How to sound good on a podcast – that’s the goal of many aspiring creators.
You create and record valuable content, edit it, and stream it… only to hear that it doesn’t sound as professional compared to some of your peers. There’s so much content available these days, listeners will switch off quickly if your audio isn’t up to scratch.
Podcast mixing and mastering is the answer to your question of “How to fix podcast audio?”
The human voice is what our ears are most attuned to hear, so any minor podcast voice problems are immediately noticeable to any listener, even if they can’t detect what exactly the problem is.
There are a tonne of podcast audio editing tips on the internet, but even if you read it all, crafting your final podcast audio processing to get professional, radio quality results takes a lot of experience and confidence to know what sounds “right”.
Sometimes there is problem noise on the recording (Air Conditioning, computer fan, loud traffic etc.), maybe your voice volume is not consistent, and some words are too quiet to hear. Perhaps your sound FX are jarring in tone compared to your voice over. Maybe your podcast audio levels are not balanced between the voice and music. Or commonly, the whole thing is just too quiet.
How To Improve Podcast Audio Quality
The main things you can do to improve your podcast voice over is to record in a reasonably “dead” room (without a lot of natural reverb), use the best quality condensor microphone you can afford, and record your voice at a good level without distortion. Once you have done these basic steps, the task of getting the final product to sound like a professional podcast is the tricky bit.
Interviews via Zoom and other chat apps are common now, but unfirtunately Zoom podcast audio quality is poor. We can improve your podcast audio quality no matter where your source audio came from. We can also remove wind noise from location interviews.
Using a compressor on your voice to even-out the volume of your voice out is relatively easy – but doing it transparently, so it doesn’t sound “wierd” to the listener is quite a bit tougher. Even a slightly wrong setting on voice compression makes it sound odd to the average listener, and can sometimes even enhance any background noise present on the recording.
The Easiest Way To Improve Your Podcast Audio Quality
You may prefer to spend your time developing your content instead of stressing about this stuff, and leave the podcast audio post production to us.
We can fix podcast audio problems and get your content sounding amazing. It doesn’t cost a fortune either.
We can also edit and work magic on any audio issues in general – enhancing badly recorded audio, breath noise removal, and we can remove unwanted background noise from a recording while leaving your voice in tact and sounding natural.
Get in touch and let us know what’s wrong with your audio, and we will help. We can give you a free demo too, so you can hear how good you could sound with no risk.
There are several different opinions on the question of “What is the best volume to finish my master?” (or for the more technically minded “What LUFS should I master to?”).
We can’t avoid mentioning the famous loudness wars in this article either, and the direction music mastering is heading. After many years spent racing towards the loudest master, is the loudness war over?
Having been a professional mastering engineer since 2006, I have a few opinions. I’m going to give my perspective on these questions and explain about LUFS, peak and true-peak (with as little jargon as possible).
The end point is finding the ultimate recipe for the best mixing and mastering finish for your music, and how to win the loudness war in 2021 and beyond.
How loud should my album be in 2021? – Here’s The Short Answer:
Your master should be finished to the volume it sounds best at, with consideration to what’s expected by the listener for the genre. That is the sweet-spot.
You were expecting a measureable number? I’ll get to that, but there’s more to what’s the best mastering volume than one easy answer. I’ll tell you what is not the right approach:
It is NOT wilfully hitting a streaming platform’s published targets without a second thought for what’s right for the genre (more on this later).
It is NOT trying to get the loudest master just for the sake of it (or to “beat” your mate’s track), sacrificing dynamic range and punch in the process (never confuse volume with punch).
These days it’s best to go for what works best for your album, not try and fit in to other people’s shoes. This is not a “wooly” answer – there is no single right dB or LUFS answer. I’ll explain further…
(If you really need numbers now, skip to the “What’s the best LUFS for mastering?” section below.)
Playback Methods Have Changed
These days people consume music in more ways than ever before. From beautiful full-range systems to terrible speakers built into a phone. The playback medium matters too – if music is streamed from the internet, played from a CD, hard drive, vinyl or even old-skool cassette tapes which are now a “thing” again – all the formats have subtly different ways of handling the dynamic range, tone and volume of music.
The best mastering has to sound great on all these devices – that’s one of the biggest challenges for a professional mastering engineer.
A major part of this, and a long-running debate among record labels, producers and all the best mixing and mastering services is “How loud should my master be?“.
You have probably heard the term “the loudness war” – the unofficial battle between record labels asking mastering engineers to push the intrinsic volume of records to the maximum – trying to be the loudest track on every mixtape, and a louder CD than the previous.
This has been a hotly debated topic since the mid-90’s. One camp likes the more compressed, slammed, thicker, heavier finish – but at a cost of dynamic expression.
The other side prefers the more dynamic, bouncy, open, vibrant finish – but at the expense of aggressive volume.
This all got really silly in the early-mid 2000’s, with many album casualties being pushed so much they were transformed into worse versions of their original mixes due to over-agressive limiters being pushed way too hard.
Even naturally heavier genres like hip-hop, rock and dance music suffered casualties in the loudness war. Often the worst atrocities being committed by the biggest bands (Metallica “Death Magnetic” is probably the most famous, with legendary mastering engineer Ted Jensen actually distancing himself from the end result).
Most music will lose power and be made to sound weaker by pushing the intrinsic volume ever-higher. This sounds counter-intuitive, but is true. Without dynamic range there is no punch. Volume without punch is just noise – just annoying. You can always push louder – but there will always be a cutoff point where pushing louder is no longer an improvement.
Of course, different genres of music differ in their requirements. Mastering dance music will generally need a lot more heft than mastering jazz music or mastering ambient music for example. One of the reasons the loudness wars became such a problem was that many mastering engineers were applying far too heavy compression and limiting to softer material, killing the dynamics and making it sound crushed and lifeless – totally unnatural for the genre.
Cue listener comments like “the mastering is too loud”.
Often, I’m sure this was at the insistence of the client, not the mastering engineer’s decision (as a professional mastering engineer we can advise, but the customer always has the final say).
I often have new clients approach me with poor-quality masters done online by an automated service. Often some of the issues come from the track being too pushed, or not enough (usually too much). Setting the best mastering level for music relies on more than just numbers. AI is getting better all the time, but you still need a human for the subtle bits.
So how do you know what loudness is right for your music?
Before We Proceed – The Simplest Explanation of LUFS on the internet!
What are LUFS? Jargon-busting answer:
When artists ask “How loud should my master be”, what they probably mean (technically speaking) is “What LUFS should my master be?”
What are LUFS? = LUFS stands for Loudness Units relative to Full Scale (or just “Loudness Units/LU”). They are a way of measuring the intrinsic volume of a piece of audio, relative to 0dB – which is the absolute loudest signal possible in digital audio – in the same way that a cup can only ever be filled up to 100% full, and no more.
A cup with 100ml capacity can only ever hold a maximum of 100ml of water, if you try to add more than 100ml the excess just spills out, losing water. The same theory holds in digital audio – an audio file can only ever have its volume filled up to the maximum, and you can’t go beyond the finite limits without losing data (as if it spills out over the edge).
In digital audio, some key knowledge is that 0dB (Zero dB) is NOT silence, it is actually the loudest you can go. 0dB is our “full” loudest point, and going quieter is measured in minus numbers (so -25dB is actually quieter than -3dB).
Now we’ve got these basics out of the way, what do LUFS do and how are LUFS used?
Practically speaking, a LUFS measurement tells you the perceived loudness of a piece of music across a sustained measure of time, and this LUFS measurement is the most accurate reflection of how “fat”, “full” or “hefty” the track will sound to the listener, compared to similar tracks, when played through the same Soundsystem, at the same volume.
LUFS are also very similar to the more famous dB/decibel. Actually, in practical terms 1dB is the same amount as 1LU. So if you lower the volume of something by -3LUFS, you could also say you reduced it by -3dB.
So what’s the difference between dB and LUFS? Both LUFS and dB can be used to express a measurement of difference between 2 things e.g. “take the vocals down -2dB from where they are now“, or a fixed volume reference (e.g. “the neighbours registered a noise complaint of 80dB”.
The most important dB vs LUFS difference from a professional audio work perspective is that the dB scale represents how much air pressure a sound will produce over a very short time, and needs to be referenced to another point (which is standard air pressure) to get a measurement.
In contrast, LUFS is a unit of measurement measured from within the audio, relative to the loudest it could possibly be, and measured over a longer time.
So the LUFS measurement is more similar to measuring how much water we have in our cup with 100ml capacity. LUFS is measured backwards from full-scale (full capacity), so using our 100ml cup analogy again, if we had 90ml of water in the cup, you could also say you had the capacity of 10ml left, or -10ml to full capacity. If you only measured backwards to 0ml capacity left (a full cup), then if you had 60ml water in there, the spare capacity measurement would be -40ml.
Same idea for digital audio measurement: digital audio can only ever go to a maximum point before clipping (the cup overflowing), which is always referenced at 0dB (our full capacity). Both dB and LUFS are measured like this. So a measurement of -5dB means you can raise the volume up another 5dB before the audio clips and data gets lost (the cup runneth over). A measurement of -10LUFS means there’s a limit of another 10LUFS before the audio is the loudest it could ever possibly be (the full cup again).
But dB is measured only in comparison to another part of the setup. To invent a random example: your bass guitar is at full volume, and has -3dB headroom going into AMP #1 before distortion. But if you patch it into amp #2 it may have -8dB headroom, because the amps are built differently. So the measurements are accurate, but not as translatable.
Whereas LUFS for mastering is measured from within the audio file, using 0dBFS (full scale, or the loudest it could possibly go: our full cup analogy again).
LUFS could be viewed as a more modern, improved version of RMS which gives an average volume of audio. I’m going to say it – nobody really uses RMS much in mastering standards these days (apart from a few stragglers), so I won’t bother going into RMS beyond this mention. Use LUFS instead.
Measuring audio using LUFS gives a more accurate picture of the track volume over a longer time (often the entire track is measured and represented, sometimes just key anchor point sections). LUFS are the best unit we have to measure audio loudness in 2021 but it’s still not “perfect”. You still need a pair of experienced, human ears to translate this stuff beyond the numbers.
If you mastered an album of reasonably varied tracks all to a rigidly set LUFS level, without using your ears for a final check to see if it sounds right, you would probably find the album isn’t as cohesive as it could be.
LUFS are really useful, but your ears are still needed for a final check in the real world, as so many other factors come in to play, like tempo, instrumentation, vocal styles across the album etc.
For example, it’s very common for a track to have a radio mix + an extended mix. Chances are both these tracks will have different LUFS readings – because if the extended mix has a longer intro, longer breakdown and longer ending, the LUFS measurement will take ALL the audio into account, and so the extended mix will probably have a lower LUFS reading than the more concise radio mix….. which will lead to Spotify + other systems that use an automatic volume-levelling system to adjust and then play the two mixes with different volumes.
Also massively important is If the initial anchor point of the album is not chosen correctly, the entire foundation of the album may not be optimised. This is another factor where a human brain will always beat AI – because it hinges on an emotional response.
What’s the difference between Peak Level and True Peak?
The Peak Level of audio is another separate measurement of how loud your track is, and combined with LUFS gives a realistic picture of how your track will compare in the real world. Peak Level is measured in dB, and it’s how loud the loudest single peak of your track is, relative to 0dB (the absolute loudest it could possibly be in digital audio – the full cup). This is slightly different to how LUFS is used, but they work hand-in-hand.
Although LUFS and Peak are both measured relative to 0dB (how much capacity is left available to fill), Peak level sounds different overall to a LUFS measurement, because Peak Level is only measured at the one loudest point of the WAV, which can be a super-short sound (like 1 loud snare hit), rather than LUFS which measures the overall loudness of the track over a longer time.
Imagine recording an instrument with -7dB headroom, then suddenly someone slams a door taking the recording level momentarily up to -0.1dB. The bang is 6.9dB louder than the instrument, but the recording never clips (0.1dB peak headroom left before clipping).
This recording would technically be -0.1dB Peak Level: almost as loud as possible before digital distortion, but when you listened to the audio it would still sound quiet until the door slam – because the door slam is the loudest bit. So the Peak Level on its own doesn’t give an accurate real-world indication of how a listener would perceive your audio.
A LUFS measurement of the same audio would show a more accurate real-world result of somewhere around -6.4 to -6.9LUFS (depending on various factors including how long the measurement was): this measurement more accurately reflects the overall quiet nature of the audio file in the way our ears would perceive it.
The LUFS measurement would not ignore the big hit of the door slamming, but that 1 big hit wouldn’t massively skew the entire measurement like it would for a dB measurement.
So what’s the difference between Peak and True Peak?
Digital audio is very accurate these days, but it’s not bulletproof. Sample rate is how many times the audio waveform is measured (or “sampled”) per second. So a sample rate of 96kHz samples the waveform 96,000 times every second. Sometimes the point where the audio is sampled happens either side of a waveform peak, so the recording misses the exact level of the peak.
Imagine if you were watching someone throwing and catching a ball outside your window. You could see the ups and downs of the ball, but then if it was thrown higher above your window view, you would miss seeing exactly how high it went – because it went beyond your maximum vision. If the top of the window frame represents 0dB (the loudest we can measure) the actual height the ball reached, out of your vision, represents the true peak.
So bizarrely, audio that is badly clipped can actually have a positive True Peak of +dB. Which is only ever a bad thing, and not actually part of the sound – more of a measure of how much signal has been lost, but still taken into account by streaming platforms to avoid the possibility of clipping at the consumer end. This contradicts what I said earlier about digital audio being unable to go beyond the 0dB level, but understand a positive +dB True Peak measurement is not the same as proper audio. It is a measurement of how much data has been lost at that point.
Masters that have been pushed hard and finished to -0.1dB (the old standard), without a special limiter that deals with intersample peaks, can have True Peak measurements of +4dB or more – a major issue for streaming platforms, as you will read.
That’s the simplest explanation of LUFS, Peak and True Peak without getting into the technical jargon I promised I’d avoid.
What’s The Best LUFS For Mastering?
It’s never a one-size-fits-all approach, but if you really want numbers (of course you do), I often find somewhere around -9LUFS to -11LUFS to be a good level for many styles of electronic and rock music.
For mellower material, I often finish somewhere around -12LUFS to -14LUFS.
However, depending on the intentions of the artist, and bearing the genre in mind, I will finish anywhere between -5LUFS (for insanely fat “pushed” sounding electronica) to -15LUFS (for gentle ambience).
Note: these measurements are for music designed for playback by consumer – I.E. record releases. Different, very specific standards exist for broadcast TV and mastering audio books etc. (but that’s for another article). Here we’re just talking records which have no rigid standards we must adhere to.
So, what LUFS is correct for mastering in 2021? = Whatever works best for your album or song and gives just the right amount of weight, bounce, bump n’ grind, the break point where joy happens – that’s the ideal mastering LUFS target in 2021.
“Hang on a minute buster! I thought Spotify/Apple/Youtube said you HAD to finish your masters at precisely -14LUFS, or they’ll kick your butt! What gives, Chum?“
Settle down, imaginary sceptic, I’ll explain:
What’s The Best Mastering Level For Streaming?
In 2021 music streaming services rule. The CD format is becoming rarer every year, and although there will always be vinyl fans (me included), it’s no longer a common commercial format for most artists. So it obviously makes sense to master with the main method of music consumption in mind.
Most streaming platforms like Spotify, Soundcloud etc. now have “normalising” (automatic volume levelling) built-in. This a great for the listener, because if you are listening on shuffle mode and an industrial rock track comes on after a mellow blues song you won’t suddenly be hit with a louder volume and have to rush to turn down the volume control.
There are a couple of different volume leveling systems being used, but the general idea is that they analyze the tracks intrinsic volume in LUFS, before adjusting the playback volume to compensate, thus leveling out the listening experience.
Many streaming platforms like Spotify, Tidal etc. state an “ideal” mastering level of -14LUFS, with True Peak of -1dB.
A track of -10LUFS, True peak of -1dB would have the Spotify playback volume turned down -4LUFS to match their standards of -14LUFS playback volume. A track with less headroom than -1dB causes a further playback volume reduction to compensate too, as it will adjust until the song also plays back at -1dB True Peak.
This “turning the volume down” is also known as the “Spotify Loudness Penalty”. More on that later, and why it’s less scary than it sounds.
You would think if you set your mastering output to -14LUFS with True Peak of -1dB then it’s already totally nailed, right? Sometimes, yes absolutely. But in the real world nothing is ever that simple, and if you follow that idea for every track or album, then you may not get the results you want in the end.
Most electronic, urban and rock music sounds a little weak and thin at -14LUFS, compared to the majority of records in their genre. For example, if you mastered a house, electronica, heavy rock, drum n’ bastype of track at -14LUFS, it will sound pretty lame compared a similar track that was finished at -10LUFS.
Understand that the -14LUFS track doesn’t just play back -4LUFS quieter, but SOUNDS less “full”, less “finished”, less “ballsy”, less “fat”…. you get the picture.
When I first learned about digital streaming targets a while ago, I started mastering music finished for those specs. Every electronic, dance, heavy rock or trailer music track I finished to -14LUFS got the same response from clients: “It sounds great, but can you squeeze a few more dB out of it?”. I explained about the targets, but they wanted more “ooomph”. In seriousness, I actually agreed.
So for these heavier genres of music I stopped finishing them to an arbitrary number, and went with my gut and ears again instead – no more volume boost requests from clients.
Don’t get me wrong, I definitely think some forms of music definitely sound better around -14LUFS. Mellow acoustic music, singer songwriter, some orchestral, lighter reggae, light jazz, piano music and several other genres will certainly not benefit from being too “pushed”, and a -14LUFS finish may be appropriate.
Sometimes genres blur, certain sounds or instruments will lead the focus, perhaps it’s a drum-heavy track, or there are no drums at all, just an ambient drone. What if there is an album full of variation?
With so many variables, how do you decide what LUFS to finish at? This is where an experienced professional mastering engineer will make the call, and find the best finish for your track or album. Confidence, knowledge and an instant understanding of what is “right” which comes from years worth of experience.
For example I estimate I have completed around 39,000 hours of studio time (30 hrs per week average over 25 years, since getting really in to music production aged 16 in 1996. Probably more hours as I used to pull a lot of all-nighters in my youth).
The Problem With Only Using Numbers To Set Your Mastering Loudness
So much more needs to be taken into account than just aiming for a measurement. The tempo, orchestration, how it was recorded, the intended audience, the intended playback settings, the customs within each genre and the spectral and dynamic balance compared to other tracks on the same album should all have a part to play in the final loudness decisions. There’s no meter yet that can measure all those things as accurately as a trained human brain.
The various different streaming platforms are still refining their auto-volume leveling systems, and there is still a lot of debate over what is the best method to use, and ideal target too. These published streaming LUFS targets should be viewed as moving goalposts, and a guideline, not an unbreakable rule. They could change next year!
So, let’s take Spotify mastering LUFS standards for example. They state – 14LUFS as the ideal mastering level. So a -14LUFS master will essentially bypass the auto-volume leveling system and have no adjustment in playback volume when played on Spotify.
If you analyze your favourite dance, hip-hop or rock tracks (even new releases on major labels), I’ll bet you will struggle to find many that are actually finished to -14LUFS. I suspect you’ll find numbers more in the range of -12 to -8LUFS, maybe even down to -6LUFS : a long way off the published “ideal” -14LUFS streaming targets. Why is this? Surely if streaming is king, we must all follow their demands?
These real-world standards are partly due to 20+ years of the loudness wars, but also because some styles of music just sound “better” when they have been pushed a little harder. We as listeners have come to expect that full-fat, hefty sound from some genres, and often that needs a slightly higher LUFS master.
But that’s where auto-volume-leveling come in, right? Won’t Spotify iron out all these differences and make everything sound the same level anyway? So if you master to -14LUFS it will sound better than a track mastered at -11LUFS, won’t it? Sort of, but it’s more complex than just numbers.
In a real listening situation the listener’s perceived loudness of a track is very heavily weighted on on other factors beyond just LUFS and dB. The instrumentation, treble energy, punch of the bass, timbre, vocal performance (or if it’s an instrumental track) and the mixing style are all variables that combine to change how the listener perceives the track. Plus the listening environment itself has a major bearing beyond just a LUFS measurement.
Example: If you play 2 heavy electronica tracks back to back. Track A is finished to -9LUFS, track B is finished at -14LUFS. Let’s say you turn up the playback volume for track B by +5dB, to compensate for the mastering differences, so in theory, both tracks should sound the same volume…. What happens? Track A will still sound “fatter” to the listener, even though the playback level is technically the same. This is because there’s more power within the track itself, it’s “stronger” than the -14LUFS alternative.
Other camps will argue that the dynamics will be punchier in the -14LUFS master Vs. the -9LUFS master at the same perceived volume, and that is true… but dynamics punchiness is only one factor, andisn’t always the most important factor to consider for some music genres.
The lines can be blurred about what is “more important” in a track – dynamics or weight.This is key.
For some music, open punchy dynamics easily sounds best. Sometimes you want that “pushed” hefty feeling and sacrificing some dynamic range is a better option. It’s all to play for, and anyone who clings to one rule for all is missing the point – the mastering approach should be fluid, and optimised for the individual aesthetic required.
This is the indefinable sweet-spot of which I speak. This is the magic feeling we must capture in our master. What is right for the track, or album in a wider context. An AI online mastering service can’t define this – AI has never been raving, never crowd-surfed, never excitedly hugged its mates in a sweaty heap at a gig…. you get the idea. There’s more to enjoing and understanding music than numbers.
If 2 hypothetical heavy electronica tracks were played back-to-back on Spotify, the underlying volume of music in the room would be nice and level, but track A (-9LUFS) might well sound fatter and fuller than track B (-14LUFS). Probably NOT the artist’s intention for track B, aiming to sound fat!
Also, streaming services will turn audio down based on Peak Level, but currently they won’t turn it UP (remember this may change if/when they change systems)! So if you master a track to -14LUFS, and leave -2dB True Peak (as is preferred by some platforms), then it would sound -1dB quieter again than a track finished at -14LUFS with a TP of -1dB when played back on some platforms that prefer a TP of -1dB..
This volume-leveling can backfire in a more extreme way when faced with extremely dynamic material, like orchestral music which can have a long build of quiet followed by a few scattered big hits, which will actually then be affected by a built-in limiter on streaming systems to protect against unexpected clips like in this example – what are the chances that the arbitrary limiter response will fit your music musically? Hmm.
The recent house banger “Let’s Just” by Tommy Farrow (Stress Records) hits around -7LUFS in the chorus, sounds fat, loud, lovely and is a massive hit. But -7LUFS is a lot louder than Spotify’s preferred -14LUFS. Will that make it less favourable to Spotify’s algorithms? No, as he has made the front cover of the Spotify House Music playlist.
Likewise look at the runaway success of the Lau.Ra tracks Wicked & Don’t Waste My Time (Needwant). Both of these have been dominating the electronica charts, are all over a load of Spotify playlists, and are finished at a meaty -4.8LUFS: almost 10LUFS louder than the official Spotify guidelines (this extreme level was at the artist’s request by the way, but I do agree it sounds dope in this instance).
I’m not saying this super-pushed finish is the right approach all the time, but it does prove that the Spotify “Loudness Penalty” we touched upon earlier doesn’t penalise discoverablility, which is an important distinction to make.
I’m usually against pushing a track to these extreme LUFS levels unless the artist requests it or it really suits the track. But it proves anything can be possible and still get a great result if done well.
Dynamic, bouncy and open Vs. Tight, fat and solid. A good mastering engineer will advise, but at the end of the day the customer needs to be happy first, so we will always enable the artist’s vision, and at the end of the day, the customer is always right.
Loudness Targets For Different Streaming Platforms
In the interests of giving you complete information, here are the suggested levels when mastering for streaming. If you’ve read the article above you’ll understand there are more factors at play in the real world, but here they are anyway:
-13 to -15LUFS
-9 to -13 LUFS
No “official” standard
Can be up to -6LUFS
-14 to -16LUFS
-8 to -13LUFS
Published streaming loudness “targets”. Accurate as of early 2021.
How To Win The Loudness War In 2021 And Beyond
Looking at the long term picture, it seems important not to base your mastering decisions entirely on arbitrary number targets decided by streaming platforms (which are not totally agreed on yet, and will probably change several more times over the years).
It also seems like a bad idea to push for insanely loud LUFS for the sake of it when it’s generally agreed that auto-volume leveling is a good thing, and will only get better as it advances.
Shouldn’t we still fight in the loudnesswars? = Not any more (if you ever should have in the first place). Pushing your mastering too hard for the sake of winning the mythical “loudness wars” has been proven many times over to be an exercise in futility, and will ruin the dynamic detail of your track for a “quick hit” of volume. The loudness wars were also from a time when people bought a physical CD – when did you last buy a CD?
Nowadays with automated volume-leveling becoming more common in both playback systems and streaming services, it is less important than ever to try and be the loudest on the block. Also, don’t forget that every music playback system in the world has a volume control (and it’s usually the biggest dial right in the middle too).
Why permanently set your album masters for an outdated competition, for an outdated format, which was a bad idea in the first place? Or for a digital playback service that will probably change their standards several more times in the next few years.
All things considered, it’s often not the best idea to finish your master based on only the LUFS measurement given by a streaming service either, without giving priority to what’s best for the music, and the confidence to know what works best for the individual album.
It’s not usually the best approach to push your record beyond its sweet-spot just to be “louder than track (x)”.
Modern mastering standards allow you to let go of some worries:
Don’t worry about pushing it crazy-loud for the sake of competing in a phony war and sacrificing your dynamic range.
Don’t worry if your music slightly exceeds the suggested Spotify loudness targets, it will still sound awesome.
Don’t worry that your mate did a DIY home-master using headphones and free plugins that’s louder than anything you heard before… and louder automatically means better, right? (wrong).
Remember the old mastering engineers saying “it’s not how loud you make it, but how you make it loud”. Very true.
In a nutshell – the BEST mastering volume target for 2021 is What sounds best for your record based on what you want to achieve artistically.
We are happy to advise you which route to go beforehand, or explain our decisions afterwards.
We always mix and master for the level that suits your music best for your music, and will always make sure you love your final masters 100% – whatever the final LUFS!
With remote working now the accepted ideal, it’s no longer important to only think about “mixing and mastering services near me”, we have clients across the globe.
Upload your track to Fat As Funk now and try our mastering for free!
If you are wondering “How can I make my music sound better?” You may be considering taking your mixes to a pro, but are wondering what service your money is better spent on: professional mixing vs mastering, stem mastering or stereo mastering.
Below is an easy flow chart to help you decide, and we will briefly answer some common questions like what is the difference between mixing and mastering? What is stem mastering? We will explore stem mastering vs mixing and mastering.
Pro Mixing and Mastering packages:
Send us your recordings and we will transform them into a record! Get your mix as close to your vision as you can, then export your individual instrument stems (as many as you need) and send them over. Make sure you export all the parts from the same time, so it all lines up (usually from the very start 0:00).
We will give it a luxury analogue mixdown using our old-skool analog desk, valve hardware and 25 years of studio experience. We will then master lovely new mix and deliver you a radio-ready album you will be proud of.
What is stems mastering? Stem mastering is like a mini-mix and mastering approach. It can optimize something brilliant, or correct a few difficult elements.
If your mix is pretty damn great already, and you just want to optimize it, then group the various elements together before exporting. E.G. group all the drums together in 1 stereo file, all the vocals in 1 stereo file, softer instruments, heavy instruments etc. Usually around 5 or 6 stems works well for most tracks. We will mix them back together, tweaking the individual parts so they sit perfectly together, use analogue summing then a fat analogue master for awesome results.
We can also save a mix using stem mastering. A classic situation is having a great backing track with a vocal or lead guitar that just doesn’t quite “sit right”. Or maybe you are not confident in you Sub/kick balance. We can stop your headache and ease your pain for pretty low price. Just bounce us an exported mix with the problem elements muted, then export the tricky elemements soloed. E.G. [Main track No Lead Guitars / Lead Guitar 1 / Lead Guitar 2] or for a dance track [Sub Bass / Kick Drum / Bounce Bass / Everything Else].
If your mix is already perfect and you are happy with it, then just send it over for straight-up stereo analog mastering. We will treat your mix like a queen, pamper it, give it some love, fatten it up, polish it shiny, make it sound expensive (but it won’t cost you too much). Fire it over. and we will deliver your awesome results.
Now you know what approach would suit your music best, upload your files and we will work some magic on your mix, and deliver you that pro sound you crave.
If you want to order stem mastering, simply choose “stereo mastering”, and add the number of stems you require using the “add stems for stem mastering” product.
We’ve had several jobs recently remastering audio for vinyl, so I’ve written a short article about why it’s important, explaining the difference in mastering for digital vs vinyl, and answer common questions such as “Can I use digital masters for vinyl records?”.
Releasing a vinyl record is an expensive business. It’s tempting to cut corners where possible to save money, and inevitably at some point the question gets asked… “Is a separate master really necessary for vinyl? Or can I use CD masters for vinyl music?
Short answer = You should really use a separate vinyl master for the best results.
Your Masters that are created for digital use (Streaming/download/CD) are the no-compromise, perfect sound quality version you as the the artist wants. On digital platforms, and on CD there are virtually no creative limitations to what can be achieved in the stereo mix and master, as digital playback systems can deal with it.
It’s not the same on physical vinyl. If you try to use the digital master on a vinyl cut, suddenly you might find that awesome bass effect sounds quite different, or worse makes the needle skip. You may find the sparkly upper midrange now sounds a lot more harsh. You’re sure the digital master sounds punchier, more vibrant, more alive. What’s up?
Often masters for digital are accepted by the vinyl pressing plant, as they are technically OK to press on vinyl, but the end result could be disappointing sound quality which may sound less vibrant than the same masters listened to on digital streaming platforms like Spotify or a CD.
Using masters optimized for digital use to press vinyl can result in a slightly flatter sound, less dynamic range, various levels of distortion, skipping needles when playing back, and less overall “life” than on the digital masters – a shame after spending so much money on getting the records pressed!
Why Does Dynamic Range Matter So Much When Pressing Vinyl?
What is dynamic range? = a measurement of the difference between the absolute quietest sound, and the absolute loudest sound that something is able to represent.
An unplugged electric guitar can play very quietly, but can’t go very loud at all, so it has a low dynamic range. A drum can play just as quietly as the guitar, but of course can go way louder, hence a large dynamic range.
Related to mastering: A slammed, super-loud EDM Pop master would usually have much less dynamic range than a space-jazz epic.
Different mediums have different dynamic ranges too. CD, vinyl, cassette and digital files all have different limitations of dynamic range.
In contrast to what you might expect, the louder and heavier the digital master is, the flatter, quieter and generally more-rubbish-sounding the vinyl will usually be! Why? Because the dynamic range on vinyl is massively less than is available on digital formats, so compromises must be made at the pressing plant to compensate for your massive digital master.
So although many people feel vinyl sounds “better” it is scientific fact that in terms of dynamic range, digital can handle louder-louds, and quieter-quiets.
Without getting bogged-down into too many boring academic details and variables like dithering which can skew the measurements, let’s quickly check out the difference in the dynamic range of 3 common mediums:
24 Bit WAV digital audio (common “studio” quality for recording and bouncing final mixes pre-mastering): a dynamic range of 144dB, which goes from really-bloody-quiet, right through to thunderously loud!
16 Bit WAV (CD quality): dynamic range is 96 dB, so you see there’s dramatically less possible volume difference between the loudest sound and the quietest sound. 48 dB is a lot of difference.
Vinyl: Can vary dramatically, but it averages out around 80dB dynamic range, with some wriggle-room. That’s much louder-quiets, and quieter-louds available on vinyl!
You can see that only taking into account the factor of dynamic range, there are big differences that should be accounted for when mastering for vinyl.
If you are absolutely in love with your existing fat digital master, we can adjust it for you to suit the vinyl medium specs and translate beautifully in the way you want and expect.
Mastering for vinyl records is a very worthwhile part of the process. For a comparatively small extra charge, you can have faith that your tracks are represented as well as possible, and you won’t ever be wondering if your record could have sounded a bit better if you’d got the additional pre-vinyl mastered versions…
Case Study – Preparing Digital Masters for Vinyl
A client wanted to use his CD masters for vinyl pressing, and sent them to us, as the pressing plant warned them the cut would have issues because the masters had been pushed quite hard, and had some low-end phase issues. He didn’t have the unmastered mixes anymore, so needed to use the existing CD masters.
Often CD masters have been pushed hard for volume at the expense of dynamic range, and this could lead to a compromised vinyl cut sounding flat and lifeless. Of course, they are also at 16 bit too.
So we did a little restoration: We restored the dynamic transients from the original CD masters, increasing the dynamic range, restoring life, bounce and natural energy, and ensuring a stomping vinyl cut!.
Look at the picture: Blue waveforms = original masters, Orange ones = after we restored the dynamic range.
Notice how the lower waveforms look more open and natural now. The transients have been delicately & naturally restored. You can see how the natural subtle energy has been given back, and the life breathed back in.
He was happy with the overall sound of the original masters, so we were careful not to mess with the tone and only adjust the technical aspects, including increasing dynamic range and transients, ensuring there was no low-end phase problems, checking the upper-mids and high-frequencies carefully to ensure they wouldn’t sound harsh on vinyl, and providing some extra headroom.
To the listener it sounds very much the same as the previous masters, but the new files are much more suited for the vinyl medium. Mastering for vinyl specs will give a better quality cut, and generally soundbetter.
Using Digital Masters For Vinyl – A False Economy
So to answer the question “can I use digital masters for vinyl records?” = Maybe, but why risk making the vinyl sound rubbish to save a small fraction of the overall cost? It’s like buying a house but not a bed.
If your test pressings come back sounding bad, and you realize it’s the digital masters at fault, you will have to order (and pay!) for more test pressing next time around. PLUS the cost of getting proper pre-vinyl masters done next time around too!
Vinyl pressing plants have long lead times already (6 weeks is pretty standard), and small delays can cost extra weeks in the real-world. We dipped our toes into being a vinyl broker once and it was a nightmare with the ever-changing lead-times, so it’s important to send everything off right first time and save yourself time, money and hassle in the long run.
Make Your Vinyl Sound Fat As Funk!
Fat As Funk has been mastering for vinyl since 2006. Whether it’s remastering old recordings for vinyl, getting fat digital masters with proper pre-vinyl masters made at the same time (for a massive discount), or remastering already-mastered material to be optimized for vinyl – come to Fat As Funk!
Our mastering for vinyl price is the same as for digital if that’s the only format you want, and if you want an alternative master for digital use done at the same time, we can do this at a huge discount.
Cost example: If you get 10 tracks mastered for digital it’s £230 all-in. You can get proper pre-vinyl masters done at the same time for only £10 each/£100 – a saving of £130 when bought at the same time!
You can try our online mastering free, just upload a track. When you are ready for full mastering, consider getting pre-vinyl masters done at the same time if you are getting vinyl pressed, or even just a few custom vinyl record dublates.
“Can mastering save a bad mix?” is a common question. The short answer? = Yes…. to an extent.
It’s always better to fix your mix at the mix stage, rather than waiting to fix the mix in mastering, but what if you don’t have the project file anymore, and still love the track. Do you have to settle for a rubbish mix? No way!
What can mastering fix?
To understand this, we need to have a quick understanding of what mastering engineers do, how mastering works, what mastering a song does and of course why mastering is important.
An experienced (human) mastering engineer will give your music the professional finish you want.
The quality of your final result is a reflection of the entire process back from the first time you pressed “record”.
But great mastering can skew the reflection in your favour, like a flattering fairground mirror.
Common mix problems yield different results:
Bad mix room problems and inexperienced mix decisions can often be evened out dramatically.
Mixes that are badly clipped and have no dynamic range can have their bounce restored and sound alive again.
Badly recorded instruments, or an overall “dull” sound from using cheap mics can be enhanced and enlivened.
Hiss can be removed, with varying results ranging from totally flawless, to just a bit better.
A flabby bottom-end can be tightened up beautifully, still retaining the weight and heft (still talking about audio here).
The Art Of Compromise
Mastering a bad mix is the art of compromise. It’s a delicate process of balancing unbalanced material.
“Can mastering make vocals louder?” Yes, but depending on how the song has been mixed, it may bring up another element with them…
“Can you make my £20 microphone sound like a £2000 microphone?” Nope. But we can probably make your £20 mic sound like a £200 mic!
Got an album you recorded on a cassette 4-track 25 years ago, and want to dust it off and finally get it out there? We will make it sound way better, absolutely… but obviously it will never sound like it was recorded at Abbey Road. Embrace your lo-fi roots and enjoy the “best it can be” result.
Far too much sub, but a weak kick? We can sort it out. But necessarily as well as if you supplied the kick and sub as separate stems (or used our mix evaluation service to fix it yourself at home first).
The Bad Mix Challenge – Try Us!
We love a challenge, and can make drastic improvements to even the most appalling, lost-cause mixes.
The difference can be astounding. Try our free online mastering for your bad mix, and see how much better we can make it!
Or if you still have the project file, consider our mix evaluation service and fix the mix yourself at home.
Travel is a big adventure, especially when attending a music business conference.
In this article I outline what you should expect from music industry trade fairs and music networking events. I give a load of tips learned along the way, and also provide you a handy list for packing, a flight checklist and a hand-picked list of extras to make your travel easier and more efficient.
Many of these tips are useful for a general business conference, networking social or trade show in any industry.
The big question: how to make it in the music industry?
There are numerous careers available in the music business. Whatever path you choose, you can find a professional advantage by attending music industry conferences that happen around the world.
A lot of aspiring musicians become disillusioned with the industry. The feeling of “it’s not what you know – but who you know!” is a constant source of frustration among artists.
So – how do you actually meet the people you need to know? One route is international business networking at Music industry Conferences like SXSW, Amsterdam Dance Event, MIDEM, Reeperbahn, The Great Escape Festival, or one of the many smaller, more intimate networking events.
There’s every music deal to be found at these events: Information and contacts for how to get a record deal, how to get a publishing deal, connect with music sync companies or a music supervisor, find a suitable music management company or hire promotion in the music industry. Even information for how to start a record label yourself.
These events give you the chance to mingle with top-level music executives from the biggest music companies in the world, alongside hungry indie start-ups and independent music hustlers from around the world. Information and opportunities exist for every kind of deal imaginable.
You will gain a solid grounding across the music industry and see opportunities for growth in your business.
Humans are the natural choice to master your music – A.I. bots are getting better all the time, but they can’t feel the rush of a hot performer, or the anticipation of a bass drop. An A.I. bot will never shed a tear when the violins rise up, or a surge of energy deep within them from a wicked riff. You can… We can.
Mastering bots don’t have the soul that your music does. Hire a human for this crucial last stage.
You cantry online mastering for zero cost (from a human expert), with no obligation to buy. We want to make your music sound amazing.
There’s nothing to lose, and the potential to make your music sound nice and expensive, for free!
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