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Saturday, December 15, 2018

Mastering levels for streaming, cd and club play PART 1/2



Hello and welcome to this week's article!

Today we are going to expand our mastering articles about metering and the loudness war with some average guideline about the correct levels to use, in order to make our songs play at their best in the various environments.

Why do we need a specific type of mastering for a specific purpose? Why can't we use the classic cd mastering for all platforms?
Of course we can, the problem is that several platforms perform some processing to the track on their own, usually compression, or limiting/maximizing, to reduce the differences in level between the songs, and we need to anticipate those moves in order to avoid a mix that distorts, or that sounds too squashed.

Before getting into the numbers we need to get acquainted with 3 acronyms:

Loudness Units Full Scale (LUFS): it's the scale used to describe the perceived loudness of audio material. Until some year ago, due to the loudness war that was raging in radio and tv, mastering engineers were encouraged to push the perceived loudness as far as possible, while today streaming services lowers the volume of the louder tracks to make them all fit in a same standard, and this encourages the mastering engineers to do the exact opposite: the idea is to privilege sound quality over a song that's constantly on the verge of distortion.

Decibel True Peak dBTP: when we record a sound with our audio interface, the analog curve (which is rounded) becames a serie of ones and zeroes, basically a ladder, and when we export the mix to reproduce it, the reproduction device (for example a stereo) needs to turn it back into a curve; doing so it rounds also the loudest parts (which sometimes can become flat in the digital realm), and this can result in a slight increase in volume.
This is the reason why we shouldn't master our tracks with output 0db, because with the conversion process, it can turn easily into distortion.
How do we solve? We need to master at a slightly lower peak (for example -0.5db) in order to avoid this "inter sample distortion".

Dynamic Range (DR): this third and last criteria is extremely important: it's the distance between the quietest (the "short term LUFS") and the loudest parts (the peaks) of our mix. If it's too reduced it means the song is overcompressed or overlimited, and this means that probably the transients, which are the punchiness of the song, are getting lost.
Nailing the right dynamic range is essential for a good mastering, and as a general rule we should never have a dynamic range lower than 8db: the lower the number, the minor the range.

CLICK HERE FOR PART 2/2


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