Digital distribution loudness

Hi there,
I know this probably is a pain for many producers (it just is for me). I dont know what the optimal loudness should be in order to send EDM, House or any other genre tracks to shops like: iTunes and Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, Google Play, Youtube Music, Deezer. As i understand iTunes normalizes at -16, Spoify at -14, Youtube at -13 LUFS Integrated. I dont know about the others.
I know that Youtube normalizes the tracks at -13 but they dont get it louder. So if I send a track that is -14 (good for Spotify), they wont make it louder to -13.
The thing is that you can only upload the track for all the shops in agregators account. So I wonder what the integrated loudness should be in order to be ok for all the shops, and not lose much quality of sound when they normalize the track. If i send a -13 song, its ok with Youtube Music (i guess with Google Play too…i dont know), but iTunes has to bring it down to -16 and it just dont sound the same as if i master it at -16 LUFS Integrated loudness.
So I am a bit confused here, and i dont exactly know what loudness should i chose. They even dont say what loudness level should the submitted tracks be… i found some blog posts to find the levels above. But for Google Play i just couldn`t find any…

I would appreciate any help here…
I have this account for a few years and i never asked anything…by the way…congratulations for Ana 2…is GREAT. I probably would buy it in the future. But I just LOVE my ANA 1 … the oldest things are like old wine :)… it makes things without fm and wavetables that i couldnt do with synths that have those features. Even if its a little too processor hungry…
But that is another disscution. Just give some hints about the loudness thing, please. THANK YOU.

I think with dance music you should probably still just be mastering for clubs… I.e. pretty heavy limiting etc. It’s such an integral part of the sound too.

I believe some artist are doing the club master and a more dynamic master.

I guess it depends if you like the sound of the more heavily mastered club version or feel like making it loud enough to stand up to other tracks is losing something.

Ok, but before it gets into clubs i have to put it in online shops… so i have to do it by their rules, because they are normalizing the tracks anyway. So if i submit a -12 track to iTunes, they will normalize it to -16, or whatever… and some of the distributors (like Google Play) dont even tell the people the loudness limit. I just guessed that is -13 because Google use this limit on Youtube videos. I think that Spotify does -14 and iTunes does -16, but I am not sure, as i found those values on a blog post. Ill keep trying to find the Amazon and Deezer loudness limits…
I cant do louder club masters and then submit them to shops, because they normalize them and this way the dynamics are affected. So, at least if anyone knows the loudness limits for all those shops, i am asking please tell them to me, and ill decide after that which limit i will master at. Thank you.

So when the shop algorithm looks at your tune and looks to normalize it, it will give it a figure to adjust the gain by.

It doesn’t need to re-encode etc. its just a gain thing. so the dynamics aren’t effected.

so if you are happy with how your master sounds, It will sound the same where ever its played it will just have a different gain to match the perceived loudness of the other tracks on that particular service.

If you have a super crushed track with no dynamics… your track will still have the same perceived loudness (LFUS) as other tracks on the service but you could have made your track more dynamic and it would still have the same perceived loudness.

so it all really boils down to getting your master to sound the way you want… if you like the sound of heavy limiting (which some tracks suit - D&B, Moombahton etc.) Then do that. if you like the sound of a more dynamic master do that.

The point is now that on most services rather than having to crush the shit out of your track to make it louder so it stands out. All tracks are normalised to the same “perceived” loudness… which is the whole point of adopting LFUS rather than a straight Db thing. So you can take loudness out of the equation for your masters… you are just aiming to get them to sound as good as possible.

In a club, loudness is still a thing so if your track is intended for a Club you will still want / need to make a pretty hot master so it sounds loud enough compared to the other tracks.

So you are saying that if i send a more dynamic track at -16 (good for iTunes) LUFS to Youtube Music or Google play, they will make it louder (to match -13 or whatever loudness they use)? I knew that they bring down the loudness but not up (i know they do that for Youtube videos). This is my dilema: services like that will bring the gain up, too ? I didnt know that.. i thought they just bring it down if its too loud and if it is quieter they leave it as it is… as i have said i know Google does that for Youtube videos (which is not a shop, but i guessed its their general policy.. and they use it on Google Play also). So, if they bring the gain up..then its no problem submiting quieter, not crushed tracks (If they do that !?) … did i understand correctly?

Hey @Namete80

Here is my take on the subject.

First of all there are 2 different things in this topic, one is the principle of loudness mastering ( LUFS ) against the Digital Full Scale Mastering approach ( dBfs ) & the second one is more about references & technical LUFS levels that you should aim for when putting your music online.

Like Phill exhaustively already explained, both stories are starting at the same and the most important point : what do you want to go for you music when mixing & mastering a track ? Do you want more dynamic in your track vs loudness & heavy level competing & matching commercial mixes or club ones. Therefore, you won’t take care of a mix the same way and it’s also obvious that depending of the genre of music, dynamic would be more or less present.

In general, EDM style and electronic music would have less dynamic than pop, rock or classical music, but again, like Phil already said, if your music is sounding good to you and if you take care about keeping dynamic range while maintaining some loudness in your mix, then your music will translate correctly in many situations. That is for offline & local mix production, the classic approach of mixing using dBfs and taking care of keeping Dynamic range and headroom around -6dB works in most case, but it’s better to take a look at Lufs right from the start to save you from running into issue when you decide to put your music online.

Therefore, getting back to your question about Lufs references levels for uploading your music on digital platforms, you should look at it as an extra step ( and the last one ) of your mastering process in order to match a correct final output level after the AAC & MP3 digital audio encoding process by those online platforms.
Of course these normalisation algorithms & the encoding process will introduce changes in your music because they are going to find the peaking & weakest frequencies in your track and squash or raise the overall mix levels according to the algorithm founds.

That is why LUFS is the metering reference chosen to achieve this, because it is capable of extracting a full track dynamic as opposed to dBfs which is more for instant peaking metering. But those audio formats like AAC & MP3 are no lossless formats, therefore, if your mix is too far away from those targets recommendations, it could very well end up in sound quality degradation.

Audio files normalisation is basically aiming at reaching a kind of “consistant” level in order to provide a friendly listener experience while achieving file size reduction. Those companies know that people are using “playlist” features and they don’t want them to have to reach for the level knob on each new playing track, and they also have to respect and conform to standards based on health care, potential ear damage issues in an era where digital music is mainly consumed on portable devices with an extensive use of headphones for hours in a day. But the purpose under the hood is also to reduce file size for server hosting on huge platforms with millions & more of audio files, as well as for individual portable devices storage capabilities.

And that’s where it hurts, because of the non lossless audio file format that are used to achieve this. So that’s why it’s important to try to get as close as possible to the Lufs target recommendation of each platforms. As already said by Phil, the route to go for in this case is aiming for dynamic vs loudness. If you submit an already mastered audio file using the typical dBfs mixing approach and reaching - 3 or -4 dBfs on your regular meter without taking care of those Lufs recommendations, chances are that your track is going to be heavily squashed & that sound quality won’t conform at all with what’s coming out from your master channel. In the opposite you will have greater results by uploading a mix with more dynamics.

Now how to achieve this and what are those requirements you may ask.

Well, it’s a common practice to aim at a general Lufs level right from the start at the mixing stage. Reaching for min 12 & max 14 Lufs is a good mid range start point to aim for. So that means mixing at low levels and following rules like the Bob Katz K-14 or even K-18, it’s worth mentioning here that 0 dBfs in the digital world is the limit: there’ nothing above this point, the audio information is simply lost if you are clipping above 0. Also it’s worth mentioning that the digital 0 dBfs is matching -18 or -21 db on any analog desk !!

You get the picture… If you mix & master just taking care about the common -6 dBfs dynamic range safety net recommandation & aiming at - 3 or even above on your master channel, chances are that you’ve been fulled by your ears and perceptive loudness right from the start. You will then miss the real loudness in your track, as written in the first part, you’ll manage when mixing for offline audio file rendering, but it’s gonna cause issues for online uploads.

So again, it’s good to keep in mind that dBfs is more of an instant measurement while Lufs metering is relevant on a full track length, that’s why it’s the metering reference when it comes to digital normalisation algorithms because as mentioned before it’s a matter of consistant level matching across a track or even an album.

So if you take the habit to mix at low level and use the K-14 metering measurement you’ll avoid perceptive loudness issue first of all.

Sending out your audio outputs to a pre-master bus in your DAW is also a good habit, it will give you the chance to adjust the overall Lufs level on your entire Mix and performing a correct gain staging per track or/and groups and taking care of both Dbfs & Lufs metering for those.

The goal is to reach your pre-master Bus with your mix hitting not more than -13 or -14 on the Lufs scale metering.

Keep your master channel vanilla and never mess-up with your master fader, just leave it at 0 dBfs.
Good levels have to be achieved during mixing & gain staging, not during mastering stage.

When you’re happy with your mix on the pre-master, it’s a matter of starting to get the desired Lufs level on your Master Channel : something like -16 for more dynamic and uploads and even - 8 for the loudest commercial releases ( that is if you don’t plan to upload online ) . This is achieved mainly by using a good limiter at the very end of your Master Channel, in order to get from this -14 Lufs to -16 or more. If you started your mix using the k-14 scale, it’s not rare to have to crank up your limiter with 8 or 12 dB !! That’s why you need a good one, as much transparent as possible.

Once you reached this target according to the Digital Medium Lufs requirements for upload, you should be good to go and retain the best audio quality once your mix has ben converted to AAC or MP3.

Many tools can be used to help you achieving this, some of them will even provide you with target profiles to help you match those medium’s references more easily.

To mentioned a few and to see some tutorials here on Sonic Academy :

Expose from Mastering the Mix :

and before reaching expose ( more a checking stage process ) you want to have a look at their Levels plugin which will help you with Lufs per target monitoring and Dynamic range monitoring as well during mixing. Those plugins are great tools and won’t break the bank.

You’ll also find some very handy and affordable tools by HoRNet plugins like their HoRNet LU Meter with an auto gain feature and there’s a bunch of Lufs metering tools out there, but you need one.

In another price range, especially the Pro version, is the excellent MasterCheck by NuGen Audio which offers an extensive set of different metering & levelling target profiles and will let you hear and see the difference between the target and your mix in real time and therefore help you compensating it via your limiter. Though this tutorial here by Dom Kane is showing another great way to use the plugin, it will give you an overview of what this tool can do

Other tools like WaveLab9, Ozone from Izotope or The Fraunhofer Pro-Codec or their Codecs Tool Box from Sonnox and again MasterCheck Pro from Nugen Audio let you listen to your track as if they would have been encoded offline following standards like AAC or MP3 and some others codecs, this can also be handy.

Finally for macOSX users, it 's good to know that there is an Apple ‘RoundtripAAC’ that lets you preview how your track will sound in a lossy format, this is included in a set of free tools for iTunes Mastering, you’ll get it here if under macOS:

Have a look at this topic on Mastering The Mix website, it will give you some Lufs Targets as well ( as per as 2017 ) but most of all a good picture of the principle.

Hope this could help,

Cheers :wink:

The Normalisation process doesn’t squish your tracks it’s just a gain change based on a LFUS figure.

So if you like how your track sounds with it limited up to 0db the normalisation process won’t effect the sound quality it will just make it sound the same level as other tracks.

The point is you don’t NEED to limit you tracks to the max just to get them to stand out as all tracks will have the same perceived loudness. But if you like how that sounds it’s not going to be an issue either.

Have to disagree with that one Phil, if your mix is too loud and not conforming to this LUFS target of the Digital Medium, it will be squashed !! Because of the NON LOSSLESS file encoding as explained above and extra limiting used on some platforms. On the other hand if your mix is not loud enough and does not include enough Peak to Loudness Ratio which has to do with Lufs & Dynamic Range, your mix might not be correctly raised in volume.

Audio streaming services are not using the same techniques yet so it’s a good habit to follow this Lufs target rule, there’s definitely a sweet spot to aim for between Loudness & Dynamic when putting music online.

PDF (2.3 MB)

Thank you both for your very elaborate answers. I get the picture now.

“On the other hand if your mix is not loud enough and does not include enough Peak to Loudness Ratio which has to do with Lufs & Dynamic Range, your mix might not be correctly raised in volume.”

This is one of the things i wasnt sure about. So, they raise volume, but it might not be correctly done. This is why i think ill use the highest limit (the one used by Google), and let the other platforms take it down. I am always careful to leave a headroom of true peak. For example if the wave file has -13 integrated and a TP of -1.5, i do the test and convert it to mp3. It loses some loudness but TP doesnt go over -1db. In this example it goes -13.2 LUFS and -1.4 TP. Then i normalize it to -13 and the TP goes up to -1.1 or something. Of course, i dont use the same techniques as the platforms, but i guess that if the TP doesnt go over -1, they wont have to squash the non lossless file by limiting. I dont know how they do it. I dont know if this is the best practice…but at least as i tested it gave me a good, not squashed mp3 file that sounds good.
My last question would be: if the TP is -4 db on the non lossless file, is it ok ? Because in my example if i normalize the file to -16, the TP goes down too, with 3 dbs. So, the file will be -16 LUFS integrated with True Peak of -4 (more or less). Is it ok for the TP to be this kind of low ?

Ahh yes i see Spotify are using actual limiting to control the level… NOT COOL.

You will get ‘satisfying’ results proceeding that way but the all point of my exhaustive explanation about mixing right from the start at low levels and using integrated LUFS metering in addition to TP & dynamic range is to avoid any audio normalisation process which is going to take place when uploading your mix anyway, and even if it’s seems transparent, it will introduce small changes in your audio each time ( your testings show you this concept already ).

Getting that balanced pre-master track at around -13 LUFS and tweak it with a good Limiter to reach the specific Medium LUFS target is the best way to go in my opinion.

Think about the analog world & consider your tracks/groups levels as being like your console or summing device inputs. To gain stage correctly, you’ll want to act as much as possible on your input levels, you can play around with gain & peak reduction at the output side of things, but you don’t want to normalise your outputs.

Tools like clipper ( before the limiter ) can also help achieving this. Of course that implies tweaking & rendering one audio file per online target, but once you’ve got this good sounding pre-master mix, you’ll get there easily.

At this time the major digital music distribution services are still far from being “unified” and treating audio in the same way, though there’s been huge improvement during last years. The only serious way to achieve this would be to see those platforms allowing end-users to directly upload mastered AAC or MP3 files. Using a lossless audio file format would be even better, but because of file size, it’s not going to happen on major distribution services.

Direct upload of AAC mastered files is used by Apple iTunes for example, but it’s reserved to the audio industry, so if you think that the latest Drake’s track has got the same treatment as Mister Nobody mix on iTunes, well the answer is simply : nope :unamused: They use higher resolution audio files in 24bits first of all and they produce their own mastered AAC files bypassing the normalisation process.

But the good thing to summarise all the above ( not to be controversial but just logical ) is that this is all very extreme in the digital era. Of course there are some technical rules that your music could benefit from, but do you really need them the way music it’s consumed by the masses nowadays ?? We then fall back in Phil’s conclusion, if your mix is sounding good & retains some dynamics & loudness, it will sounds good too after normalisation, though it wouldn’t be perfect.

Many successful artists do not care about this at all and they do very well, because audiophiles & purist are not leading the digital music distribution, they simply avoid it ! The masses consume music on crappy audio devices all day long and they don’t really have golden ears, if the track is appealing to them, they are happy, they stream, download & buy and that’s what’s leading the market.

" The more your expand your knowledge, the more you raise your pain " when in comes to audio techniques !! And that’s also a good point to keep in my mind. :wink:

I can not avoid the normalization process unless I upload separate files for each online distributor. For those who work at -13 and 14, it`s possible to upload a single file somewhere between these values. But iTunes will normalize that file anyway to bring it to -16.

Many successful artists do not care about this at all and they do very
well, because audiophiles & purist are not leading the digital music
distribution, they simply avoid it ! The masses consume music on crappy
audio devices all day long and they don’t really have golden ears, if
the track is appealing to them, they are happy, they stream, download
& buy and that’s what’s leading the market.

So, i think you got the point here…

THANKS A LOT for your very helpful explanations.

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No problem, happy to help & glad that you found this useful :slight_smile:

And again, this is really about going more in depth into audio techniques, which is a good point of course, but there’s a point where it can be harmful and decrease the joy of producing music, which in my opinion is the key point to stay creative and to make enjoyable tracks for yourself and others ! :wink:

It’s almost week end, so wish you a nice one and there’s a “track feedback” category here on the forums so don’t hesitate to share your music if you’d like to, I’ll be happy to have a listen.

Cheers & 'till next time then.

I think you are right…

I shared some of my tracks here… its not much, but ill get better :slight_smile:

selected (1)
Yep, saw the post in the “Track Feedback” category.

To stay in the Loudness topic here, playing all your tracks inside iTunes Store against other commercial releases leads to the following : commercial track are hitting around -9 TP on the dBFS scale when yours are under -12 TP dBFS, which was my point when I wrote that not only levels are really squashed down on iTunes but the commercial releases are not being proceed the same way at all, it’s a direct mastered High Quality 24bits AAC file upload for them… I wish Apple would open this possibility to everyone, it would be more fair. Could be interesting to email their support asking them why is there such a level difference between your tracks and commercial ones and what is their advice to get the same results if possible in any way ??
I’m curious about their answer then :sunglasses:

EDIT : Hmm, those numbers might confuse you… This was obtained listening to all tracks at 80% of my main volume level on macOS and with Sonarworks Reference 4 SystemWide engaged, which applies a -7.9 dBFS margin to avoid any clipping ( which is my habit to get a better sound quality, Sonarworks provides room acoustic correction too ).

Disengaging SystemWide and setting back the main volume at 0 dBFS leads to the following : your tracks are reaching -2 dBFS when commercial tracks are reaching the top 0 and even clipping above ! I am monitoring level via UAD Apollo Console software. But the same conclusion is true anyway, plus the eternal subject about loudness war which is far to be over. So in fact, your tracks have a much more accurate level but again, because of the perceptive loudness & the habit Digital Distribution is using listeners to, chances are that people found your tracks less punchy & competitive… And that’s where all of this is becoming non sense in terms of audio quality.

If iTunes treat commercial tracks differently, someone sure did noticed and asked… i probably will ask them someday.If ill do that, ill post the answer here. Right now i am pretty satisfied with how my tracks sound. Thank you for taking the time to even check the levels.

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Ive made some more tests. Those three tracks ive uploaded are as you said at least 3-4 DB quieter then commercial ones. I removed them from all the platforms :). Ill upload louder versions. In the meantime ive submitted a brick :smile: … Another track ive made louder and overcompressed (-10 LUFS Integrated). I tested on googles play previews and its just -2 Db below commercial ones. The others were -4 Db below.. So, you are right. They treat independent producers differently. Not just iTunes, Google does that either. Its not fair, but it is what it is… until they decide to change that.

Ill upload more loud bricks to see if i can get over those 2 dbs ... i dont think it`s going to happen but i want to see it for myself.

If you like to do your own measurements i posted the link in the other topic.