It’s the question we all dread.
You finished the master, everyone is really happy, and then they hit you with it:
Can you just make it a bit louder ?
Because even though we know that loudness is pointless, even though we know that if you want to sound louder on YouTube, or Apple Music or Spotify or anywhere, the answer is to master with balanced dynamics – no-one else believes it yet.
The artists don’t believe it
The labels don’t believe it
The producers don’t believe it
The A&R people don’t believe it
And plenty of mastering engineers still don’t believe it, either !
Even though we know that:
- Metal sounds better with more dynamics
- Rock sounds better with more dynamics
- Pop sounds better with more dynamics
- Even EDM sounds better with more dynamics
No-one believes us.
They’ve bought into the myth, they’re feeling the FUD.
Luckily, they don’t have to believe us, because now we can show them. Quickly, and easily.
This strategy is free, non-techy and simple to implement.
[Update – AND it works ! Matt Colton from Alchemy Mastering used exactly this strategy when he was talking to James Blake’s management when he was mastering his latest album – to listen to my interview with him about it, click here]
Here it is:
Step One – Empathise
No-one likes to be argued with. If you go straight in with “Dynamic is the new Loud”, they’ll shut down and stop listing to you – they’ll think you just don’t Get It.
For the demonstration I’m going to show you to work, they need to know you understand the issue, you feel their pain – and you still think making it louder is a Bad Idea.
So take a little time to listen to their concerns, and show them you understand. Don’t be tempted to argue, or justify, just listen.
Then say something like “I know exactly what you mean. I’ll make it louder for you, and we’ll take a listen.”
Which brings us to
Step Two – Demonstrate
- Keep your optimal master, with balanced, powerful dynamics
- Create a louder version as requested
- Import both versions into iTunes
- Go to Preferences > Playback and enable Sound Check
(This may take a while, the first time you tick the box – iTunes will scan your whole music library. So, it might be best to this step well in advance. In fact, why not try it now, and see how it affects the music you’ve already imported ? And don’t worry, after you’ve done it once, it’s really quick)
- Play both versions
- Explain that this is how it’s going to sound in the Real World, pretty much everywhere
- Ask them – which one sounds better ? Which one sounds bigger, punchier ? Which one makes you want to dance, to nod your head – which one moves you more ?
Sound Check makes songs play back at similar volume, so the “benefits” of creating a ‘loud’, crushed master are lost. And in fact, many over-squashed songs sound dull, lifeless, muddled or even distorted once Sound Check is enabled.
And if you’re lucky, your job is done – many people are persuaded just by this simple, real-world demonstration. But if not, proceed to…
Step Three – Answer questions
Chances are the person who asked for the extra ‘loudness’ will immediately say – “But no-one uses Sound Check!” or something similar.
But… no-one uses Sound Check !
Here’s your reply:
Actually, Apple Music uses Sound Check. And Apple Music is a major discovery source.
Spotify uses ReplayGain, which does something very similar – and these days, it can’t be disabled.
And here’s the killer – I noticed earlier this year that YouTube also normalises playback volume.
Soon after your ‘loud’ master finishes uploading, YouTube will adjust it’s playback loudness so the volume people hear will be similar to almost everything else. And they’re slowly working back through the archive, doing the same thing to everything that has already been uploaded.
TV already does the same thing – in fact in the US it’s a legal requirement to regulate the loudness of commercials !
And loudness doesn’t matter on radio either – that’s been true for decades.
“Loud” doesn’t matter, any more
So if you won’t hear the ‘loudness’ of a mix or master on YouTube, or Spotify, or Apple Music, or TV or radio – where do you hear it ?
Well, you might hear it in the car – but the first thing you do when you put a new CD in is adjust the volume, right ? So that doesn’t matter, after the first 20 seconds.
And you won’t hear it in a club, because any DJ worth her salt will balance the levels of her mix, just like she balances BPM and mood to make a balanced, satisfying set.
So that leaves… no-where.
(Well, you might hear it on an mp3 player in shuffle mode, if you don’t have Sound Check or ReplayGain enabled. But how important is that, really ? After all, we’re only talking about a few dBs difference between bangin’ and busted.)
This isn’t just hot air, either. Some of the biggest hits of the last year have been mastered without being stupid-loud.
Step Four – Wait
People care about YouTube.
They really care.
Everybody “gets” how crucially important YouTube is for music, in the 21st century.
So show them the demo above in iTunes, and make sure they understand – that’s how it will sound on YouTube, too.
Then stand back and wait.
Let them take both masters home and try it for themselves. Show them this blog post, and some of the ones it links to, especially this one.
If you think they’ll be interested, show them the research, which proves listeners don’t care about loudness.
The penny will drop, eventually.
Optional Bonus Step – Check for success
If you have time and space – try this test with your two masters first, before you play them to anyone else.
I have pretty much a 100% success rate, but Sound Check can be a little quirky – there’s no harm in making sure you get the results you expect, before you do the demo for anyone else.
In my experience though, lower level, less crushed masters almost always sound better when Sound Check is on – and my guess is that’s what you’re going to find, too.
This strategy really works. Try it !