This post is shared from Ian Shepherd's website: http://www.productionadvice.co.uk

We know now that all the major music streaming services are using loudness normalisation – meaning every song is played at a similar level, aiming for a “target” loudness, which is different for every service.

Loud songs are turned down, quiet songs are turned up – IF there’s enough peak headroom. And because the target level for some platforms is pretty loud, that’s a very significant “IF”. Because when there isn’t enough headroom to lift the level up without clipping, your music either won’t get turned up and will sound quieter than everything else as a result, or it may have extra peak limiting applied to get it up to the target level. Which may or may not sound good.

Neither of these is an ideal situation !

So…

How loud is loud enough, and how loud is too loud ?

The answer is… it depends.

It depends on your views on dynamics, your views on the loudness war, and which platform we’re talking about – YouTube, Apple Music, Spotify – wherever. To try and shed some light on the subject, I’ve put together an infographic summarising as much as I can about the topic – take a look, I hope it’s helpful ! If the terminology used is new to you (LUFS, PLR etc) please see the end of this post for a brief glossary.

Edit – for those what have been asking, BeatPort and Pandora also use a loudness target to even out replay volume. SoundCloud and Bandcamp currently don’t, however in my opinion it’s only a matter of time. And, I’ve been right about this before.

So how does it sound ? First I’d like to say Thanks to members of my Home Mastering Masterclass course, who helped me get this infographic right, offering loads of helpful feedback and suggestions.

Next I want to share the first question most of them asked about it:

Where does your suggested mastering level fit into all this ? And the answer, I’m glad to say, is that I’ve been recommending for years that you master no louder than PLR 11 – that’s roughly DR 8, if you’re a user of the TT Meter. And if you follow my advice, your music will fit the “green” category on the infographic, meaning it’s loudness will be changed very little when it’s played online – and when there is a larger change, it will sound better than more squashed, “loudness war” masters.

In other words, the loudness sweet spot I suggest to make your music sound great is also a sweet spot for translating well online.

Coincidence ? You decide…!

And if you’d like to find out in detail for yourself what loudness I recommend, and the best way to achieve it, you might like to sign up for the masterclass course yourself. It begins this Friday, and if you get started now you can score 25% off as part of the introductory discount. To find out what’s included, click here.

Maybe I’ll see you there !

Not happy ?

Of course you might be looking at this infographic and saying – “This is crazy ! Why shouldn’t I master my music at really high levels, if I want to ?” – or alternatively, “I love dynamics ! Why should my music be penalised for being less squashed than YouTube or Spotify want ?”

And you’d have a point. The answer is, that large changes in loudness arethe number one cause of complaints from listeners, so loudness management of some kind is inevitable from this point on. The best we can do is try to encourage streaming services to implement it in the best way possible.

A while ago, Spotify removed the preference setting that allowed you to disable loudness management, to avoid over-limiting dynamic music. But after pressure from users, they brought it back.

We can do the same for loudness management. Spotify have shown they listen to their users before, and maybe they will again – you can add your name to the list asking them to reduce their playback level here. Apple’s Sound Check is pretty good already – we just need them to pressure them enable it by default. And YouTube ? We’re working on it…

Do you want our entire Mastering EQ course for free?

The use of loudness management by all the major streaming services was the first step in the right direction. Hopefully before long, replay loudness online will be standardised at a sane level like Apple’s Sound Check, and we can go back to mastering our music exactly the way we want to !