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Mastering Your Tracks at -14 LUFS: Good or Bad?

Mastering Your Tracks at -14 LUFS Good or Bad

As an audio engineer, the subject of mastering levels is always a hot topic on different audio forums, Reddit, or Facebook groups. One question that often arises is whether mastering tracks at -14 LUFS (Loudness Units relative to Full Scale) is a good practice.

Let’s delve into this, considering the technical aspects and industry standards.

Understanding LUFS and Loudness

LUFS is a unit of measurement that reflects perceived loudness, crucial in the digital age, especially with the rise of streaming platforms.

Also read: What Are LUFS? Why Are LUFS Important In Mastering?

These platforms, such as Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube, employ loudness normalization to ensure consistent playback levels across various tracks. Spotify, for instance, recommends mastering at -14 LUFS.

But is this optimal for all music genres and contexts?

The -14 LUFS Standard

Youlean Loudness Meter 2 Plugin for LUFS Metering
Youlean Loudness meter is one of my go-to plugins that effortlessly determines Short-term and Integrated LUFS when mastering.

Also see: My Selection Of Best Plugins for Measuring LUFS

The recommendation of -14 LUFS comes from a desire to standardize playback levels, minimizing the jarring volume differences between tracks in a playlist. This level is especially aimed at creating a comfortable listening experience for users.

However, this standard is relatively new, emerging around 2011, whereas digital music production has been evolving since the 1980s.

Comparing Loudness Levels

When we look at commercial releases in genres like Rock, Pop, Hip Hop, and EDM, it’s evident that most are mastered much louder than -14 LUFS. Here are some examples:

  • Coldplay – My Universe (2021): -7.8 LUFS
  • Taylor Swift – You Need To Calm Down (2019): -7.4 LUFS
  • Dua Lipa – Levitating (2020): -5.7 LUFS

These tracks are significantly louder, often around -7 to -8 LUFS, indicating a trend towards louder masters in commercial music.

The Impact of Mastering at -14 LUFS

Mastering at -14 LUFS can indeed make your track sound quieter compared to other commercial releases when loudness normalization is not applied, such as on certain streaming platforms or in environments where normalization is disabled.

This can be jarring and disappointing, particularly for new artists comparing their work with top-charting hits.

The Role of Dynamics

It’s crucial to remember that louder does not always mean better. Dynamics play a significant role in the emotional impact of a track. Classical music, for instance, often measures below -14 LUFS because it prioritizes dynamic range over loudness.

The dynamic contrast is integral to its genre, creating a rich and immersive listening experience.

Practical Recommendations

Given the diversity in mastering practices and the variation in platform normalization, here are some recommendations:

  1. Study Professional References: Analyze tracks similar to your genre and understand their loudness levels and dynamic ranges.
  2. Focus on the Mix: A well-balanced mix with clear elements will sound better at any loudness level. Pay attention to the quality of your recordings, arrangement, and performance.
  3. Set a Monitoring Level: Use a consistent monitoring level during mixing and mastering. This helps in making informed decisions about loudness and dynamics without relying solely on meters.
  4. Trust Your Ears: Ultimately, your ears are the best judge. Regularly compare your mix to reference tracks and trust your auditory perception.
  5. Understand Your Platform: Know the target loudness normalization for each streaming platform your music will be on. This can inform your mastering decisions.

Also read: Mastering for Spotify: Achieving the Perfect LUFS Level

In Conclusion

Mastering at -14 LUFS is not inherently bad or good. It depends on the context of your music, the genre, and the platforms you are targeting. While -14 LUFS is a safe and recommended level for streaming, it’s essential to consider the genre-specific expectations and the listening environment.

The goal is to find a balance between maintaining dynamic range and achieving a competitive loudness level that suits your artistic vision and meets the listener’s expectations.

I told you at the beginning that I am active on several forums and groups about mixing, mastering, and music production, so below I leave you a list of some communities where you can also join, share your experiences, and gain valuable insights to improve your music journey:

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