How loud is too loud?
Streaming platforms play everything out at the same loudness. Because streaming playlists often have many songs from different artists, time periods and genres, they match the loudness of each song from one to the next in order to avoid the listener having to constantly reach for the volume control. This is achieved by a process called loudness normalisation.
Loudness normalisation works by analysing the entire song for its average loudness, and then turning it up or down to a set level for the system, so everything comes out, on average, at more-or-less the same loudness.
MasterCheck makes it easy to audition the level of different streaming services. Just pick a preset and the meter will show you the loudness target for you to compare your work with. Hit ‘Offset to match’ to hear how it will sound, and then you can make creative decisions according to taste.
Information accurate at the time of publishing - last edited 8 June 2020
Does loudness normalisation matter?
In one sense, no. The loudness matching is simply a dB offset applied to the entire song, turning it up or down. There is no dynamics processing and it will sound exactly the same, just as if the playlist has an automatic volume control that only changes once, in-between tracks.
In another sense, however, there is a lot to consider. If your music (previously peaking the codec at 0dBTP) is turned down, it will now peak at a lower level. If you are used to heavily compressing and limiting your audio, it could be turned down 6dB or more! That means 6dB of unused headroom you could have used for more transient detail and punch – or not, the choice is yours. The most important element here is to be informed so you make the creative decision, instead of losing out either by not understanding the process or by fruitlessly trying to push louder than the loudness target.
The table below shows the different loudness normalisation levels and codecs for some of today’s most popular streaming platforms. With this information, it’s possible to tailor your mix or master to a specific platform, but as a general rule of thumb, keeping the audio below -13 LUFS is a multipurpose method for a general cross-platform master.
|Spotify||-14 LUFS||Ogg Vorbis|
|YouTube||-14 LUFS||AAC-LC / Opus|
|Apple Music||-16 LUFS||AAC-LC|
|AES Recommended Practice||-20 to -16 LUFS||N/A|
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