If you didn’t know, I create ambient/noise music under the “Rural Citizens Band” moniker. Lately I have been recording and re-recording music for an upcoming album.

One thing I have always tried to avoid since the very beginning is something call the “loudness war.” Truly and evil and annoying thing. Nothing new, mind. I first noticed this when I bought Oasis’ Definitely Maybe back in 1994. I thought the band wrote great songs, but I didn’t know at the time why the actual recording sounded like shit. I expected lo-fi music from the likes of Pavement and Guided By Voices, but from a major label mainstream rock band? I assumed something went wrong with the recording, or the engineer was a hack and they’d not do that twice. Well, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory was even LOUDER, (and Be Here Now LOUDER still) but yet still I didn’t know or understand the cause.

I was still getting used to GarageBand when I recorded the 1st album, imaginatively titled Rural Citizens Band. But one thing was for sure, I didn’t want any clipping on the album. That went out the window on a song or two, but for the most part I kept it clean. This was the first and only album I recorded with that version of GarageBand.

When iLife07 came out, I snatched it up and enjoyed using it, but this one had an annoying new feature that is turned on by default. When you export the song to iTunes you can choose to “Audio Normalize” or not. This is under the under the advanced tab in the preferences. When it says “export at full volume” it ain’t kidding. Maybe it squashes everything and makes it REALLY FUCKING LOUD. The beautiful (to my tin ears anyway) song I had created came blasting out of my computer as an ungodly roar. It sounded like shit. GB is not backwards compatible, so I panicked that I had just created a bunch of songs that I’d never want to release to the public. Finally I did some Googling and found what the problem was.

The most ironic thing was this version of GarageBand could save and export files in 24-bit audio. The old version could only do 16-bit. Why have high-def audio if it sounds like shit? A turd is a turd is a turd.

I’m still sticking with this version for as long as I can. Eventually I might upgrade to the next program, but I doubt it. There really isn’t anything in the new version I need. And if this version works with Lion (I still haven’t upgraded) I’m going to stick with it until it stops working.

The sad thing is, Apple is partly to blame for the Loudness War. Ear buds and mp3s can make a song sound great, but that same song will sound like shit if played on a proper stereo. Or even a decent boom box. Try burning an mp3 (even ripped @320) and play it on a decent stereo and see what I mean.

But I say they’re only partly to blame. Obviously this is something that has been going on far before the iPod became a million seller. I doubt anything will change this anytime soon. I predict CDs will be the next VHS in the next few years. Perhaps people hooking their computer up to their stereo and downloading high-def FLAC files will be the wave of the future, and maybe that will be what saves music, but I doubt it. Most people don’t even know or care. And truthfully, I didn’t realize it too much until it was pointed out to me about five years ago. But once you notice this it’s hard to un-notice it.

Of course, occasionally a song I do calls for noise and clipping. But that isn’t what this is about. The Loudness War is about making every second of an album sound as loud as it possibly can. Nirvana was famous for having loud and quiet parts to their songs. Something that people who hadn’t heard of the Pixies found revolutionary. Now, the 20th anniversary remaster of Nevermind is nothing but LOUD. I can’t really fault Merzbow or Whitehouse for doing the Loudness thing, but does everybody need to do it?