Fix Quiet Songs In iTunes

Here's one I feel like an idiot for not discovering sooner. Some songs are louder than others. Well, okay, I knew that. And I know the reasons why that is. What I didn't know was how easy it is to fix the levels on even the quietest of songs in iTunes.

First, a bit of background on why some song levels are so low compared to others. It goes back to penis size.

I'm only sort-of kidding.

The loudness war began with the jukebox. Many record producers and engineers would use shady techniques to make their bands' songs sound louder than other bands songs (when played at the same volume of course) in hopes of making their songs stand out. Since music was recorded and mixed on tape back then, results varied because there was no real limit on how loud they could go. If a song was recorded at a level that was too loud (or "hot"), it would end up sounding a little thick (for lack of a better way to describe it) but that sound, if not overdone, was kind of cool.

Everything changed when CDs came along. With digital media, there is no "warm/thick" sound. Instead, if something is recorded to hot, it turns into digital noise, which is an awful, harsh, static sound. This meant there was now a standard maximum volume, more or less, for all music. This volume was named "digital zero."

In the old days, music had much more dynamic range. In other words, songs had quieter spots and louder spots. When those songs became an album on CD, the loudest sound on the entire album was set to digital zero - meaning, the loudest the entire CD can get, leaving you with quieter songs overall.

Today, with less dynamic range, all songs are closer to the same relative volume, meaning that everything sounds loud, by comparison.

"Blah blah, frigging BLAH! What can I do about it in my iTunes library?!?"

I'm glad you asked!

You may have realized you can boost a song's volume a little by clicking "get info" (right click on a song title for this option, or, in your menu bar, click FILE, GET INFO).

iTunes help

This gives you an info box for that particular song. Click "options" and you can boost the song's volume.

iTunes help

For most recent songs, that's plenty. But for some older ones, like this 80's song by The BoDeans, a little more of a boost is needed.

And here's the fix: USE THE EQUALIZER.

Click the Equalizer button at the bottom of your iTunes player to see the EQ:

iTunes help

iTunes help

Make sure you click the "on" box to activate the EQ. The next thing I did was to edit the list of EQ presets and delete them all. That's up to you - but I recommend leaving that crap off.

Next, we're going to create two presets. I named them +3 and +6. meaning how many decibels (db) I'd be boosting the volume of a song. Again, too loud will cause static. I've found that +3 is a good setting for most older songs, and +6 for a few really quiet ones.

iTunes help

The slider to the far left is a preamp (as in, pre-amplification). It boosts the level of the entire song, whereas the other faders boost a particular part of the spectrum... low bass, mid mass, treble, etc. Each tick of the EQ equals a 3db boost.

So, I pushed the preamp up one tick, and then I saved this EQ as "+3." I pushed it up another tick and saved it as "+6." I then returned the preamp to center and saved this as "FLAT" (or zero, if you prefer).

After you've created those presets and made sure the EQ is turned on, you can close the EQ window.

Now right click on that quiet song again and select "GET INFO."

This time, in the OPTIONS tab, select either the +3 or +6 equalizer setting, and then fine-tune the volume with the slider, like this:

iTunes help

Any time you've got a really quiet song, assign it a louder EQ.

One final note: make sure you reset your EQ by dragging all of the sliders back to center (zero) when you're done. That's important because iTunes will uses how you leave the EQ as a base setting, so set it back to zero. When a song with a pre-set EQ plays, iTunes will change to that EQ, and then it'll change back to what the EQ had been previously set to when the song is finished.

You'll also note that I've created special EQs: one for songs by a band called Splashdown, and one for Joe Jackson. I love Joe Jackson's "Look Sharp!" album, but damn! The original mix is just fucked up!!!!

iTunes help

That's such a brilliant classic album... I hope it gets remastered soon...

Anyway - have fun with your iTunes EQ.

::::: | Saturday, Jul 01 2006 at 12:00 AM
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Jim said:

Thanks for your summary on this subject! Very helpful!

::::: | July 12, 2006 9:49 AM

Anonymous said:

Thank yu!

::::: | September 18, 2008 10:04 AM

Craig said:

Thannks mate, you saved my wedding music!!!

::::: | September 28, 2008 11:33 PM

Rob said:

I saved your wedding music? Wow. That might be the best comment ever. Best wishes to you (both of you!)

::::: | September 29, 2008 12:22 AM

Dave said:

Thank you soo much man!!

::::: | January 23, 2009 6:56 PM

Alyssa said:

Thanks a lot. :)

::::: | May 26, 2010 2:46 AM

Summer said:

This is good info...but it just seems that *overall*, all my music and TV shows in iTunes just aren't loud enough. Are you suggesting that we do this for all files?

::::: | June 10, 2010 3:29 AM

Rob said:

Hi Summer! This method is only for fixing the occasional song that isn't as loud as the rest. Songs recorded before the 1990s, for example, are usually quieter in terms of overall volume than songs recorded during the digital era.

If *ALL* of your music and TV shows are too quiet, that makes me wonder if everything else on your Mac is loud enough. Check your sound settings in the system preferences (under the Apple menu at the top let corner of the screen). If you're on Windows, then I have no idea. I'm a Mac guy.

::::: | June 10, 2010 10:27 AM

Gail said:

You also just saved my wedding music. It's on a boat, and I can plug in my ipod, but Lionel Ritchie's "all night long" was a whisper compared to the songs around it. Now I know why AND how to fix it. THANK YOU.

::::: | August 10, 2012 5:18 PM

Damian said:

Hi there,
This helps in iTunes but when I burn my music for a mix CD the changes aren't maintained. Furthermore, using ReplayGain doesn't work (in fact, it sometimes makes the soft songs even softer) and increasing the amplification in Audacity does not help either (when imported into iTunes the sound is decreased again). Does anyone know how to fix this? It seems like all of these programs are trying to help but they're actually making the job more difficult.

::::: | March 17, 2013 3:05 AM

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