When it comes to artists and mastering EDM, I think the first thing they always think about and question is loudness. Two questions stick out in my mind when thinking about this topic and it’s, “How loud can my master get?” and, “Can you make my track louder?”
Loudness seems to always be the focus of mastering these days. Loudness is relatively important, and it does have a major place in mastering.
Though, I don’t believe loudness should be the center of attention when it comes to mastering, today we will be discussing how to approach loudness in mastering EDM.
Measuring LUFS When Mastering EDM
The first place to start when we discuss mastering EDM has to be the actual measurement of loudness itself.
In 2010, the European Broadcasting Union published a new way of measuring loudness, which is where LUFS were born. LUFS were a more accurate and standard way of measuring loudness.
As modern day TV was progressing and streaming was introduced into the world, there needed to be a better way to measure loudness. A lot of consumers would complain about hearing something during a commercial break that was either louder, or quieter than what they were listening to.
Consumers were forced to constantly turn their TV’s and listening devices up and down. In order to curb this issue, audio normalization was created.
Audio normalization is where streaming, or TV, companies will take the audio they are given and either compress the audio down to a specific LUFS number, or raise the volume on the audio to pull it up to the specific LUFS number.
Every single music streaming platform incorporates audio normalization when streaming their music out to the masses. Which means, every company has their own LUFS number that they aim for. It’s important to note which number is associated with which company. You can check that out here.
I also recommend you check out the Loudness Penalty Analyzer which can be a great tool to use to see how your track will be affected on different streaming platforms.
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So, what should you aim for when it comes to LUFS? For me, I don’t like going anywhere higher than -8 LUFS. I feel this is a sweet spot for more aggressive/heavier music.
You get a good amount of dynamic range, so long as the track is mixed properly. But, the track still has some hefty loudness to it.
It’s important to realize that some streaming platforms give the users the option to turn audio normalization off. In fact, Spotify ONLY has the audio normalization factor active for desktop streaming. That means anyone on mobile, will not be affected by audio normalization. Whichever master you submitted, is played exactly how it was intended on mobile.
Another thing to point out is the fact that some audio normalization compression will not be turned on if your track does not have a true peak over -1 dbfs. So if you’re track is sitting around -10 LUFS, but the true peak sits just at -1 dbfs, it’s safe to say that you will not be affected by audio normalization.
Why Pay Attention to LUFS when Mastering EDM?
Well, why should you pay attention to LUFS at all? If loud sounds good, then why not keep loud, well LOUD.
There’s one key ingredient that we’re not talking about, and that’s dynamic range.
If you’re unsure about what dynamic range is, it’s the measurement of the loudest element to the most quiet element of your track.
It’s those massive dynamic peaks in your track, and those small elements between them, and most likely during the break of your track. These waveforms are also known as “fish bones,” because the waveform looks similar to a fishes skeleton.
When people say, “your dynamics are squashed,” or, “Your dynamic range is killed,” what they’re really talking about is how those big peaks in your track are dramatically cut off.
When applying compression or limiting, you’re turning up those small quiet moments, and then cutting off the tops of those dynamic peaks, pulling the loudest and quietest elements closer together.
Naturally, your overall audio quality will become louder, but you start to hear a ton of unwanted distortion when even remotely turned up louder. This can cause trouble in club sound systems where they have audio levels extremely high.
With a more dynamic track, you’re able to play your track louder on bigger systems with everything remaining intact. No distortion, just clean audio sounding exactly as it did when you produced it.
With a less dynamic track, you have every element playing at the same volume, it all squishes together showing no differentiation between sections and elements. Audio becomes distorted, and the quality drops significantly.
If this is your goal, then you should aim for a higher LUFS number, and a smaller amount of dynamic range.
However, if you want your track to sound clean, precise, and beautiful in every audio source, at whatever volume; an optimal, higher LUFS number with a higher dynamic range number is going to be your goal.
Like I’ve said before, and I will continue to say; music is subjective. It’s up to you to decide how you want your music to sound. Plus, if it sounds good, then it sounds good. These things are important to understand and realize when it comes to loudness. But, it ultimately comes down to your decision of what sounds good, and what doesn’t.
Interested in a pretty badass tool that will help you both measure LUFS and dynamic range? Check out LEVELS, by Mastering The Mix. I use this tool in EVERY single session. This is my go-to tool that I’m always keeping an eye on. I can’t recommend it enough!