For the last few decades, the music industry has been fighting on producing loud records, as they assumed that people prefer loud music over music with more dynamics. Not only today’s research proves that to be false, but also a new tool is being implemented by streaming services, which makes the loudness war pointless.
The loudness war has led mastering engineers to use heavy compression and limiting on albums to the extreme. Metallica’s 2009 album „Death Magnetic” is the loudest album in music history, and in my opinion it sounds terrible. As a response to the loudness war, a mastering engineer Ian Shepherd has founded „Dynamic Range Day” - an initiative dedicated to busting the myth. On his website he proves that listeners don’t care about loudness and that the human ear much more prefers masters with more dynamic range.
No more overcompressing
To end the loudness war, streaming services have recently introduced a feature called Audio Normalization. It’s been implemented by Spotify, iTunes, Tidal & Youtube (Soundcloud doesn’t use it yet). These streaming services now normalize the loudness of their tracks to around -13 LUFS (depends on the platform). If a track is louder than this point it will bring down its overall volume. If a track is quieter than -13 LUFS, services such as Spotify will bring up its volume using a limiter.
What does that mean?
Let's take a look at the picture below. On the left we've got a very dynamic master with -19 LUFS. What Spotify is going to do is use a limiter to bring up its average loudness, so that it's at -13. In this situation the recording is still quite dynamic, the drums are punchy and the overall sound isn't too squashed.
On the right we've got a heavily limited track with the loudness level at -4 LUFS. Once it's uploaded onto Spotify, the service will turn the track down in volume to make it match the left track's loudness. What happens as a result is a loss of punch and dynamic range - which causes the track to sound squashed and unnatural.
Conclusion: for most optimization you should aim at the „normalized” LUFS values by making a separate master for each streaming platform.
Here’s a table you can use to master your track for every service:
Good luck with your mixing and mastering. See you in the next articles!
I’m a music maker who likes to share his experiences with other producers. I’m regularly going to show up with music and content at PML.
Keywords: Mastering with Izotope Ozone, LUFS vs dbFS, Fab-Filter Saturn, Mastering with Fab-Filter only, Mastering with Ableton only, Fletcher-Munson Curve, Mastering Chain Blueprint