Yesterday I posted on the MeterPlugs blog about the fact that YouTube had switched to using a -14 LUFS reference level, and why I thought that was a good thing.
But today, it looks as if they’ve changed it back again !
So where does this leave us ?
YouTube is still turning loud songs down. The reference level is approximately -13 LUFS, and you can still find out exactly how much they’re changing the level by using their Stats for nerds feature, or the Loudness Penalty website.
For the last week or so, they were using a different method based on exactly -14 LUFS, but for the time being they’ve gone back to the older method.
At some point though, we can now be sure they will move to -14 LUFS.
So what should you do in the meantime ?
My advice is the same as it’s always been – don’t aim for an overall loudness target at all – it’s ineffective and doesn’t give musical results. Instead, use this strategy:
This method will get you great-sounding, future-proof results and ensure your music isn’t turned down too far, anywhere online.
Why do I say that ? If they’re similar (only a dB or so apart, say) then you’re in good shape. Provided you’re happy with the sound when you Preview them against similar reference tracks, your work is done. BUT if you see a larger difference between the Loudness Penalty values for YouTube and TIDAL, I recommend you pay close attention. Here’s why:
Current performance is no guarantee of future success
The overall difference in level between the loudest songs on YouTube and TIDAL right now is only 1 dB or less, but all songs aren’t matched in the same way, because of the platforms’ different methods of measuring loudness.
So if the values for an individual song on YouTube and TIDAL right now are similar, it’s probably no big deal. Both normalization methods will give a result you’re likely to be happy with, even after YouTube make the move to using LUFS. People won’t hear much of a change.
But if you’re seeing a larger difference, the end result will be more unpredictable. The loudness of your song compared to everything else might go up, or it might go down – and that will affect how people feel about it in comparison to everything else.
For example, there’s one song I noticed yesterday where currently YouTube only turns it down by 1 dB, but TIDAL turns it down by 4 dB. When YouTube finally switches over to LUFS for good, that song is going to seem 3 dB quieter than in comparison to other songs than it does right now, there.
(And yes, I’m talking about a major artist, not some obscure edge-case !)
Whereas if your song is currently being turned down by 4 dB on YouTube and only 1 dB on TIDAL, it will actually end up sounding 3 dB louder in comparison to other material than it does right now after YouTube make the switch.
Does it matter ?
Good question – it depends on your point of view.
If you aren’t at all concerned about how your music sounds compared to other material on the streaming platforms, maybe not.
But if you want your music to stand up well against everything else in terms of loudness online, and not change dramatically in future then it probably does matter, yes ! Especially since my prediction is that all the platforms will start using LUFS eventually.
So what about Spotify ?
Spotify also gives an overall result of approximately -14 LUFS – they even say this on their website – but they don’t use LUFS either, at the moment – currently they use ReplayGain to measure loudness. This can give results that are different to LUFS for individual songs, so all the comments above apply to Spotify, as well.
For maximum consistency and future-proof-ness, you want to see similar Loudness Penalty values for your loudest songs on YouTube, Spotify and TIDAL. If you don’t, they may not come across with the same impact on all the platforms, and the results will change when YouTube and Spotify inevitably make the switch to LUFS at some future point.
(Why do I say it’s inevitable ? Because LUFS is an internationally recommended standard, and the Audio Engineering Society (AES) recommends using it. Also ReplayGain version 2 uses LUFS !)
Normalization is here to stay, and the future of normalization is LUFS.
If online loudness matters to you and you see different results on streaming platforms that don’t currently use LUFS (only TIDAL and Amazon Music do, right now) then you may want to pay attention to the differences and tweak your results. This can ensure more consistent results across all platforms today, and avoid future changes to the way your music is perceived as the use of LUFS becomes more widespread.
The good news is that it’s perfectly possible to achieve this ! Use the strategy I linked to above and check the results with Loudness Penalty. I do this myself, and see similar values on all the “big three” platforms with nothing getting turned down too much.
Which is great, because it means you can stop worrying about loudness altogether and focus on what really matters – making the music sound great.