Some info on loudness
(v4.1 28-06-2019 © Jeffrey de Gans)
There is more to mastering than making your music loud!
Even though more and more people realize that squashing music is not the way to go, I still have to explain to some people about the consequences of overly loud masters. That is why I decided to make this page about loudness in music. I hope you find it useful.
How loud do you want your music to sound?
There is/(was?) a thing called ‘loudness war’. In short this means that artists and labels want to sound as loud as possible to ‘stand out from the rest’. According to label/A&R managers, artists etc, you will sell more music if you make it louder. But WILL you actually sell more or have more streams when it’s louder? One pretty good example of a great selling record NOT participating in the loudness war is Daft Punk – RAM.
There is a big difference between sounding too loud and sounding great. Loudness ALWAYS compromises sound-quality. Without some dynamics your music will sound flat and lifeless. It might also sound a bit strange, but music with a bit of dynamics will sound LOUDER than heavily compressed/limited/clipped/squashed music.
Dynamics in music is a bit like life; Life has ups and downs and you don’t really enjoy the ups, when you don’t have downs every now and then.
Radio and loudness
A common misconception is that a loud ‘Radio Ready’ master will sound better and louder on the radio. The opposite is true. Radio uses large amounts of (multiband) compression, clipping and limiting and pushing those processors doesn’t help. Radio-stations use processors like the Orban Optimod. This is a take out from the manual of one of those processors:
“There is a myth in the record industry that applying “radio style” processing to CDs in mastering will cause them to be louder on air or will reduce the audible effects of on-air processing. In fact the opposite is true: these CDs will not be louder on air, but they will be audibly distorted and unpleasant to listen to, lacking punch & clarity. We hope that the record industry will come to its senses when it hears the consequences of these practices on air”
Clubs and loudness
Another misconception is that music in clubs sounds better and louder when it’s squashed, the opposite is true. Amplifiers have a peak and RMS value. Peak values are always higher then RMS (average) values. With no dynamic range it will ‘not make use’ of those peaks and amplifiers can’t even play back square waves (digital clipping).
In case you are not convinced yet and you still want your master to be (too) loud, please consider this; Each song has its own loudness potential. The final loudness of a master is not only determined by the mastering process but is a matter of arrangement, production, recording and mix quality. A simple arrangement with just a few, but well-chosen sounds will always have more loudness potential than a big arrangement with a lot going on simultaneously.
I know when your song has reached its limit. Pushing things beyond that limit will gradually deteriorate the sound quality causing audible distortion and squashed dynamics.
More and more people realize that going too loud doesn’t make you win the war, because actually, there is nothing to win.
Things have changed in the last couple of years and nowadays people are listening to streaming services like Spotify, Apple music, Deezer, Tidal, YouTube etc. and they all have one thing in common; Loudness Normalization. Basically this means, all music will play back at the same perceived loudness.
So wait a minute.. It doesn’t help to make my master that loud? Basically, No.. it doesn’t matter how loud your master will be, it will simply be turned down until it reaches the appropriate perceived level.
Loudness Normalization in 2019
In 2019 most people use a streaming service to listen to their favorite music and all of those services use loudness normalization (even though not all of them have it on by default, depending on the situation). Spotify is leading the market in the EU (June 2019: 100 million paying customers, 217 million free accounts) and is using a level of -14LUFS ** integrated (average measurement from beginning till end), YouTube is at -13LUFS, Apple music at -16LUFS etc.
** Spotify (amongst others) is using replaygain, which is not 100% a LUFS value, so levels might differ a bit. Spotify announced that they will move to LUFS/K-weighting in 2019.
In practice, this means that all music, on Spotify for example, is played back at approx -14LUFS perceived loudness. So an over the top loud -5LUFS master will be turned down in level by 9dB.
Hooray! The end of the loudness war! Or not? OK.. there are still some things to keep in mind and the war is still not 100% over, but we are getting close now. 🙂
Now I hear you think, ‘I don’t want my music to be too dynamic and i’m afraid it will not be loud enough’ and I totally agree on that! In fact you want pop, rock, dance etc to be not TOO dynamic for various reasons. For example, when listening to music on your headphones in the train or when you drive your car on a highway, you don’t want the background noise to mask the softer breaks and things. But also, it’s sometimes ‘part of the sound’ to use compression and limiting. And that’s cool, but, You don’t have to focus on loudness, you just need to focus on the sound. Just make it sound great!
There is a website to check how much your music will be turned down on streaming services. Personally I don’t like the fact that it’s called a ‘penalty’, but still worth checking out I think. loudnesspenalty.com
Dedicated masters for streaming
Besides regular digital/CD masters, I offer optimized masters with streaming services in mind. The main focus is sound, not loudness, but I also keep the technical stuff (ISP/true peak after conversion to lossy format) in mind. In practice this master will sound better and a lot of times even louder(!) then a master not made with streaming services in mind.
I know how to make things really LOUD if you still want to, but in the end good sounding music, with the right amount of dynamics will always win. It’s up to you..
There is more to mastering than making your music loud!
With kind regards,
Jeffrey de Gans | Da Goose Mastering