We have had a number of questions along these lines recently like this one from Tony Cray….
My name is Tony Cray. I live in Columbus Ohio. I’ve been an audio engineer for almost 10 years. I work at Sonic Lounge Studios. I’m beyond a huge fan of what you guys are doing… I check your site constantly. It keeps me in the loop. :) I’m having a few issues with what levels i should be finishing mixes at? I understand there are many variables to this question. I was just curious if there is a certain dB level i should be aiming for? I’ve kinda just been going with what sounds good. But now I have more plug-ins and control over the levels than ever before. So I guess i was either wondering are there certain dB levels to aim for in a final mix before the mastering. And or is there a way to show list list on the site about different dB levels engineers like you guys have had to deliver your mixes at? What’s the db level for an Album or a single opposed to a TV Commercial or a Movie Soundtrack before mastering. Thanks for your time.
Tony thanks for your good wishes and you raise a number of points that quite a few people have asked recently. As for levels….
For broadcast work, whether it is commercials or programmes you should refer to the delivery specs of the company you are working for, but in the US you should be working to The Calm Act specs as it is becoming a legal requirement there. So you should be mixing any broadcast work to the loudness spec ATSC A/85 which is what is laid out in The Calm Act. You will need a loudness meter to do this and I recommend the VisLM from Nugen Audio, but there are others. Remember loudness and peak levels are NOT the same see my article on Loudness Overview for more on this issue and for a fuller list of loudness meters available.
For album work you should be mixing as close to 0dBfs as possible limiting or compression to taste to get your album sounding louder or not as you prefer but again you should be using a True Peak limiter like the Nugen Audio ISL or the Flux Elixir to make sure you are capturing the inter sample peaks that may well go above 0dBfs by up to 6dB.
For film work there is no laid down spec so you can mix to whatever level and loudness you like. But again check, the company you are working for, may have delivery specs you are expected to work to.
So I hope this has gone some way to answering this kind of question.