Make LUFS, Not (Loudness) War
It appears as if Spotify have decided to join the majority of online streaming platforms and reduce their streaming target loudness from -12 LUF to -14 LUFS! By my own measurements, a solid thirty to forty minutes of the Top 50 global playlist off the free Spotify app yields an integrated value of -14 LUFS with true peaks well below -1 dbTP.
Spotify has long been the outlier in terms of online loudness, streaming a full +4 LU (1 LU = 1dB) above AES recommended streaming practices of -16 LUFS/-1dBTP and causing no end of confusion in the last days of the loudness war. So this move brings Spotify into the same Loudness ballpark as TIDAL who are normalising to no louder than -14 LUFS, YouTube who seem to be normalising high view count videos to -14 LUFS, and 2 LU higher than iTunes and iTunes radio with “Sound Check” loudness normalising to -16 LUFS.
As of now, most online streaming services are matching the perceived loudness of tracks to each other to a unified target level. So regardless of how much you worked on squeezing a few extra dB out of your hyper-compressed “master”, if an online streaming service measures your track as higher than -14 LUFS (integrated) YOUR MUSIC WILL GET TURNED DOWN!
Unfortunately for us electronic music makers we still have to deal with SoundCloud and Bandcamp, and neither service even seems to be aware of the loudness issues facing their content. SoundCloud and Bandcamp are a free-for-all at the moment with incredibly loud music being uploaded every day, and it sucks that dance and electronic music is the last bastion of the loudness war. Soundcloud was never built on its reputation for quality audio, but a target loudness value of -14 LUFS/ -1 dBTP is highly recommended regardless of your “competition’s levels”.
So, you could care less about The LUFS Standard and will just mix and master your track or project so loud that it will blow out your listeners eardrums on the first listen. Fine, go for it. It’s your music.
Just remember that if you ever want your tunes to be on one of the major Music Streaming Services or on The Tube Of Yous they are going to turn the level down for you. If it hits the Broadcast Airwaves it’s going to be turned down even more.
Would you rather have control over what it sounds like when it gets turned down, or do you trust the Providers and Networks to do that for you? LUFS ain’t going away kids – it’s a Standard and a Broadcasting Law in the US and Europe. Start adhering to it now and you’re futureproofed, but if you do make headway in the Industry you’ll have to invest time and money to remaster your older works.
My audio nerd friends are pretty excited about Spotify’s decision. I’m thinking it’s in preparation for the launch of a high fidelity audio plan. It still probably doesn’t excuse the bad pun in this post’s title.