Today, there is a more or less developed volume standard between Spotify, iTunes, YouTube and TIDAL, although there are some differences between the different platforms. All services use a normalization process based on LUFS (Loudness Unit Full Scale) which can be easily explained by how we experience volume. The lower the LUFS, the stronger the volume.
This means, for example, that -16 LUFS sounds weaker than -8 LUFS. The median between the various streaming services is currently around -14 LUFS, which is also Spotify’s current recommendation for uploading music. In practice, this means all music that is stronger than this is automatically lowered by Spotify and all music that is weaker is raised.
For those of you who like numbers, I therefore recommend that you stay between -14 and -12 LUFS integrated and not stronger than -9 LUFS short term in the song’s strongest part, with true peak of max -1 dB.
The picture shows the free version of the popular measuring tool Youlean Loudness Meter
These guidelines guarantee that your music, regardless of genre, performs well in terms of volume on all platforms. If you want your music to sound stronger in 2021, you should simply master weaker than you may be used to.
If you think the above sounds complicated, I will make it easy for you: When you have finished mixing, place a limiter last on the master channel and set the output volume to -1 dB and make sure that you do not limit more than 1-2 dB. Then tune in to www.loudnesspenalty.com and adjust as needed. With that said: As long as the master does not look like a thick sausage when you export and the strongest part of the song does not exceed -1 dBTP (true peak), it is really just honking and driving. After all, the most important thing is how it sounds and not what it looks like. Sometimes the sound of a limiter cutting off the tops can be just what you are looking for.
Not just volume
Despite the streaming services’ automatic volume adjustment, it is still the case that some songs are experienced more strongly than others, even though they are normalized to the same level. How is it that? The answer lies mostly in the mix and not the mastery:
Keep track of the middle register. A hollowed-out midrange, a so-called hammock, may appear less loud compared to other music, especially when listening through a telephone or computer speaker. The range 400-1000 Hz is (according to my most personal taste) especially important to keep track of.
Clean up the bottom and top – these inaudible frequencies can add to the streaming services’ normalization algorithms and consume unnecessary energy. Read more about high and low pass filters here.
A song with a large dynamic range is usually experienced more strongly than a song that is heavily compressed, when they are played with the same LUFS.
If your mix sounds good at low volume when you listen in the studio, that is, you hear all the important details, then it is more likely that it also sounds good online.
The use of saturation, which creates harmonics, can contribute to increased perceived volume. Of course, there is no recipe, but plugs like Kush Audio TWK can help.
Some popular measuring tools
Feel free to ask questions or comment on the article in the comment field below, and we will spin the topic together. Or if you prefer to discuss mixing in the “Mixing and mastering” section of the Studios forum here!
Fredagstipset is a recurring series where Studio writer Jon Rinneby shares tips every Friday in, among other things, recording and mixing. Here you will find all Friday tips.
This is an updated article that was originally published January 3, 2020.