Whether you're mixing electronic or acoustic music, internet content, commercials, radio or long-form TV or features, loudness really matters nowadays. I'm not talking about the loudness wars that have plagued us all for the last couple of decades, but about being able to manage the dynamic range and sound pressure level exposure of your material, so you have a better idea of how it's going to sound over whichever distribution medium it goes out on.
Lossy algorithms are a modern-day fact of life. They're not going away any time soon, even with advances in storage, power and internet speed. It's been proven that heavily compressed material does not survive lossy algorithm encoding as well as dynamic content. It's also been proven that the loudness wars had the effect of turning off the consumer - the last thing we need. It was with this in mind that the major distributors got together and agreed on a variety of loudness standards, each tailored towards the distribution medium. Even the lawless wild west that is the internet is starting to realise that LOUD doesn't equal good.
Bute Loudness Suite
Signum Audio are a Scottish company who have dedicated themselves to developing audio software, with a combined experience of 25 years, working closely with audio production, mixing and mastering engineers. The Bute Loudness Suite is the logical progression from the Bute Loudness Analyser, which Signum launched recently.
They have expanded their Loudness Analyser into a suite by adding a transparent brick wall true peak limiter and offline normalisation capability, to Bute's already impressive feature set.
Signum's goal with these plug-ins is to present as much information as is needed, but in an elegant easy to understand layout. That way they enable the mixer or mastering engineer to make real-time intuitive decisions affecting the loudness and dynamic shape.
Know Your Stats
Before you can submit your content for distribution, you need to know its headline stats - the max True Peak level, the integrated loudness, the loudness range and if your distributor requires, the short-term, momentary and RMS readings. These can be switched between real-time readings or peak levels.
The entire analyser section can be switched into compact mode, saving on screen real estate and of course graphics card load, by switching off the history display. Vital controls such as the True Peak Limiter (more about that later) and all settings are easily accessible and easy to understand.
Know Your History
The longer duration your content is, the harder it is to properly manage the overall dynamic shape of the piece. It's all very well knowing your overall loudness reading, but unless you've managed to keep an eye on the meters at ALL times, getting an idea of the shape of a mix of say, an hour-long TV drama or even a feature film, is very difficult.
You can even set the history display to create bright red visual alerts if at any point your mix goes out of spec, thus quickly drawing your attention to areas that need addressing.
I usually use a Loudness plug-in across my monitoring chain rather than as an insert on my mix bus. However, the inclusion of the lovely True Peak Limiter might persuade me to change my workflow.
All Bases Covered
Knowing all your vital stats and seeing your history are no use unless you know whether your mix is within spec.
Sometimes finding out the correct spec can be a mission in itself
To help you with this, Signum Audio have provided presets for all commonly used delivery standards and even allow you to define your own, using a really clear and easy to understand interface.
This history is saved with the session, so you don't need to re-analyse the whole mix in real-time if you close the session and come back to it later. However, if you are picking up a mix that didn't previously use Bute, then Signum have provided an easy way to quickly get your history loaded. On Pro Tools, you can fire up the AudioSuite version.
First you would see if there is a bounced out mix already in the session, but if there isn't, offline bounce makes light work of it. You can then analyse this file in the AudioSuite version, export the data and then re-import it into the live version.
This is not the only use for the AudioSuite version though. Signum have included a normalisation feature, which is ridiculously simple to use. Simply select the standard your mix needs to comply to, analyse your mix file, then hit render. Voila, instant "legal" mix!
Using Bute Loudness Suite To Mix A TV Promo
See how I got on with the Bute Loudness Suite, adapting an internet streaming mix to be legal for UK TV -
The Bute Loudness Suite is one of those products where to do a full in-depth review of all the features would take an hour. My video shows just how intuitive the user interface is and how quickly I was able to adapt to working with this plug-in and start using it to my advantage.
I really like the Bute Loudness Suite. I've been privileged to see it throughout its development and I can safely say it just keeps getting better. Just when I thought Signum had a great intuitive analyser with history, they then added the brick wall True Peak Limiter AND offline normalisation, with all the major standards included as presets.
Visually, Bute is very easy on the eye, especially in the darkened environments of a typical TV drama or Feature Film mix room, where they have projection. In these sort of conditions, you find yourself grateful for clear, uncluttered and not too garish displays that can be easily read from a distance.
As a company Signum Audio provide excellent support and are always willing to take on feedback and use that feedback to keep on improving.
For my own workflow preferences, I am less likely to use the built-in limiter and I prefer to only use normalisation as a last resort. When you're dealing with standards as different as TV and internet streaming, such as YouTube, which is a clear 10LU higher, there is always a degree of subjective rebalancing that needs to take place. I prefer to use normalisation to get absolutely spot on, for those really picky clients. Saying that though, Bute's History display makes hitting those magic numbers all the easier and the automatic updating of your overall loudness stats makes doing updates later a much less daunting task.
Even if you don't deliver to distributors with a defined loudness and True Peak specification, knowing how your mix performs and having the ability to quickly conform it to any of the widely used standards, is always very useful, no matter what content you are producing.
Grab A Bargain
Signum Audio's Bute Loudness Suite is available for £250 (ex taxes) for the Surround version and £200 (ex taxes) for the Stereo version. Personally I'd spend the extra and go for the Surround version - you never know when that first surround job may land and with advances in digital TV tech, it's fast becoming a default requirement.
And if you're reading this in the Month of May 2018, head over to the Deals page, where you can pick up the Bute Loudness Suite with a 20% discount, making it £199 (ex taxes) for the Surround version and £159 (ex taxes) for the Stereo Version.