The title says it all, really !
Bill Koch emailed me yesterday to let me know that Amazon Music have recently added Loudness Normalization to their mobile and desktop apps. I’ve only had time to do some very brief testing, but from what I can see it’s using -14 LUFS as the reference level, it’s not turning quieter songs up, and it’s on by default for new installs.
Which means the full list of online streaming platforms known to be using loudness normalization by default is now:
While Apple Music use it by default on all their “Radio stations”, plus in iTunes if you enable Sound Check in the preferences.
So that’s it ! If you want to optimise your music for online distribution, all you need to do is master everything to -14 LUFS and you’re good, right ?
Wait, what ?!?
I’ve written about this in more detail before, but in a nutshell:
- It makes no sense to master everything to -14 LUFS – or any specific loudness “target”. Why would we want a heavy rock tune at the same loudness as an acoustic ballad ?
- It’s not effective, because only TIDAL (and now Amazon) actually use LUFS to adjust loudness, right now. And LUFS estimates can sometimes be wrong by as much as 3 dB, in our tests.
- Reference levels can change without notice, and the whole point is that streaming services will use normalization to get more consistent playback loudness anyway. They do the work for us, so there’s no need to “pre-guess” the results.
Then why does this matter ?
Basically, because it means the final loudness of the music is no longer under your control.
(Actually, it never was, because people have always had volume controls, not to mention the DJs and broadcasters adjusting loudness for us – but let’s pretend is was, just for the sake of argument.)
And that means if you want to hear how your music will sound in the real world, you need to preview it with the right loudness adjustment. Regardless of how loud your music is mastered, what really matters is how loud it will be played back in comparison to everything else.
It may sound great when you compare it with your reference material at the raw mastered loudness, but what about when it’s being adjusted to a particular reference level ?
Hear for yourself
And the good news is, often it’ll sound just fine, even if the normalization is turning it down by a few dBs. Personally, when I find something is being turned down more than a dB or two, I always like to do an experiment to see if could sound even better if I hadn’t pushed it so hard in the first place – and it usually does ! But that’s just me, and you should do your own tests to decide for yourself.
Personally I don’t use the site much, though. I choose the loudness of the music I master in exactly the same way I have been for years, now – finding the “sweet spot” between loudness and dynamics. There are people who will tell you this advice won’t get results that are loud enough, or “competitive”, or allow you to achieve “the sound” in a particular genre, but that’s not my experience.
Don’t take my word for it though – to find out how to try the same method, click here and experiment for yourself. Compare the results using the raw files and the Loudness Penalty site, and choose the one you prefer.
One last thing
If you do this and find you prefer the more dynamic master, you may still be concerned about people thinking it’s too quiet. In which case, remember this:
In 2017, 87% of US music industry revenue came from non-physical formats.
That means streaming and downloads, and more often than not, that means normalized.
Amazon Music just made that statistic even more significant.