Sound dynamic for streaming

Hello everybody,

i need your professional knowledge. I want to master songs for streaming on the internet. I have found that the frequency dynamic of songs can be very indistinguishable. I know the dynamic of songs that I created myself in Cubase (screenshot above), the songs on many audio CDs use almost the entire frequency band (screenshot below). Which is better as a basis for mastering streaming services in Wavelab.
Thank you for your help!!


I know this sound like a cliché but trust your own ears!
I mean brickwall mastering in my opinion no way!!!

regards S-EH

Thanks for your reply. The buzzword “Brickwall Mastering” pointed me to the right direction.

Most streaming services recommend maximum peaks at -1dbFS, with average levels at -14LUFS. That looks a lot like the first image… it’s fine, and masters can sound great with those specs.

Now to destroy all of that:

If you like rock music or pop music, pretty much every one of the most popular songs you’ve heard for the last 30 years has been brick wall mastered to look like the second image… and you might have never even realized it. Many of them sound amazing! Just because something has been brick wall mastered and is super loud doesn’t mean it’s bad. Some incredibly loud masters sound incredibly good… there is good mastering and bad mastering at both loud and quiet levels…

Does Adele’s song “Hello” sound ok to you? How bout Depeche Mode “Wrong”? Green Day “American Idiot”? All of those hit -5 or even -4rms at times… SUPER loud. Technically they’re totally fried… but they are really well mastered, so they still sound great. I don’t mind the tiny dynamic range (of the transients nearest 0dbFS) because it’s so well done.

If you’re a pro, working on a world class mastering system in a tuned room, just use your ears and put it at whatever level you think sounds best. If you’re pretty new to Mastering and you don’t know best to achieve loudness, or how well tuned your room is, or how your speakers compare with other speakers, I recommend sticking with -14LUFS, and -1db peaks… but you can probably very easily get your LUFS up to -8 or so without doing too much damage. Any louder than that, and you had better really know what you’re doing or you could be wrecking your own stuff.

Is there any purpose in a loud master these days? Loudness is less and less important now… although on bandcamp, they don’t normalize automatically like a lot of the other streaming services do, so a -14 master is going to sound a lot quieter than other stuff… this is why -10 or -8 is probably a safe loudness target. Really what’s more important than any of that technical stuff, is just make sure your stuff sounds awesome. If it does, chances are someone else in the world will agree with you (your listeners) – especially if you really know how to master well and achieve good translation to other speaker systems. If your mastering is great, the loudness won’t matter as much as everyone would like you to believe.

Hello toader,
you can see from my question that I’m still fairly new to mastering. As it turns out, I hear very well (which is sometimes not easy for my bandmates) and at the moment I am trying to acquire the theoretical basics so that I don’t ruin good sound through technical errors.

At the moment I am setting up my home studio (also because of Corona) and attach great importance to a good-sounding room. Which, as I have found, is at least as complex as a good Cubase / Wavelab configuration.

I’m one of those people for whom music doesn’t have to be super loud. Quite the opposite. There are many beautiful examples, especially in classical music, that even soft tones can have a lot of expression.

Thank you for your detailed explanation. I will continue to deal with brickwall mastering to find out more about the strengths and weaknesses, especially with regard to mastering for streaming services, which now take the place of vinyl / CD media for musicians.

If you are mastering for streaming, and you’re fine with something sounding quiet on Bandcamp, then aim for the recommended streaming specs:

Max peaks at -1dbFS
Average at -14LUFS.

I posted recently on about this subject and I don’t want to rewrite it all again, so I’m just going to paste it here for anyone that is interested:

I’ve spent a lot of time lately doing comparisons of super super loud masters (-4) to quieter ones (-14). Really good masters still sound good even at -4… so much so, that I don’t have a drastic preference listening to music either way. A great sounding master at -14 IS very slightly capable of greater detail… but it’s slight. The difference comes down to transient handling.

This comparison (loud masters to soft) is similar to comparing a GML preamp to a Neve 10xx. The GML retains a little more transient detail, while the Neve tends to smooth transients… but the Neve smooths them so well, it can even be perceived as euphonic - not displeasing. Likewise, a good master does the same thing if/when loudness is achieved.

Somebody mentioned density earlier in the discussion… Even if something is quiet, it can still sound really dense if it’s heavily compressed or if the arrangement is dense… but in master comparison, I think “transient density in the loudest range” is the biggest difference… not overall density. What I mean by that is density of quick immediate bursts that happen to occur in the loudest dynamic range of the master. In quiet masters, these little bursts are all over the place – in every instrument - even the loudest ones. The transients are subtle, but perceived as “detail”. In loud masters, the transients of the loudest elements in the mix are gone whenever the momentary loudness of that element is high… those transients get flattened. Quiet elements in a loud master can still have those transients though as they’re beneath the range where limiting/distortion would affect them… Anyway, I think the reason loud masters can still sound decent, is because our brains don’t easily hear or detect transients well, as they are super fast…

Just be aware though, when you go for that loud master you ARE losing something (transient detail), but if it’s well done what you lose can be very subtle, or even euphonic in the way it’s achieved, and the music can still be completely enjoyable for most people. This is why some of the most beloved songs in history can be either super loud masters OR super quiet masters. As engineers, we might complain, but the simple fact is that the public can tolerate either loud or quiet masters if the master is good enough and the song is good enough… and if loud and quiet masters are actually presented at equal volume so as to not bias the listener (so I AM for universal volume normalization without limiting/processing).

As far as how loud to master something, that depends. Do you have the equipment and knowledge to do a loud master really well? If not, go quieter as it’s safer… or better, hire a pro mastering place to do your master. If you do have the ability to make it both loud and good, you have a choice. Do you want it to have the transient detail of a GML preamp, or the thickness and warmth of a driven Neve preamp? Loud masters vs soft masters are a similar comparison. Try doing a master that way sometime… take your -14 master, and slam it through a Neve preamp cranked up… the Neve can reduce -14 to -10 very easily. It adds distortion, but you may notice it’s a cool sound, and you can still enjoy the music. If we aim for a system of universal volume normalization, then loudness becomes a irrelevant, and sound is all that matters… so you could print your master confidently at -14, or at -4 - whichever level has the “sound” you’re going for (the amount of dynamic range in your transients that are near to 0dbFS).

If you’re uploading to a streaming platform (at least most of them), there is no point in mastering higher than the recommended loudness, generally -14 LUFS. If your track is louder (e.g. -10 LUFS) it is simply turned down to -14 and you give away valuable transients that make your music dynamic and transparent. Where your level peaks were, there is nothing but emptiness (silence) then, and your music sounds dull and tiresome, sanded off like a pressed brick. :face_vomiting:

It will only sound like a tired brick if you make it sound that way. Ignore transients if you want. I say it’s better to set the amount of transient material to taste. Loudness is a means of setting the amount of transient material.

That’s right, of course you can consciously cut off the transients, as an artistic expression. But I was thinking more of people who actually do want transients but sacrifice them in favor of higher loudness ('cause louder is even better, isn’t it?! :thinking:). These people will be disappointed though, because their maximized stuff will be attenuated by streaming platforms and they have neither transients nor loudness then. And that is usually not what they actually wanted to achieve. :disappointed: