In this free video tutorial, Tom Frampton from Mastering The Mix covering how to use LUFS in music mastering and the need to create more than one master for different platforms. Over to you Tom...
The LUFS [loudness units relative to full scale] meters in LEVELS are extremely accurate at displaying the perceived loudness of audio material. The LUFS scale (sometimes called LKFS, though they're exactly the same thing) was introduced primarily to outline broadcast standards to keep the perceived volume of the different shows and adverts the same.
This is called loudness normalisation and it stops the consumer from constantly reaching for the remote to control the volume.
The music industry is following suit, and now many leading streaming platforms such as Spotify, Youtube and iTunes Radio are normalising music so the play back is at a consistent volume. If you hear a dynamically mastered jazz track followed by a compressed, loud dubstep track on Spotify they maintain a relatively constant perceived loudness
If you produce music, the following information is crucial for you to know, as you need to understand how your audience will experience your music. The current trend of mastering music super LOUD is already extremely detrimental to the quality of the audio…But, as I will explain in this post, the future of music consumption will favour dynamic music over loud compressed music. So understanding and using LUFS meters in your production process will ensure your music is heard in its best possible form.
The Need To Create More Than One Master For Different Platforms/scenarios
It is customary to create one final master and use it in all scenarios. However, given that music is consumed in many different ways, it’s more appropriate to create a few variations to best suit the distribution mediums you will be using. This might sound like a lot of extra work, but in reality the minor tweaks might take an extra 10 minutes. When you’ve spent so long on the songwriting and production, this final step is the icing on the cake to a job well done.
Lets have a look at some ideal settings for different scenarios.
Heres a table for those of you in a rush…
|iTunes Store||-0.1dBTP||-9 to -13 LUFS||>9DR|
|iTunes Radio||-0.1 dBTP||-15 to -16.5 LUFS||>9DR|
|Youtube||-0.1 dBTP||-12 to -14 LUFS||>9DR|
|Spotify||-0.1 dBTP||-13 to -15 LUFS||>9DR|
|CD||-0.1 dBTP||> -9 LUFS||>9DR|
|Club Play||-0.1 dBTP||-7.5 to -9 LUFS||>8DR|
|Soundcloud||-1dBTP||-9 to -13 LUFS||>9DR|
This table has been updated in June 2017 to reflect the changes in Sptify ;loudness normalisation. Note that the DR value in the table above corresponds to the Dynamic Range section in LEVELS. LEVELS creates a ratio of the ‘short term LUFS’ to ‘peak level’ of your track and gives you a DR [Dynamic Range] reading.
The iTunes Store converts audio to AAC (Advanced Audio Coding). For the best result, bounce your audio at 24 bits with a maximum peak of -0.1dbTP (decibels true peak). You can use the free AAC Roundtrip plugin to preview your audio as AAC. -9 to -13 LUFS would be good target for the iTunes Store (even though they don’t normalise music before it’s purchased).
iTunes Radio streams audio around -15 to -16.5 LUFS. If you will be submitting your music to a radio station that operates through iTunes Radio it’s worth creating a specific version around -16 LUFS.
Youtube is still one of the main places people discover and enjoy the music they love. Youtube normalises music to around -13 LUFS so the ideal settings for your YouTube master would be -12 to -14 LUFS with the dynamic range reading on LEVELS not exceeding 9DR and with a safe true peak of -0.1dbTP.
With over 100 million people using Spotify, it’s crucial to make sure your music is heard in its best light. Consider this, the loudest your music will ever be heard on Spotify is now about -14 LUFS (it used to be around -12 LUFS but in late May 2017 Spotify quietly changed its loudness normalisation spec). So why submit a CD master or Club Master measuring -9LUFS when it’s just going to be turned down. It’s better to make good use of the opportunity to provide a more dynamic master. Lay off the limiter and go for a setting of around -13 to -15 LUFS with the dynamic range reading on LEVELS not exceeding 9DR and a true peak of -1 dBTP.
CD is the only time you’ll want to use a ‘16bit’ bit depth. This is just the technical configuration of the CD, for other purposes you should use 24 bit. CDs obviously are not subjected to any normalisation so you could push the loudness a bit further if you wanted to. I would recommend not breaching a threshold of -9 LUFS and -8DR as this is the point at which the audio can start to sound distorted and lifeless. A good setting would be from -9 to -13 LUFS with the dynamic range reading on LEVELS not exceeding 9DR.
Mastering audio for clubs would be an exception where you could push the loudness a bit further. (club tracks will be the last to submit to the end of the loudness wars UNLESS there were loudness/normalisation guidelines brought into clubs…) The louder club tracks sit around -4 to -6 LUFS during the drops. I master club tracks to about -7.5 to -9 LUFS for my clients and they work perfectly in their mixes. They might not be quite as loud as other tracks in their genre but they have superior dynamics & transients which make them hit harder and sound punchier. So I would recommend a setting of about -7.5 to -9 LUFS with the dynamic range reading on LEVELS not exceeding 8DR.
Soundcloud has over 175 million users. Most artists utilise the Soundcloud platform to present their audio to their fans free of charge. Soundcloud streams audio in MP3 format at 128 kbps (I hope they change this soon as 128 kbps is extremely poor quality…) You’re able to upload a high quality 24 bit Wav file to Soundcloud but it is transcoded to MP3 to make streaming faster for its users. To make the best of this situation Headroom is more important in this scenario than any other. I would recommend mastering your track to -1dbTP for Soundcloud to minimise the artefacts that WILL happen when your track gets transcoded to MP3. Regarding loudness, A good setting would be from -9 to -13 LUFS with the dynamic range reading on LEVELS not exceeding 9DR.
So How Should We Use A LUFS Meter To Master Our Audio For Streaming?
The short-term meter on the left will display the LUFS measurement over the last three seconds. The integrated meter on the right shows the accumulating LUFS level of your track. You can reset the meters by clicking on the readouts. Each bar represents 1 loudness unit. The default integrated LUFS threshold for mixing is -16 and -9 for mastering. You can change the integrated LUFS mastering threshold to -11 Int LUFS for Spotify streaming.
How To Decrease Or Increase The LUFS Value Of Your Track
If your track is breaching the threshold during mixing you could reduce the amount of compression or limiting to both reduce the loudness and increase the dynamic range. Alternatively, if you didn't want to change the compression you could lower the overall volume of the mix using a gain plugin on the output bus.
If you want to increase the LUFS value of your track you could increase the overall volume using a gain plugin. LEVELS will warn you if you breach your headroom threshold. If you still wish to add some loudness to your track you could compress the elements within your mix, or even add some parallel compression.
If your track is breaching the threshold during mastering you could reduce the amount of compression or limiting. You could also tweak the plugins that are adding gain. This can be any EQ boosts you’ve made or harmonic distortion.
To increase the LUFS, without changing the sound and balance of your mix, you could use a gain plugin at the start of your chain. You could also add some compression, limiting or harmonic distortion to increase the loudness.
This is all a lot to take on board. But LEVELS can make your production process easier by letting you know you if you breach your LUFS target. If the LUFS thresholds are not breached, you can just get on with you mix knowing that you’re not negatively affecting quality of your audio.
Want To Know More?
Tom Frampton from Mastering The Mix has put together a Learn section on his Mastering The Mix site, and also has produced the LEVELS plugin in association with Palm29 which they have deigned to help non technical users see what is happening with their mix and guide them to be able to fix the issues.