As an audio engineer, I often grapple with the question of how loud I should master a track, especially for platforms like Spotify, YouTube, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, Beatport, Apple Music, and others. It’s a crucial consideration, and getting it right can make a significant difference in how your music is experienced by listeners.
Mastering a song with the perfect loudness for streaming services can be quite a puzzle. Each major music streaming platform has its own loudness standards, and striking the right balance can be a bit of an art.
LUFS stands for “Loudness Units Full Scale,” and it’s a vital metric when it comes to measuring the loudness of audio signals. It serves as an international standard for evaluating volume levels, independently of the playback devices used.
LUFS ensures that music maintains a consistent playback quality, whether in music production, broadcasting, or audio production for film and television. Moreover, it allows for the normalization of loudness across different tracks.
Most streaming platforms apply loudness normalization standards that typically range between -13 and -16 LUFS. If your uploaded track exceeds these levels, the platform will adjust the volume down to meet its target, ensuring that all songs playback at roughly the same volume level.
The Objective of Mastering
When it comes to mastering, the goal is clear: achieve the best possible sound quality. While maximum loudness is essential, the emphasis should be on transparent and dynamic sound.
To elevate your music to the next level, finding the right balance between loudness and dynamics is key.
In my experience, my preferred LUFS loudness targets for genres like Techno, House, and Hip-Hop usually range from -7 LUFS to -10 LUFS. It’s also a good practice to consider short-term LUFS measurements, setting your target between -6 LUFS and -9 LUFS.
For ambient or singer-songwriter productions, LUFS values between -10 and -14 LUFS work well, focusing on preserving dynamics.
Tools for Precision
To fine-tune the loudness of your music, it’s crucial to use metering and reference tools. These tools help you analyze factors like loudness, dynamics, and tonal balance, allowing you to make informed decisions during the mastering process.
The Myth of -14 LUFS for Spotify
One topic that often comes up in discussions is mastering for Spotify at -14 LUFS Many believe this to be a standard, but in reality, very few artists choose this loudness level. To test the loudness levels of other songs in your genre, you can disable the automatic loudness adjustment in Spotify’s settings.
As an audio engineer, I would discourage mastering at -14 LUFS. The reason is that not all users have loudness normalization enabled. The Spotify Web Player and third-party Spotify apps, like those integrated into speakers and TVs, don’t always support loudness normalization.
Even with normalization enabled, some users have reported that their -14 LUFS masters sound quieter than other tracks in playlists.
Moreover, different streaming services have varying loudness standards, and these standards can change. Spotify, for instance, adjusted its loudness target in 2017 and switched to measuring replay gain in LUFS in 2021.
Additionally, the Spotify Premium app now offers three different volume settings: “Quiet, Normal, and Loud.” So, the ideal loudness level has fluctuated over the years.
A Better Approach
Instead of obsessing over -14 LUFS, I suggest aiming to sound as loud as other popular artists in your genre. This approach is currently the most practical, given the variability in loudness normalization practices across platforms.
Currently, my recommendation is to use a digital master that sounds great without being excessively loud. This master can be used for all download shops and streaming services.
Let the streaming platforms handle the loudness normalization. Your music will still sound excellent. Loudness normalization is primarily a playback volume adjustment.
LUFS and Its Significance
LUFS represents a loudness normalization method based on average loudness. It has become increasingly relevant as music production became more heavily compressed during the Loudness War.
Now, major streaming platforms like YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Music implement LUFS normalization to ensure a consistent listening experience for their users.
Excessively loud masters tend to sound quieter and lack dynamics on streaming platforms. Aggressive limiting, exceeding 3 dB, is generally detrimental and unnecessary in the mastering process.
Similar to vinyl mastering, today’s focus is on transparency and dynamics.
Spotify Audio Normalization
To ensure a consistent listening experience for users, streaming platforms like Spotify apply loudness normalization to the audio files they receive from various music distributors. This ensures that songs are perceived at similar volume levels, preventing the need for listeners to manually adjust the volume for each track.
However, you can turn off this loudness normalization on Spotify to hear if songs have been mastered at different loudness levels. To do this, go to Spotify settings / Audio Quality / Default Volume and enable or disable the feature.
My Personal Touch
As an audio engineer, I’ve encountered the intricacies of loudness and mastering firsthand. It’s an art and science that requires a keen ear, precision tools, and an understanding of the unique requirements of each streaming platform.
At SongMixMaster.com, we offer professional services of mastering for Spotify and all major music streaming platforms. My goal is to help artists and musicians like you achieve the best possible sound for your music.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to our mastering services by submitting your track today for a free demo mastering.