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YouTube just put the final nail in the Loudness War's coffin

March 17th, 2015 BY 


This is HUGE.

It may not look like much, but if you're involved in music production, recording, mixing or mastering, this image could be the most important thing you'll see all year.

What is it ?

It's the loudness output of a YouTube playlist, as measured by the MeterPlugs LCast loudness meter.

So what ?

First - it's pretty quiet. The loudness levels are all quite low, especially by modern "loudness war" standards.

Second - it's very consistent. More importantly than the low loudness, they're almost all playing at the same loudness.

What does this mean ?

It means that YouTube have been using loudness normalisation on their music videos - and they've been doing it since December 2015. Louder songs are turned down to stop us being "blasted" by changes in level, and as a result almost everything plays at a similar loudness, regardless of how it was mastered.

Hear it for yourself - this playlist is composed almost entirely of current releases, with a wide variety of loudness on CD - and some of them are REALLY loud:

So for example, at the more dynamic end of the spectrum, Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars' massive hit "Uptown Funk" measures -12 LUFS (Min PSR 8 as measured with my Dynameter plugin) from CD. Whereas "Love Me Like You Do" by Ellie Goulding is squashed up to -8 LUFS (Min PSR 5) on CD, and later in the playlist, Madonna's "Living For Love" clocks in at an eye-watering (and heavily distorted) -7 LUFS (Min PSR 4!)

But on YouTube, all of these songs are being played back at a similar loudness of -14 LUFS.

And that's HUGE, because YouTube is the single largest online discovery source for music. More people are looking for music on YouTube than on Apple Music, TV or radio, or anywhere.

This is where they hear new music for the first time, decide if they like it, and whether to share it with their friends.

And YouTube just took "loudness" out of the equation.

Dynamic is the new Loud

It's now irrelevant how high the mastering levels of your music are - as I've shown before, on Spotify, Pandora and now on YouTube, we have no control about how loud people hear it - just as it's always been on FM radio.

In fact, heavily crushed, distorted "loudness war casualties" will often sound worse than more dynamic releases.

And if you ever wanted proof that the extra dynamics in "Uptown Funk" are a crucial part of it's success, press Play above and see which song it is that gets your head nodding and foot tapping first…

When music is loudness normalised, "loudness war" mixing and mastering sounds worse - and music with balanced dynamics sounds better.

This is the final nail in the coffin. The loudness war really is over - the only remaining question is, how long will it take for people take to notice, and start releasing music with great dynamics again ?

But we still haven't heard the whole story, yet.

The plot is actually thicker...

This is such an important issue, I've glossed over a few interesting details in this post - and a big problem with YouTube's loudness control.

The main point - YouTube is using loudness normalisation - still stands. But if you've been thinking "Why are some of songs in that graph quieter or louder that -14 LUFS ?" - you've asked a good question.

And if you've spotted the big problem with the way it works, you know it needs to be discussed.

I address all those points, and more, in my next post:

YouTube loudness normalisation - The Good, The Questions and The Problem

Meanwhile if you want to optimise the dynamics of your music for maximum impact and ensure competitive playback levels online, you might like to check out the free website I developed with MeterPlugs. It's called Loudness Penalty, and it's designed to help you do exactly that. For more info, click here.
[Update - originally YouTube's reference level was closer to -13, and didn't use LUFS – but they changed this in 2019 and have been using exactly -14 LUFS since then]


My name is Ian Shepherd - I've worked as a professional mastering engineer for over 20 years and I run the Production Advice website with over 50,000 readers each month



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