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Properly Mastering Loudness for Streaming Services

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Properly Mastering Loudness for Streaming Services

Postby CamRohan » Sat Nov 23, 2019 9:03 am

Hey everyone, I've been mixing my band's EP for the last few months and I finally have all the tracks mixed. This is my first time trying to master a project myself and I am confused as to how loud I should master my tracks for streaming platforms. I know Spotify normalizes all tracks to around -14LUFS with a -1dB true peak so my first thought was to try to master our songs around that range, but our past material that was uploaded to Spotify was WAY quieter than the rest of the catalog on there so my faith in them to turn up our tracks is minimal. Because my biggest concern is ensuring my tracks are a proper volume compared to others, should I master as loud as I can while keeping a -1dB true peak and let the streaming services turn my overall mix volume down? That way I can use one final master across all different streaming platforms that normalize to different LUFS? I downloaded some professional tracks from YouTube to do an A/B comparison and they were pushing around the 0dB mark the whole time. Is there a certain LRA I should shoot for as well? I know I probably sound really stupid but it's my first time mastering and I'm a little overwhelmed, any help would be appreciated!
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Re: Properly Mastering Loudness for Streaming Services

Postby blinddrew » Sun Nov 24, 2019 10:25 pm

Hi Cam, welcome to the loudness can of worms! :)
I'd have a look at the https://www.loudnesspenalty.com/ website as the methods used by the likes of Spotify and Tidal aren't quite as simple as hitting an LUFS number. Some platforms turn up as well as down, some don't.
It's worth having a listen to some of Ian Shepherd's The Mastering Show podcasts as well as this is a subject he goes into in detail quite frequently: http://themasteringshow.com/
The key thing is that if you really want to maximise the loudness on each platform then you might have to produce a master for each platform. Just cranking a brickwall limiter is going to give you something that initially sounds loud but will have no dynamics and hence quickly get very samey.
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Re: Properly Mastering Loudness for Streaming Services

Postby Northernmonki » Wed Nov 27, 2019 1:14 pm

I can't believe I'm going to give advice here but - to give my 2p's worth...

It's worth bearing in mind that not only are there variances in loudness normalisation approaches and levels across streaming services, but also differences in where loudness normalisation is applied.

I know from bitter experience that Spotify, for example, doesn't normalise when it gets played through a Sonos system (I maybe wrong but I don't think there is the option to turn it on either).

A -14 LUFS master through such a system needs the volume really cranking on the speaker - and is much, much quieter than a typical commercial release (which demonstrates that commercial masters are all one cd-level, loud-ish version, rather than a version for each streaming provider, doesn't it?)

Turning loudness normalisation off on the Spotify phone app does the same thing - a typical commercial track seems to get turned down by Spotify a fair bit - so presumably they are louder than -14LUFS, for example.

I know this is all genre-specific etc etc - but having released some really inappropriately quiet mixes I am starting to question the benefit of actively targeting e.g. -14LUFS - and just take the guidance to mean "there's no point crushing your master to get it any louder as it'll just get turned down" rather than "do not master any louder".

I look forward to the more experienced folks telling me just how wrong I've got it!

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Re: Properly Mastering Loudness for Streaming Services

Postby CS70 » Wed Nov 27, 2019 1:51 pm

My approach is that what really matters is to preserve the dynamics, as opposite to aim to a specific integrated loudness value. The whole point of normalization for music streaming is that... well, your mix with be played by default at a lower level than if you were mastering to peak at 0dBFS, for cd.

The exact level (at least for music streaming and as the situation is now) matters less, because the listener will still have his volume control. And the situation is that there's so much variance - not only among streaming or web streaming services, but also among masters from different eras, that as a listener you usually have to reach for the volume knob anyways. In my playlist I have songs from the last five decades and when a song from the 70s follows a more recent one, there's no way you don't turn it up.

What is important to keep limiting to what's tasteful (and genre appropriate, certain tracks don't need more of a few dBs of dynamic range anyways) and make sure the mastering house keeps the balance and dynamic feel of the mix.

So I don't worry if the master averages to some more than -14 or -13 LUFS, actually I find it best to err on "a little louder" side... but I absolutely check it (and mix it) by doing my own level normalization, which is getting my monitoring volume down, at conversation level or less. If I can still get a good feel from the song that way, I'm ok... I never expect a song to be exactly the same level as the one coming before.

Just $.10 of course.
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