LUFS - streaming into the galaxy

All this talk about LUFS (-14) when mastering for streaming makes me feel a little crazy. What audio volume is correct when sending files to distribution? -10, -8 or higher/lower? And what about true peak? Should it be right at zero or at most -1?

While there are certainly some recommendations out there, I don’t think you’ll find a one-size-fits-all answer. Different genres tend to hit different areas of the LUFS scale, but that can also vary within a genre depending on who is mastering the tracks. If you have a LUFS/True Peak analyzer, run some other artists’ tracks through it and see what they are hitting. You might be surprised one way or the other. If you don’t have one, Youlean is free.

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Just to add to that, broadcasting is often quoted at -23 or -24 LUFS, typically I see -12 to -14 quoted for mastering. I think it does go to show that context is important. I can’t say where true peak should be, I assume it’s also contextual.

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One thing I should add is that, sound quality should come first. Don’t completely squash your track just to hit a specific number.

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As already mentioned above, broadcast levels vary according to the territory: R128, -24LUFS, -10dBFS etc. But when mixing (TV spots for films) for online or social we aim for -1dBTP, but if that pushes the LUFS above -14 we have to reduce the true peak level to ensure a maximum of -14LUFS.

HoldMyBeer is right. Audio and mix quality is of course paramount but the more compression/less dynamic range the higher the LUFS.

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Here’s a fairly concise article about it with some helpful graphics and a table of LUFS and dBTP figures for various platforms (last updated 2021 though so always worth going to the source on the platform in question to check the current recommendations):

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I read/heard somewhere that you should have at least -1 dBtrue peak when mastering for streaming (to avoid clipping) Don’t know if that’s true

I recommend watching Dan Worall loudness series for FabFilter, imo you can just ignore the FabFilter plugins promotion and just take in the loudness information which applies with every plugin you want to use:

in the second part he’s talking about why you’d want to leave some headroom, the encoding from lossless to lossy formats (used by streaming platforms like Spotify, YT, etc.) can introduce clipping, so even if your wav is on 0 you can clip when converting to mp3, depending on the bitrate you can clip as much as 1db

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thanks, so I’ll try to keep the dynamics of the music and try to keep the LUFS around -14 with a peak limiter set to -1

There’s no magic number really as I understand it. The only hard rule is don’t clip. It’s kind of confusing because some places will say -14dB RMS/LUFS is what (some) streaming services go for; I think what you should be aiming for is to have a lower crest factor (that’s the difference between the true peak and the RMS) and deliver loudly and services can figure it out on their own.

Some things to consider: What if (streaming service X) changes their guidelines a month from now, will you remaster the whole thing again just for them?
Are you using a reference track in full-quality WAV/AIFF/etc to get your track to a comparable loudness? I think you’d be hard pressed to find an electronic album at -14dB LUFS. A lot of the references I’ve been using clock in around -8dB or louder (!) with true peaks half-a-hair below 0dB.

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yes i have studied some tracks and their loudness. Some are “crazy”
(industrial techno, from Bandcamp)

This is a tough one because you want to sound good when streamed but for me I also want it to sound good in a club setting. When djing, if a track is lower than others it’s not the end of the world but it does make it a little trickier to throw in a mix spontaneously. So im always thinking about making the djs life as easy as possible.

Club mixes (underground techno. House) are hitting -8 LUFS a lot now. It’s not super hard to get there but thats a big leap from -14 which requires basic gainstaging knowledge and you will be fine.

I think buying tunes directly from band camp or beat port so you are getting the uncompressed, non streaming version is critical. Find tunes you like, buy them and then analyze them with something like You lean. Then aim for that loudness.

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This from Spotify on their site. Recommendations when mastering for streaming

Skärmbild 2023-11-23 084025

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I try to stick to -1dB peaks and between -9 and -12 Int LUFS.

Trying to get louder than that, I don’t have the skills and everything starts to sound like crap.

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I’m no mastering engineer but I would always recommend ‘mastering’ to a reference. Grab your biggest influences/what you sound like and pull some of their tracks into your DAW using a plugin like the youlean one or Adaptr Metric AB, and see what their levels are.
Set your limiter at end of chain to -1 dbtp for reasons discussed already.
And that’s it. I do not think too much about Spotify recommendation etc, as they could technically change in the future and I’ve set my limiter to -1 dbtp anyway.

Loudness is one of those where you can go down a rabbit hole and from my experience so far it’s not worth taking the trip beyond the basics described in this thread.

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Voxengo Span and Youlean Loudness meter always at the end of your master section.

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My mastering chain is usually a combination of the following:

  • An EQ for sub/hi pass filtering and some minor overall adjustments.
  • A pretty gentle compressor (3:1 ratio top) to tame some of the more prominent peaks.
  • A soft clipper, to further reduce peaks and achieve some extra loudness.
  • A mastering limiter, to reach -1 dB peak.
  • The above mentioned Span and Youlean plugins to check levels.

Indeed, swap youlean for adaptr metric and that’s my exact setup. Also use voxengo span on busses and individual instruments where needed, a very good plugin.

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Master to -8 and peaking below 0dbtp for Bandcamp and Beatport etc. and then do another version with -1dbtp for streaming, if you want to ease down on the limiter for that version is up to you, the amount of lufs on the streaming version don’t matter as long as they are higher than -14. I don’t recommend mastering to -14 but at least a little higher, the streaming platforms will turn it down. You don’t want them turning it up.

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