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Targeting Mastering Loudness for Streaming (LUFS, Spotify, YouTube)-Why NOT to do it.
Old 1st March 2019
  #1
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Trakworx's Avatar
Targeting Mastering Loudness for Streaming (LUFS, Spotify, YouTube)-Why NOT to do it.

Below I am sharing something that I send to my mastering clients when they inquire about targeting LUFS levels for streaming services. Months ago I posted an early draft of this in another thread so apologies for the repetition. I hope it is helpful to some readers to have this summary in it’s own thread. Discussion is welcome.



Regarding mastering to streaming LUFS loudness normalization targets - I do not recommend trying to do that. I know it's discussed all over the web, but in reality very few people actually do it. To test this, try turning loudness matching off in Spotify settings, then check out the tracks listed under "New Releases" and see if you can find material that's not mastered to modern loudness for it's genre. You will probably find little to none. Here's why people aren't doing it:

1 - In the real world, loudness normalization is not always engaged. For example, Spotify Web Player and Spotify apps integrated into third-party devices (such as speakers and TVs) don’t currently use loudness normalization. And some listeners may have it switched off in their apps. If it's off then your track will sound much softer than most other tracks.

2- Even with loudness normalization turned on, many people have reported that their softer masters sound quieter than loud masters when streamed.

3 - Each streaming service has a different loudness target and there's no guarantee that they won't change their loudness targets in the future. For example, Spotify lowered their loudness target by 3dB in 2017. Also, now in Spotify Premium app settings you find 3 different loudness settings; "Quiet, Normal, and Loud". It's a moving target. How do the various loudness options differ? - The Spotify Community

4 - Most of the streaming services don't even use LUFS to measure loudness in their algorithms. Many use "ReplayGain" or their own unique formula. Tidal is the only one that uses LUFS, so using a LUFS meter to try to match the loudness targets of most of the services is guesswork.

5 - If you happen to undershoot their loudness target, some of the streaming sites (Spotify, for one) will apply their own limiter to your track in order to raise the level without causing clipping. You might prefer to have your mastering engineer handle the limiting.

6 - Digital aggregators (CD Baby, TuneCore, etc.) generally do not allow more than one version of each song per submission, so if you want a loud master for your CD/downloads but a softer master for streaming then you have to make a separate submission altogether. If you did do that it would become confusing to keep track of the different versions (would they each need different ISRC codes?).

It has become fashionable to post online about targeting -14LUFS or so, but in my opinion, if you care about sounding approximately as loud as other artists, and until loudness normalization improves and becomes universally implemented, that is mostly well-meaning internet chatter, not good practical advice. My advice is to make one digital master that sounds good, is not overly crushed for loudness, and use it for everything. Let the various streaming sites normalize it as they wish. It will still sound just as good.


If you would like to read more, Ian Shepherd, who helped develop the "Loudness Penalty" website, has similar advice here: Mastering for Spotify ? NO ! (or: Streaming playback levels are NOT targets) - Production Advice

Last edited by Trakworx; 1st March 2019 at 05:46 PM.. Reason: fixed link.
Old 2nd March 2019
  #2
Gear Nut
 
Christopher Ridley's Avatar
 

Hey Justin,

Great post. For awhile I got on the bandwagon of multiple masters, one for CD, one for streaming. It was clunky, confusing to clients, aggregators wouldn't receive both, more questions arose, etc. I have since moved back to a single file that is optimized mainly for CD while being auditioned as an mp3 to make sure there aren't any nasty side effects of file compression to the track. Haven't done any work that has requested MFiT, so I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

I think one of the fundamental issues here is the question of what is the purpose of making a track "loud". I remember running into this way back with my mentor in live production. I was constantly questioned on my use of relatively heavy compression on numerous channels for rock and metal music (vocals, kick, snare, bass, etc). The challenge was that there was no need to reduce dynamics because of the excessive amount of available headroom. I couldn't articulate my reasoning 14 years ago and I may not be able to today, but I will try.

I believe the goal here should be to find the appropriate "density" for the track. Rock or Pop tracks with full instrumentation mastered at an Integrated Loudness of -14 LUFS lack density and everything that comes with that (harmonics, distortion, saturation, pumping, balance shifts). Yes you can turn it up to sound as loud as a track with an Integrated Loudness of -7 LUFS, but it feels drastically different. Maybe everyone understands this already and I'm late to this experience this personal revelation.

Now I realize I was compressing tracks heavily in live production to create density and for shaping, not necessarily to prevent running out of headroom or for volume. While mastering, I compress, saturate, clip, and limit tracks fairly heavily to create density and for shaping and adding some amount of saturation and harmonic distortion. I find this more pleasant than the alternative of minimal to no clipping, saturation, limiting, etc. Who am I to go mucking up peoples well crafted mixes? I don't know.

There are obvious examples of pushing tracks too far and the dangers of that. I am looking to strike the appropriate balance of perceived density for the track and not necessarily "volume" or "loudness". Basically I'm trying to say, I agree.

Christopher
Old 2nd March 2019
  #3
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Trakworx's Avatar
Density

Hey Christopher,

Thanks!

Yes, density has become a desired sound quality for sure. In an ideal world only the sound (density included) of a track would matter, and once that sound was achieved we'd be free to then set the loudness as high as the peaks allow, or at -14LUFS or wherever. There's nothing stopping us from simply lowering the gain of our dense tracks and leaving extra headroom.

My post is in part premised on my acceptance of the fact that the vast majority of clients are very concerned with not sounding too soft relative to their peers, so unfortunately loudness for loudness sake often becomes a factor beyond just sonics. In other words, sometimes the appropriate density alone isn't loud enough for the client. It then becomes my job to achieve the client's desired loudness while maintaining the sound (density included).

In practice that has led me to find ways to get pure loudness as transparently as possible. A side effect of that is that I can bypass my loudness processors and still maintain fairly similar density, so my non-brick-walled vinyl masters don't sound too different from my brick-walled digital masters most of the time. Not relying on loudness processors for density frees me to set loudness apart from density concerns much of the time. At least that's how I try to do it...

It's not easy to word these thoughts. I hope I'm making sense...

Last edited by Trakworx; 2nd March 2019 at 06:01 PM..
Old 2nd March 2019
  #4
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You suggested one master which I love that idea

or

Would you recommend a 16bit/44.1 master for cd?


and a 24/44.1 or 48 or 96 bit for Streaming, I-tunes etc?
Old 2nd March 2019
  #5
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Trakworx's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by sdd17 View Post
You suggested one master which I love that idea

or

Would you recommend a 16bit/44.1 master for cd?


and a 24/44.1 or 48 or 96 bit for Streaming, I-tunes etc?
I usually send my clients just the one 16-44 wave file and they are satisfied. 16-44 wave is the most versatile format, usable for CD and also every aggregator accepts it. For most indie clients (and even some managers and labels) it is best to keep it simple that way as they often don't understand much about digital audio formats. Multiple versions can cause confusion. But I am also happy to provide any alternate formats as requested!

P.S. Holy cow your studio gear is gorgeous!
Old 6th March 2019
  #6
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I.R.Baboon's Avatar
Delivering -14LUFS masters, unless specifically asked for, in any commercial genre, would be career suicide.

Having said that, it's clear that really smashed masters sound worse and less loud for most people on Spotify & Youtube.

So i'd suggest mastering loud, but just don't push it up that final couple of dB that just make it sound clearly worse.

Thanks for the great post.
Old 6th March 2019
  #7
Lives for gear
 

Thanks for the post. Absolute truth.

The one time I mastered to -14LUFS, the
client complained that it wasn’t loud enough.

Check any modern commercial CD release.
Every track comes in averaged around -11,
I’ve seen some averaging at -8!

I think we’re done with this stupidity regarding how loud to master things. Make it as loud as
you want as long as it sounds good.
Old 6th March 2019
  #8
Lives for gear
 
Trakworx's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Polich View Post
I think we’re done with this stupidity regarding how loud to master things. Make it as loud as
you want as long as it sounds good.
I hope we're done but it seems there's still some explanation of this needed, hence this thread. And it seems to be working in that every client to whom I've sent the info in the OP has agreed to not target streaming loudness levels
Old 11th March 2019
  #9
Gear Addict
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Trakworx View Post
Below I am sharing something that I send to my mastering clients when they inquire about targeting LUFS levels for streaming services. Months ago I posted an early draft of this in another thread so apologies for the repetition. I hope it is helpful to some readers to have this summary in it’s own thread. Discussion is welcome.



Regarding mastering to streaming LUFS loudness normalization targets - I do not recommend trying to do that. I know it's discussed all over the web, but in reality very few people actually do it. To test this, try turning loudness matching off in Spotify settings, then check out the tracks listed under "New Releases" and see if you can find material that's not mastered to modern loudness for it's genre. You will probably find little to none. Here's why people aren't doing it:

1 - In the real world, loudness normalization is not always engaged. For example, Spotify Web Player and Spotify apps integrated into third-party devices (such as speakers and TVs) don’t currently use loudness normalization. And some listeners may have it switched off in their apps. If it's off then your track will sound much softer than most other tracks.

2- Even with loudness normalization turned on, many people have reported that their softer masters sound quieter than loud masters when streamed.

3 - Each streaming service has a different loudness target and there's no guarantee that they won't change their loudness targets in the future. For example, Spotify lowered their loudness target by 3dB in 2017. Also, now in Spotify Premium app settings you find 3 different loudness settings; "Quiet, Normal, and Loud". It's a moving target. How do the various loudness options differ? - The Spotify Community

4 - Most of the streaming services don't even use LUFS to measure loudness in their algorithms. Many use "ReplayGain" or their own unique formula. Tidal is the only one that uses LUFS, so using a LUFS meter to try to match the loudness targets of most of the services is guesswork.

5 - If you happen to undershoot their loudness target, some of the streaming sites (Spotify, for one) will apply their own limiter to your track in order to raise the level without causing clipping. You might prefer to have your mastering engineer handle the limiting.

6 - Digital aggregators (CD Baby, TuneCore, etc.) generally do not allow more than one version of each song per submission, so if you want a loud master for your CD/downloads but a softer master for streaming then you have to make a separate submission altogether. If you did do that it would become confusing to keep track of the different versions (would they each need different ISRC codes?).

It has become fashionable to post online about targeting -14LUFS or so, but in my opinion, if you care about sounding approximately as loud as other artists, and until loudness normalization improves and becomes universally implemented, that is mostly well-meaning internet chatter, not good practical advice. My advice is to make one digital master that sounds good, is not overly crushed for loudness, and use it for everything. Let the various streaming sites normalize it as they wish. It will still sound just as good.


If you would like to read more, Ian Shepherd, who helped develop the "Loudness Penalty" website, has similar advice here: Mastering for Spotify ? NO ! (or: Streaming playback levels are NOT targets) - Production Advice

Thanks for this thread!
It is really important that someone pointed out how non realistic this "let the online player decide the loudness" thing.
It would be nice in theory and would make our jobs easier so we wouldn't have to go thorough the dance of gaining every bit of last drop of loudness without impacting the sound in a negative way.
The LUFS target chatter is so popular so I was making attempts to conform (using Nugen etc) but every time it didn't work nor for me nor the client.

Regards
Old 11th March 2019
  #10
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Giuseppe Zaccaria's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Trakworx View Post

make one digital master that sounds good, is not overly crushed for loudness, and use it for everything.[/url]
Post of the month, please
Old 11th March 2019
  #11
Lives for gear
Great post! I tried to follow these guidelines for an EP I released last year..didn't crush it, set the output to -1db...etc. It plays softer than most everything else on Spotify/iTunes, etc...unless I set normalization on in Spotify. So yes, I'm back to making 1 master as loud as I can that still sounds good and being done.

I do have a question...what are you setting your final output limiter to for the ONE master to work on everything? If I set the masters to -0.1db...is that going to sound bad on iTunes? Am I better going with -0.3 or -0.5?

Thanks!
Old 11th March 2019
  #12
Lives for gear
 
Trakworx's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by SDB_12 View Post
...what are you setting your final output limiter to for the ONE master to work on everything? If I set the masters to -0.1db...is that going to sound bad on iTunes? Am I better going with -0.3 or -0.5?
Please see my other thread for this LOL: Peak Headroom
Old 13th March 2019
  #13
Here for the gear
 

Great thread, thanks for this! I mix and master my own music and occasionally for other budget-challenged folks - have been working on my skills for the better part of 10 years. I recently started using the Mastering the Mix plugs--Levels, Expose, and Reference and find them super useful and pretty enlightening. Reference in particular has really sped up my workflow for mixing.
But what I notice is, while I'm diligently working on getting a master to fit the suggested specs for the various platforms, the reference tracks I download (y'know, big time, major label, etc etc) pretty much NEVER adhere to the specs. I'm going to use these tools as they are quite handy, but this thread has clarified that I need to take the readings in context to the big picture, i.e. how does it really sound!

Last edited by pbass; 13th March 2019 at 06:59 PM..
Old 15th March 2019
  #14
Gear Head
 

Man I just give them one master. -0.03dbFS. -9 - -12dbRMS and striking around -10dbLUFS. Loud and dynamic across everything. No confusion. Common sense.
Old 15th March 2019
  #15
Mastering Moderator
 
Riccardo's Avatar
 

Verified Member
Quote:
Originally Posted by pbass View Post
the reference tracks I download (y'know, big time, major label, etc etc) pretty much NEVER adhere to the specs. I'm going to use these tools as they are quite handy, but this thread has clarified that I need to take the readings in context to the big picture, i.e. how does it really sound!
Yes the bigger picture is very important, there are genres that require a totally different approach in terms of perceived loudness. Do not assume we all work on just EDM, mainstream pop, psytrance or metal.

Yes there are loads of labels, big and small (and artists delivering finished masters to labels nowadays) that do not have a faint clue. We have just finished delivering 15 comps for two labels where we asked for mix files and they provided a mixture of mixes and already mastered material. Some of that already mastered mixes were confortable to fit within the ohter tracks context, some other tracks were severely clipped and I mena a reconstructed + 4 so go figure, some were audibly distorted and I mean speakers crapping out not just fuzzy sound. These were not indie productions, talking worldwide published artists with labels.

Quick note all we do for steaming regardless of loudness requirements that I still feel should be dictated by the labesl and not by the mastering engineer (but that's a longer conversation for anothr time) goes out around -1. CD tracks go out close to 0.03 or thereabouts.
As always YMMV
Old 16th March 2019
  #16
Deleted 691ca21
Guest
That's two of you mentioning -0.03 as your ceiling now, I was always fine with -0.3.
Old 16th March 2019
  #17
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SASMastering's Avatar
Anywhere from -0.1dBFS to -2.0 dBFS here generally depending on genre, client goals, purposes etc. Bespoke work means bespoke headroom below 0dBFS and same with volume. I make it sound good at where it should most likely sit for purpose. Genre / musical style has a fair bit to do with it. Some material goes out with a dB of limiting and some is as loud as can be using all the techniques you can.

Have musical sensitivity and genre insights, it's very easy to decide and if you have doubts, ask.
Old 16th March 2019
  #18
Mastering Moderator
 
Riccardo's Avatar
 

Verified Member
Quote:
Originally Posted by Deleted 691ca21 View Post
That's two of you mentioning -0.03 as your ceiling now, I was always fine with -0.3.
You joking? You don't want customers going "hey I have had a look on my analyzer and it reads lower than zero"
Old 27th March 2019
  #19
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teebaum's Avatar
i often like masters around -10 - -9LUFS more than -14LUFS

Old 27th March 2019
  #20
Gear Nut
 

It’s amazing that loudness is even a topic of conversation when really all it takes it turning up the volume on the playback device, go figure right. But when you look at the audience, the consumer who listens, buys and views loudness as a must have, it forces artist into a corner where they have no choice but to follow what the consumer wants. I’m sure we all know that the louder things get, the more the dynamics are sacrificed. Ask a consumer what they think about dynamics, and they’ll probably have no idea what you’re talking about. To them, the technical aspect behind making a record sound good as opposed to sounding loud is just too complicated, they don’t have time to decipher the difference between the two. But I guarantee they can hear the difference if they actually sat and listened to it. Unfortunately, that’s not an option now a days because of what streaming services are doing to already mastered material, they never have a chance to hear it in the purest form, unless it’s on a cd and that’s an ever dying breed. Most newer cars don’t even have CD players, so a cd in the car is dying as well. I think we’ve come to the fork in the road where we as engineers have to decide on whether we want to conform to the masses, or take the road less traveled and do what’s right for the artist, unfortunately their idea of right isn’t exactly shared by ours.
Old 27th March 2019
  #21
Gear Addict
 

Here's an idea and a possible reason why you would want crushed masters with very little dynamic...

So what happens if people would put music at a very low volume a very dynamic master? You'd lose the softer parts.
I don't why this is often discarded, not everybody blasts their ears off, almost everybody I know that is not an engineer or a musician listens to music as a background companion while doing other tasks, like literally very low volume.

I can hear minds being blown off. Your welcome.
Old 27th March 2019
  #22
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I.R.Baboon's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Naindurth View Post
Here's an idea and a possible reason why you would want crushed masters with very little dynamic...

So what happens if people would put music at a very low volume a very dynamic master? You'd lose the softer parts.
I don't why this is often discarded, not everybody blasts their ears off, almost everybody I know that is not an engineer or a musician listens to music as a background companion while doing other tasks, like literally very low volume.

I can hear minds being blown off. Your welcome.
You're right........... it's a double edged sword ......... the effect you describe is correct, but it's also a reason why i don't like crushed music. Because no matter how much you turn the volume down, it still sounds "loud"!
Old 27th March 2019
  #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Naindurth View Post
So what happens if people would put music at a very low volume a very dynamic master? You'd lose the softer parts.
We must not forget in reality its not about dynamics but the process's we do to get the loudness.

Those "softer parts" when loud mastered doesn't get much benefit but gets worse. So while the vocal, kick's high's etc. are pushed upfront the "softer parts" lose their musical individuality and serve almost as a filler background noise never to be recovered by a different listening level.

Its cheapens music for the listening comfort, which is why mainstream music usually invites for more loudness processing.
Old 27th March 2019
  #24
Gear Addict
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by teebaum View Post
i often like masters around -10 - -9LUFS more than -14LUFS

Thank you Streaky! Clear, no thrills, and to the point as usual.
Old 27th March 2019
  #25
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teebaum's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Naindurth View Post
Here's an idea and a possible reason why you would want crushed masters with very little dynamic...

So what happens if people would put music at a very low volume a very dynamic master? You'd lose the softer parts.
we have to learn what the difference is of "dynamic range","integrated LUFS" & "short term LUFS".

to loosing the softer parts (intro, come down) is a "dynamic range"-thing, to loosing the softer mixed elements often more a "short term LUFS"-thing
Old 27th March 2019
  #26
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mastermat's Avatar
 

I find it interesting that very often mastering engineers feel the sweet spot around -10 LUFS...I think it´s because this just gives the sound that people are used to (limited) with relatively low sacrifices regarding soundquality and integrity of the mix.

of course it´s highly depending on the genre and style and there are a lot of exceptions that could or should be mastered at lower or higher LUFS (well rarely a lot higher, but...).
Old 27th March 2019
  #27
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Trakworx's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by teebaum View Post
i often like masters around -10 - -9LUFS more than -14LUFS

Thanks for this.

He makes a good point about what sounding "finished" has come to mean today.

Most clients and consumers alike now expect to hear loud, dense, limited tracks.

Anyone under 30 years old knows almost nothing else!

The thing is, loudness processing has to be done well, and not overdone.
Old 27th March 2019
  #28
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Trakworx's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Naindurth View Post
Here's an idea and a possible reason why you would want crushed masters with very little dynamic...

So what happens if people would put music at a very low volume a very dynamic master? You'd lose the softer parts.
I don't why this is often discarded, not everybody blasts their ears off, almost everybody I know that is not an engineer or a musician listens to music as a background companion while doing other tasks, like literally very low volume.

I can hear minds being blown off. Your welcome.
Playing at low volume or playing in noisy environments.

Car stereos compete with road noise. Earbuds compete with crowds of people or street noise, etc.

"Tastefully loud" masters (not "crushed" hopefully) stand up to that better.

I've heard this a lot from artists and engineers alike.
Old 27th March 2019
  #29
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Giuseppe Zaccaria's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by teebaum View Post
i often like masters around -10 - -9LUFS more than -14LUFS
me too
Old 29th March 2019
  #30
Gear Addict
 

Just on the funny side...

I'm just now mastering a rock n roll record and after reading this thread I feel free as a bird!
I'm slamming it like it's 2005 hahahahha! It's been a while...

I have a bunch of reference material from the band and some of it is severe as -6.4 and such... (!!)
Some of that reference materials are records I have listened to for ages and, as a simple listener, never had any issues wanting to lower the volume, or thinking "there is something wrong with the recording"... I actually always thought they sounded amazing.

I might be wrong on a theoretical level, but to me it sounds right...
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