I’ve been trying to learn more about mastering and I keep hearing the term “LUFS” pop up in YouTube videos. I think it has something to do with how loud your songs are but I’m not entirely sure. I noticed my music isn’t as loud as other songs in my iTunes library. Should I be trying to make my music louder?
"A loudness meter or LUFS (Loudness Unit Full Scale) meter displays perceived loudness. If two different songs are both hitting -18 LUFS on a loudness meter, you’re probably going to perceive them as just as loud as one another. While this scale is extremely useful for setting target levels that are used to achieve perceived loudness consistency between songs on albums, it’s also helped to combat the loudness wars.
Before streaming services began normalizing the level of songs, mastering engineers were attempting to increase the perceived loudness of many songs as much as possible; this is because people perceive sounds that are louder as better. It’s actually for this very reason that streaming services began normalizing songs in the first place. With people sacrificing audio quality for loudness, a very unpleasant listening experience arose for music consumers. One of the main issues consumers were experiencing was quiet songs followed by loud songs; this caused them to turn the volume up on their listening device for the quiet song, which then forced them to turn the volume down for the louder song.
Spotify and other streaming services now normalize songs based on custom algorithms that they run. Ideally, each song that you now hear, as a consumer, sounds roughly just as loud as the next one on YouTube, Spotify, etc. Another bonus is that there is no point in sacrificing the audio quality of songs now to achieve greater loudness; the louder the song is perceived, the more it will be brought down in level.
LUFS meters are particularly useful when mastering for formats like CD that don’t normalize your songs. Let’s say you’re mastering a 12 track album and you want each song to playback at the same perceived loudness. You can set a target LUFS value, and then apply processing in a way that will ensure that all your songs are hitting the target.
People still spend a lot of time trying to optimize the loudness of their songs for streaming services. Attempting to ensure consistent quality between songs is important if you’re releasing an album, but if you’re trying to cheat streaming service algorithms to maximize loudness upon playback, I think you’re wasting your time for a few reasons.
First, the dynamic range of an audio file can play a role in the identity of a song’s genre. EDM has a “tight” sound and has become one of the defining characteristics of the genre. Recommended target LUFS values, such as -14 integrated LUFS for Spotify, are just too dynamic for this type of music. People seem to be afraid to surpass the normalization threshold of different streaming services, but at the end of the day, everything is going to sound like it’s playing back at more or less the same level of perceived loudness.
Second, the entire reason streaming services started normalizing songs was to combat the need to sacrifice audio quality in favor of loudness. On top of this, each streaming service attenuates your audio files by a different amount. I recommend you mix and master your music so that it sounds subjectively “good,” without sacrificing audio quality while keeping in mind track “consistency,” as opposed to “maximization.”
For the most accurate estimate of how much your songs will be attenuated by streaming services, I recommend analyzing them using loudnesspenalty.com. This is a webpage curated by Ian Shepard of MeterPlugs that allows you to upload your songs, and see (with decent accuracy) how much they’ll be brought down by services like YouTube, Spotify, TIDAL, Pandora, and iTunes.
In the following video, I demonstrate how to use the LUFS meter built into FabFilter’s Pro-L 2, modify LUFS levels, and hit appropriate loudness targets when mastering your music for streaming services and CD distribution."