How to manage loudness | Production Tips

Streaming services like Youtube, Spotify, Soundcloud and other online services have completely changed how loudness is interpreted. ⁠

To better understand the modern concept of loudness and how it ties into music production, we also need to discuss how you can measure it, what are the (completely free) tools you can use for that, and how loud you can safely go before going too loud with some practical recommandations.⁠

What is loudness ?

Simply put, loudness is the measurement of the perceived level of a signal.

For many, this is typically the first thing that comes to mind when talking about audio mastering.

This is even more relevant nowadays with the ‘loudness normalization’ performed by big streaming services.

But to better understand loudness, we first need to consider the forms of measurement it relates to.

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How is loudness measured

Loudness is measured in different ways by using various metrics each representing different forms of loudness over time: The most effective way to currently measure it is with the ‘LUFS’ unit (dBFS).

A good free option to measure loudness is the ‘Youlean Loudness Meter’ plugin, which you can download via the button below.


What is LUFS ?

LUFS stands for ‘Loudness Unit to Full Scale’: LUFS metering allows a precise measurement of loudness for audio, and differs from the usual Peak/RMS measurement.

It also helps with consistency and encourages a truce in the ‘loudness war’ where everyone wants to sound louder than others, often at the expense of dynamic and good sounding music.

But why does it matter ?

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Loudness normalization

Many leading streaming platforms like Spotify, Youtube or Soundcloud are now normalizing music (also called ‘Loudness Normalization’) so the play back is at a consistent volume for users whatever the source.

This means loudness is not only a creative choice nowadays, but an entirely reasonable and practical choice when considering mastering at louder volumes: It just makes no sense to push your music overly loud anymore !

What is 'True Peak' ?

While LUFS is associated to loudness, ‘True Peak’ measurement (dBTP) displays the absolute max peak of audio: If your track goes above 0dBTP you might get clipping and distortion.

Thus, it is recommended to keep at least 1dBTP of headroom (-1dBTP) to optimize your music for lossy formats and compression on all major streaming services, by minimizing chances of clipping during transcoding.

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Playback level recommandations

[Updated late 2020]

Here are some recommendations for all major streaming services : Note that these may vary overtime !

You can read more about other online streaming services in this article.

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