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.
With the introduction of SoundCloud’s paid ‘Go’ service and external pressure to become a more commercial enterprise, there’s been heated speculation that the site might forgo its commitment to the independent musicians and DJs who have been SoundCloud’s emphasis. Today’s news, though a minor announcement to most, may be a signal that music creators will remain the focus of SoundCloud’s long game. Via FACT:
SoundCloud has announced a partnership with online mastering service LANDR that means all users can get free track optimization for the streaming platform. The partnership sees SoundCloud focusing once again on its original market of music creators rather than consumers after the launch of its paid subscription service, SoundCloud Go.
A LANDR spokesman said: “We use exactly the same algorithms but we did some research to find the best output for optimizing the sound of any track on the SoundCloud streaming format. The optimized tracks will only be hosted on SoundCloud and not in LANDR’s track library. It is really aimed at streaming on SoundCloud."
Professional mastering is regardless still mandatory for commercial release (seriously … please), but this is a smart move that not only gives the music uploader a little something extra out of using SoundCloud, but also improves audio consistency throughout the site.
Update, via Ars Technica:
Landr’s landing site describes the mastering process as “complicated and elusive,” then insists that its product, which is almost entirely algorithm-driven, delivers a quality product for small-fry musicians by intentionally limiting how many options they can pick from. “Great design is all about limiting the field,” Landr says. As a result, the company touts that “we’re confident you’ll hear the difference” between professional mastering work and what Landr can pull off.
After our tests of SoundCloud’s new Landr functionality, we can safely agree with that statement—in every bad way possible.
There are many definitions of audio mastering. Most commonly, though, the term mastering is used to refer to the process of taking an audio mix and preparing it for distribution. There are several considerations in this process: unifying the sound of a record, maintaining consistency across an album, and preparing for distribution.
I’ve had clients ask me why mastering is necessary, stating things like, “my mixdown sounds great … why would I need to master it?” This article is useful in explaining the need and reasons for mastering, as well as giving an interesting historical timeline of the practice.
I feel mastering is as important (and underrated) in the recording and release process as having a good studio monitor set-up. If you intend to stick with ‘the music thing’ then you will someday look back with deep regret if you allow an unmastered (or improperly mastered) release out into the world, I assure you. It’s important to keep in mind that mastering can’t fix a bad mixdown, but it will provide a sonic cohesion that will help make sense of your mix, both in context of its own sounds as well as among other professionally regarded releases.
I’m of the school of thought that you should not master your own music, though I do know some people who do this with good results. I believe you can get a much better master from someone who listens to your songs without bias (or who hasn’t heard the music a thousand times like you have). You also have an advantage when using a mastering engineer who does this as an area of focus, rather than as a side-job.
It’s a huge bonus if you can sit in with your mastering engineer and observe the process. You’ll learn much not only about the art of mastering, but also how your music and mixdowns are perceived by a professional. I once was lucky to have a three day mastering session on my music with the renowned Bob Katz who is based here in Orlando. It was like audio bootcamp … illuminating. The experience definitely shaped the way I think about sound.
— Q-Burns A Mess (@qburns) August 15, 2015