Mastering Audio, an anecdote

In this post, I want to talk about the master we received and explain some details to look for in mastering a recording. I was working on a mix for a client recently, and the client wanted to send it to another audio engineer for mastering before uploading it to their music distributor. I said, “Great! It’s a good idea to have someone else besides the mix engineer master your track.” But what we received from the mastering engineer wasn’t going to work for us. Read on, and I’ll explain why.

First, what is Mastering? Generally, it is the last chance to make a recording sound its best in the format listeners will hear it. Specifically, this involves making the recording sound as good as possible in comparison with other leading recordings in the same genre. This can include increasing the loudness with compression and limiting, adjusting EQ for the recording, and making small spatial adjustments to the recording before it is sent to the streaming distributor, CD factory, vinyl pressing plant, or cassette tape manufacturer.

So what about my mix? The master we received from the mastering engineer had over 30 clipped samples, its peak volume was 0 LUFS, and its “LU-I” measurement, or “Loudness Units, Integrated”was over -9 LUFS. What this means, in English, is that the recording’s loudness was boosted so high that nearly every streaming service would turn down the recording during playpack, so it would actually sound quieter than other tracks in the same playlist. This is because most streaming platforms use “Loudness Normalization”, which helps ensure that each track on a platform sounds about as loud as the other tracks.

Loudness Normalization is wonderful. It can help un-mastered music sound better because some playback services that use it boost quiet recordings during playback to make them louder, and it ideally helps all recordings sound better by helping end the Loudness Wars, in which music becomes too compressed, making it fatiguing and unpleasant to listen to.

However, Loudness Normalization requires us to change how we master recordings. It’s not enough to simply make a recording as loud as possible. And that never was enough to make a good-sounding recording, but it became the priority before loudness normalization change those priorities. Instead, a mastering engineer needs to pay attention to the levels at which playback services that use Loudness Normalized will turn down the loudness of a recording, and the mastering engineer needs to ensure that their recordings ideally don’t get louder than those levels. In addition, a good mastering engineer will help you determinine what makes a particular recording sound its best.

If you’re mastering your own recordings for streaming on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, etc. then use these values (as of July 2020):
– The peak value should be no higher than -1 LUFS
– The LU-I value should be no more than -16 to -14 LUFS
– Some services, such as Amazon Music, have a peak limit of -2 LUFS and a LU-I limit of -14 LUFS.
You’ll need to decide how you want to handle these varying standards as you master your recordings.

If you want help mastering your recordings, get in touch.

Published by Greg Douras

I produce audio books and other audio projects. Let's bring your message to life! Get in touch, gregdouras.com.

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