speaking of which, I'm in production phases of a few tunes and can't, for the life of me, figure out what I need to do to get the vocals to blend with the music. It always has that "live" sound and I don't want to drown myself in reverb. What is it that makes the vocals sound more even? Right now, we're doing our vocals with a performance mic because we're on a budget. Is a recording-quality mic going to be what it takes to fix this? I just ask because your vocals always sound amazing. I really love what you did on the Week of Rock. I'm going to go through and ilike them soon. ;-)
sarah parker (anon) · 9 years ago
i think your songs are quieter, but i do like it. it drives me crazy to listen to my friends' mp3 players. they always have it as high as they can playing some horrid heavy metal music. eek. i feel like my ears are going to die. back to the real point, they aren't so quiet that i can't put them in with my shuffled songs. it's not too big of a difference. it's kind of a "breath of fresh air", if you will.
Alex hosking (anon) · 9 years ago
by the look of that wave form, you are already far too loud, only the single loudest part of your song should be at maximum volume, not every single beat.

Josh Woodward Back · 9 years ago
Don't worry, the waveform image isn't me, it's an example of excess. :)
servodave (anon) · 9 years ago
Just found you on GarageBand.

These are beautiful. Leave it alone or go the other way if you do anything. As it is the dynamic range on these is good.

When needed these kick serious ass on my car system and hush down the rest of the song. All this without making my head hurt after the second song of the album.

The "engineering" on most overblown pop tracks seems tuned to people with junk speakers. These are the ones who just do not know or care how good things can sound when proper care is taken.

These recordings suit me perfect as is.

Great tunes, by the way.
Michael Gregoire (anon) · 9 years ago
I always use mp3gain on my mp3 files so I haven't noticed a problem.
Silje (anon) · 9 years ago
No reason to adjust the volume, I think the songs are fine just the way they are, and I don't think the volume difference is so much different, that I have to keep adjusting it (then again, I never use the shuffle function).
I don't know crap about technical stuff when it comes to sound, but my ears definitely agree with the way things are now.
Gary Storm (anon) · 9 years ago
I`ve heard some producers/mixers/mastering engineers do a version for the cd, and a different mix/master for mp3's. Something to do with the different frequencies available to each medium. Would this be a way to go?

The radio stations will blow your levels out of the water anyway... that's where the "Loudness War" started.. with FM Radio. After they increase all the levels they then compress the hell out of it for transmission. Radio really is the worst way to listen to music.

As for your stuff, keep it real, don't blow it away. We do have volume control.

My wife is doing her album right now and it will be mastered soon. Her producer is very very experienced and I'm sure will do the best thing for her music. I've linked to you on an upcoming post in her blog....
Chris (anon) · 9 years ago
I don't think your songs are too soft at all. I love the dynamic contrast that you bring to your songs, and I don't think they would be as affecting to your listeners if they were louder.

I normally use the SoundCheck feature on iTunes when I play things, but when I turn that off, I don't have to adjust the volume very much, if at all.

I think it's perfect the way it is.
VaiVedrai · 9 years ago
I have always found that your songs are either at a normal range of sound, or, on headphones, slightly louder than most commercial music (which I appreciate; it means the volume is kept on a lower level).
Hannes (anon) · 9 years ago
Thats one of the fantastic things about your music, josh. more or less uncompressed music (the tone not the quality).
i haven't measured it yet, but the dynamic is ok. U could compress the voice a little bit more but the instumental is awesome. don't you dare to change that ;-))
Heavy compressing even makes the quality worse and we don't want that, do we?
Josh Woodward Back · 9 years ago
See, I always worry that I'm compressing the vocal too much. I really squash the bejesus out of my voice, but sometimes there's a nagging little beast inside of me telling me to do it more. I'll give in next time. :D
Alejandro León Cálad (anon) · 8 years, 10 months ago
I know it's hard to resist the trends of the mass music market, but I think people needs to be educated about what really good sound is. The so called Loudness war is a stupid thing. I hate all those deffects caused by clipping, distorsion, etc. we see in commercial CD's today. It offends my ear. Please stay true to your convictions and dont' pay attention to the rest of the music bussines. Your music sounds very nice even in noisy enviroments and I don't care playing with the volume in my iPod when one of your songs plays softer than others. There's a solution for this, and it's a tool called MP3Gain. It's free and I use it to give more gain to some songs, but it respects de dinamic range of the music. It even tells you if the increase on gain will produce clipping when playing. Give it a try. Keep rocking my friend. Recibe un fuerte abrazo desde Colombia! Alejandro
Jesus (anon) · 8 years, 9 months ago
If anything, it's still just a tiny bit too loud. I'm not criticizing you, but this is the beginning of the thought process that started the whole loudness war stuff. Obviously I've heard a lot worse, but...
Dallas (anon) · 8 years, 9 months ago
I can't think of an free music producing indie artist who WILL tell you to give in to the loudness war. If someone wants to level the dynamics... let them, but the originals should be full of ups and downs. One thing (and you might to this already... ) You could always just take the loudest part of the music and use that to set the overall volume. But don't go and compress your heart to the point where you can't tell if it's beating.

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