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Anybody really Master Modern Pop to -14LUFS?
Old 20th June 2018
  #1
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JDN's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Anybody really Master Modern Pop to -14LUFS?

I downloaded the Taylor Swift single "Look What You Made Me Do" from Amazon. Sure enough it's mastered nearly too -7 LUFS, peaking every beat when imported into pro tools.

I can't imagine anyone really working in the pop world is submitting mixes at -14 LUFS or even leaving 1db of headroom. I think in modern pop music, a pretty heavily limited master is also stylisticly part of the sonics of the song, regardless of spotify or youtube and other platforms turning down. Many people like the punch of that sound even when accounting for perceived volume. I wonder if there's a mastered for itunes version of that song and if they treated it any differently? I know a few years ago Trent Reznor released two versions of the NIN album Hesitation Marks, one not so limited, but I never really heard anyone talking about it or preferring it, i'm pretty sure they use the more limited one on streaming platforms.
Old 20th June 2018
  #2
Gear Guru
 
1 Review written
🎧 15 years
Hits

One of my clients is frequently on the Airplay List for the National Station.
It is Acoustic, but often with some drums and bass. Folk I guess.
One of their bigger hits was -17LUFS. Of late I have settled on -14.
Sounds the same, and probably because of the space in the arrangement of instruments, Mix and Master, jumps out of the speakers. Bigly.

DD
Old 20th June 2018
  #3
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SmoothTone's Avatar
 
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Contrary to much misinformation on the internet, -14LUFS* is not a standard to master to, it is simply a reference that Spotify uses to normalise the playback stream.

It simply means that we don't HAVE to compromise audio quality to compete for loudness anymore. But we can make masters as loud as we feel is fitting for the music. Less squashed masters can have more dynamic impact when streamed at the same apparent loudness.



*Technically, -14LUFS is an approximation as Spotify uses ReplayGain which is a different algorithm to LUFS (but it's pretty close).

Last edited by SmoothTone; 27th June 2018 at 12:46 PM.. Reason: 011010011101001
Old 20th June 2018
  #4
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Correction

Tidal, Youtube, afaik SoundCloud, have all settled on or around -14.
iTunes -16.

DD
Old 21st June 2018
  #5
Raising Jake Studios
 
Nonlinear's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
In my experience a mix that was mastered to -7LUFS can still sound louder when lowered to -14LUFS than a mix mastered to, say, -12LUFS. It's likely due to all the distortion in the -7LUFS master that creates a lot of high-end energy or the unrelenting barrage of sound.
Old 21st June 2018 | Show parent
  #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DanDan ➑️
iTunes -16.

DD
The problem is that apart from iTunes Radio, iTunes doesn't have their loudness normalization turned on by default like some of the others, so I'd be willing to bet that the majority of people who are non-audiophile/gearheads don't have Sound Check turned on.

Music purchased from the iTunes Store and music streamed from Apple Music is played at the same level as the master WAV files unless the user actively turns on Sound Check.

So aside from all the target levels being different between all the sevices, the fact that some have it on by default and some don't adds to the current messy state of loudness normalization.
Old 21st June 2018 | Show parent
  #7
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I was more trying to get at the sonic characteristics associated with a limited master, like the Taylor Swift example I cited at close to -7LUFS. I'm talking about billboard hot 100 artists, not jazz or acoustic singer songwriter type genres. Assuming the adjustments account for perceived volume, I still think a lot of people prefer that sound. I don't know who mastered that Taylor swift record, but it sounds clear and great in the modern pop world, would it have that sound if the final limiter was adjusted to -14 LUFS, highly doubtful.
Old 21st June 2018
  #8
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With the pop stuff we've bought digitally AND on vinyl over the last few years (Sia, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Ed Sheeran etc.), where it would probably be impossible to get the vinyl cut as squashed as the digital master, the vinyl does indeed sound far better. I haven't compared the LUFS, and there are obviously many other variables, but it seems with more dynamic range, yes, even squashed pop has the potential to sound a lot better than what most people are hearing.
Old 21st June 2018 | Show parent
  #9
Gear Nut
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by DanDan ➑️
Tidal, Youtube, afaik SoundCloud, have all settled on or around -14.
iTunes -16.

DD
Except Spotify with their Loud setting (which is closer to -11 LUFS). How do they turn up tracks quieter than that..?
Old 21st June 2018
  #10
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teebaum's Avatar
 
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realistically, there is no point in setting modern produced pop music to -14LUFS - especially as the streaming services mostly use ReplayGain and an integrated loudness measurement for music is pointless anyway.

as others have already noticed, -14LUFS is finally quieter on these services than -7LUFS, but it also sounds different.

a certain "crunchyness" is a part of such a production, but my experience shows me that many popmasters would sound better if you used 2-3 dB less limiting - I'm talking about 2-3dB, not 5-10dB!

as long as you mixes this way, popmaster is probably best set to -8 to -12 LUFS - so you can be a bit quieter, but you should just listen to where a song works best and don't set it to a LUFS value without listening.

over time, mixers will learn that streaming and vinyl (which is becoming more and more popular than the standard release forms compared to the CD) make more dynamic mixes look better and that they can create the "crunchy sound", if desired, rather via single track and subgroup processing.
but as long as you still get mixes that are louder than the sweet spot of the masters, sometimes (if you can't get more dynamic mixes from the mixer) you have no choice but to deliver too loud masters - you can allow yourself a slightly lower peak level so that the codecs can work better.
Old 21st June 2018
  #11
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Check out the global Spotify top 50, you won't find a single track that's mastered to -14 LUFS. Not even close.
Old 21st June 2018
  #12
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Crunch

LUFS is an Integrated Level System. My point is that Masters at -14 and even lower come out on National Radio sounding louder than others. They are also making onto the Playlist noticeably regularly. Plus there is chatter amongst the Presenters about the sound quality.
Also it has been noted that the sound does not change much from Phone to Kitchen to Car.
I was not aware of the Spotify 'Loud' setting, thanks Morgan. I expect anyone that uses it will be disappointed at varying track levels, particularly with a mix of older tracks, and will probably choose the obvious better option of -14 turned up normally.
Ditto iTunes, anyone who is bothered by the level changes, dramatic if one includes old music, will find the SoundCheck button. But perhaps it would be better On by default, Apple?
In all cases though, the better sounding Master will shine through.
I have been experimenting with this new Fluff for some time.
I have noticed that I begin to back off at around the -14 and definitely feel uncomfortable at -12.
This is without watching the meters and before knowing the numbers that the various streamers have settled on.
The faux end of the Loudness Wars, various initiatives including the integrated level one, were a great opportunity to undo some of the damage of recent decades. I believe it is a bit more than than. There is a tactile pleasure in good sonics.
IMO one of the reasons why the industry is dying is because professionals are obliging insecure artistes and management by providing this Horse Tranquiliser synthetic rush of noise.
I would encourage those at the cutting edge, or bleeding edge, to stop it. It is Sonic Suicide. It is not part of the genre or whatever, that comes in the Master Mix. Our job is perhaps to translate whatever comes in, to the public. In many cases now, our job has morphed into preventing what comes in from getting to the public. This is how Democracy can and has rapidly found sink holes to the below Sound ground.
EDIT, I just took a listen to Katie on Vevo. It has that Thin Lizzie trick of apparent clarity due to having quite often no bass instrument. It's easy for a decent singer to be clear when the accompaniment is just a drum machine and the odd large turd of synth. Anywhere other than these vocal and fake sounding drum sections are grossly overloaded. It's like being force fed on digital porridge with ground glass as a sweetener. Ed Sheeran is another example of the new Democracy, how the boy next door becomes the superstar and defines the standard. If that level of Sonics and Musicality is our paradigm, I recommend Pilates, as further and wider leg spreading is the obvious future.

DD

Last edited by DanDan; 21st June 2018 at 02:37 PM..
Old 21st June 2018
  #13
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Trakworx's Avatar
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nonlinear ➑️
In my experience a mix that was mastered to -7LUFS can still sound louder when lowered to -14LUFS than a mix mastered to, say, -12LUFS. It's likely due to all the distortion in the -7LUFS master that creates a lot of high-end energy or the unrelenting barrage of sound.
That same experience has been reported to me by a lot of people. Your explanation for it is as good as any that I've heard.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JDN ➑️
I was more trying to get at the sonic characteristics associated with a limited master, like the Taylor Swift example I cited at close to -7LUFS. I'm talking about billboard hot 100 artists, not jazz or acoustic singer songwriter type genres. Assuming the adjustments account for perceived volume, I still think a lot of people prefer that sound. I don't know who mastered that Taylor swift record, but it sounds clear and great in the modern pop world, would it have that sound if the final limiter was adjusted to -14 LUFS, highly doubtful.
It's true that a lot of people prefer the sound of hot masters, even some AEs and audiophiles do. Having said that, -7 integrated LUFS is pretty hot. It would probably sound even better while still retaining what you like about it if it were mastered, say, 3dB softer.

.
Old 21st June 2018 | Show parent
  #14
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Magnus Lindberg's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Mastering to -14 LUFS is hard when the mixes come in at -12
Anyway, most pop music here usually sits best at around -10 to -8 LUFS in choruses or whatever loud parts there is (usually most parts of the songs) And, most importantly that is where I usually think they sound the best, provided the mix is good of course.
Old 21st June 2018
  #15
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and I will add, mastering at -14lufs is impossible when the mix arrives at -7lufs or even less, (Magnus is being optimistic with -12 ) Pop, commercial electro, Hiphop, trap, you name it, usually get mixed louder and louder every months, that's the sound the producer want period
Old 22nd June 2018
  #16
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There is absolutely no way I could send out masters at -14LUFS. It's just not happening.

Mixes are coming in hotter than that all day long.

I do however try to leave a full dB of headroom, even if the master is hanging on for dear life. It's not the norm but I think it's worth it.
Old 22nd June 2018
  #17
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🎧 5 years
The Spotify Web Player and Amazon MP3 previews don't normalize at all, so -14 masters are probably going to sound relatively low there.
Old 22nd June 2018
  #18
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Ben F's Avatar
 
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The skill of the mastering engineer is to make the mix sound subjectively better level matched to the master. Even at hot levels. I don't think anyone would win clients with modern music at -14 LUFS.
Old 22nd June 2018
  #19
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Jump.....How High

I would guess that Mastering is the primary or main income source for most here.
I am getting the sense the the full on competitive piddling competition of the Loudness War is fully on, probably worse by the numbers I am seeing. It saddens me that consensus here is please the client, be as louder as the hottest they want to compare to. I understand, but Sounding Good has no place in this War.
Basically whatever number system is presented, the best and the brightest try to punch through it.

Broadcast levels were typically -23LUFS and -1dBTP.
Streaming feels it has a different remit.
Thus forcing the Broadcasters to review upwards to -18 at the BBC for instance. BBC Blogs - Technology & Creativity Blog - Normalising our loudness

As Mastering is only a small part of my activities, I don't have to fight. So I am presenting FYI a contrast, one that works too. My clients tend to be very independent. To the point that many really don't care about any sort of comparison. LOL, they often put the most 'difficult' track first on the album....Often!
Many find the forceful nature of over -14 ugly.
In the case of this track here, they didn't want to even go there. From memory it was probably -16.
About 6 weeks National Radio Rotation/Playlist. (To contrast with Streaming, €35 a play)
Greenshine
Now I am sure Taylor will do well also, but really? 10dB Hotter and sounding like Cornflakes.
Taylor
Do compare them audibly, perhaps on medium speakers as a lot of Taylor's is overwhelmingly subby. I typically make comparisons on an iMac here. In this case the strikingly small volume difference is a bit puzzling.

Hi Roar, always -1dBTP here, that complies with many specs. BBC -2dBTP. Norm it seems is a large guy in Cheers.

DD

Last edited by DanDan; 22nd June 2018 at 06:48 PM..
Old 22nd June 2018 | Show parent
  #20
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alex-p's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by DanDan ➑️
I am getting the sense the the full on competitive piddling competition of the Loudness War is fully on, probably worse by the numbers I am seeing. It saddens me that consensus here is please the client, be as louder as the hottest they want to compare to. I understand, but Sounding Good has no place in this War.
Basically whatever number system is presented, the best and the brightest try to punch through it.

DD
Best Sounding always win !
they are two loudness wars:

A/ to be the loudest at detriment of musicality, the one war self proclaimed mastering engineers engage on

B/ the best sounding master at loudness or apparent loudness that the client want to hear the song at, often better sounding than the mix, and I would add at loudness that suit the genre, that's the war most Mastering engineers that are busy are engaged on whether they like it or not ! depending of the genre it will be -14, -12, -10 or -7lufs,

its a real art to make a -12lufs master sounding very loud as its an art making a -7lufs master sounding really punchy!
Old 23rd June 2018
  #21
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🎧 5 years
The loudness we want is apparent loudness and presence. It's more important that a mix/master cuts through and sounds pleasing than whether it displays extreme loudness on the RMS and Peak meters. (often making the music sound flat or homogenous)
Old 4 weeks ago | Show parent
  #22
JDO
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DanDan ➑️
I would guess that Mastering is the primary or main income source for most here.
I am getting the sense the the full on competitive piddling competition of the Loudness War is fully on, probably worse by the numbers I am seeing. It saddens me that consensus here is please the client, be as louder as the hottest they want to compare to. I understand, but Sounding Good has no place in this War.
Basically whatever number system is presented, the best and the brightest try to punch through it.

Broadcast levels were typically -23LUFS and -1dBTP.
Streaming feels it has a different remit.
Thus forcing the Broadcasters to review upwards to -18 at the BBC for instance. BBC Blogs - Technology & Creativity Blog - Normalising our loudness

As Mastering is only a small part of my activities, I don't have to fight. So I am presenting FYI a contrast, one that works too. My clients tend to be very independent. To the point that many really don't care about any sort of comparison. LOL, they often put the most 'difficult' track first on the album....Often!
Many find the forceful nature of over -14 ugly.
In the case of this track here, they didn't want to even go there. From memory it was probably -16.
About 6 weeks National Radio Rotation/Playlist. (To contrast with Streaming, €35 a play)
Greenshine
Now I am sure Taylor will do well also, but really? 10dB Hotter and sounding like Cornflakes.
Taylor
Do compare them audibly, perhaps on medium speakers as a lot of Taylor's is overwhelmingly subby. I typically make comparisons on an iMac here. In this case the strikingly small volume difference is a bit puzzling.

Hi Roar, always -1dBTP here, that complies with many specs. BBC -2dBTP. Norm it seems is a large guy in Cheers.

DD
Unfortunately, -14 LUFS is only a target LISTENING level on Spotify, not a target mastering level... I know an artist who, back in the day, mastered a track twice, at both -14 and -7 LUFS, and uploaded both to Spotify under an alternate artist name -- the -7 LUFS version sounded bigger and better, and held up in competition with other tracks in the genre. Nowadays, we can do this very same thing in real time with ADPTR Audio Streamliner, and we again find the same situation -- a track sounds BIGGER when mastered at -7 to -10 LUFS when compared to the same track mastered at -14 LUFS. The -14 LUFS track WILL NOT compete with other tracks when A/Bing... This is simply because LUFS is about average/perceived volume, which does not get taken away if we (or Spotify) turn the volume down. It's in fact the REASON a track can still sound big when we turn it down -- because the average/perceived level is high. This doesn't have to do with the "loudness war" so much as the "bigness war," and a track at -7 LUFS will always win the bigness war when played against a track at -14 LUFS. We all know plenty of tracks that sound perfectly punchy and as dynamic as they *need* to mastered at -8 LUFS. Like it or not, mastering too low is going to be a negative influence on how competitively your clients' tracks stand up in a playlist. That's just the reality, and we all have to deal with reality at the end of the day!
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