When artists ask “How loud should my master be”, what they probably mean (technically speaking) is “What LUFS should my master be?”. But understanding the concept behind integrated LUFS vs dB (decibels) is essential, and can be confusing.
What are LUFS in audio? = 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. You cannot push digital audio beyond 0dB without clipping (like overflowing in our cup example).
A cup with 100ml capacity can only ever hold a maximum of 100ml. The same theory holds in digital audio, where 0dB is the audio measurement equivalent of the maximum capacity of the cup to hold water.
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 compared to similar tracks, when played through the same Soundsystem, at the same volume (without any automatic volume levelling system).
LUFS are 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” (compared to the base reading 0dB of the meter at measurement location).
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 from an empty cup (with 100ml capacity available), through to to 0ml capacity left (a full cup), then if you had 50ml water in the cup, there would be -50ml capacity available… If you had 60ml water in there, the spare capacity measurement would be -40ml… If you had 20ml of water in there, the spare capacity would be -80ml etc.
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 (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). So if dB and LUFS are so similar, where does the difference lie?
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). So a whole tracks LUFS measurement takes into account all the quiet sections and loud sections too, rather than just being measured at one specific point like with dB.
LUFS are the best unit we have to measure audio loudness at the moment, but when finishing a master you still need to use your ears rather than trust the numbers blindly, as so many other factors come in to play in perception of the listener, like genre, tempo, instrumentation and vocal styles. Especially if considering tracks across an album.
For some heavy music styles, the published target LUFS for Spotify may not actually reflect your musical intention perfectly either, and you will probably find your music lacks a certain “oomph” if you stick rigidly to the published targets!
If you want to read more about why LUFS standard for streaming may not give the results you want in all situations, and more info about LUFS when mastering check out this deeper dive article: How Loud Should My Master Be In 2022? Which covers questions like how many lufs should my master be, Spotify lufs, lufs for Soundcloud, lufs and true peak for Spotify and more.
What can I do if I don’t have instrumental mixes of my songs?
Special discount until the end of August 2022!
What is Sync Licensing?
How do artists make money from their music in 2022? Getting your music on TV or in movies, games or advertising is one of the most lucrative ways for musicians to earn serious money. This process is called “Sync Licensing”.
“Sync” is short for synchronisation. In music industry terms this simply means using music synched up to visuals in a project – almost every advert, TV show, movie or video game uses music synched up alongside the visuals. The process of a company licensing a track from an artist or agency to use in this way is known as Sync Licensing.
It is still common to land deals worth several thousand pounds, even for emerging artists (Fat As Funk works closely with various sync agencies in the UK and USA and has helped land artists many sync deals).
What are Instrumentals?
An instrumental is simply a version of your song with the lyrics or vocal tones silenced. Even slight vocal effects or “oohs / aahs” need to be muted for an instrumental version, but the underlying track tone and arrangement is identical to the main version. It is standard professional practice to get instrumental masters done at the same time as getting your main mixes mastered.
Why are instrumental versions so essential for sync licensing?
Often a music supervisor (the person responsible for choosing the music for a visual project) loves a track, but the project requires music with no vocals.
This could be for many reasons, including having a spoken voiceover which song lyrics would mask – and for the client, their message is the most important thing, and ultimately what they are paying to convey.
Some videos just work better with instrumental music! Lyrics could distract from the visuals, or dilute the message.
Often a TV show or movie will use both the vocal version and instrumental mix! Editors can use a vocal song where the lyrics help the scene, then cut seamlessly into the instrumental when the characters are speaking, so their dialogue comes through clearly. This flexibility is golden to editors, and music supervisors expect this flexibility.
Is it possible to get instrumental versions from vocal mixes, if I don’t have the project any more?
YES! We can remove the vocals from your mix as if by magic! Results are usually super-clean and often sound identical in quality as if you made an instrumental mix from the original project file.
Occasionally the process can leave slight vocal artefacts behind with some tracks, but it will be good enough to supply to a music supervisor with your main mix, and even worse-case will certainly be good enough to use behind dialogue.
Having an instrumental version is the difference between a music supervisor choosing your track over someone else’s. It is an essential part of the modern music industry, and even if you are not yet in the position to have music supervisors listening to your tracks, it is a no-brainer to get instrumental masters done at the same time as your regular mastering job.
We can also magically separate your track into its component parts (“Stems“) which can be even more useful for music supervisors. Check out our Magic Stem Creation Service too!
To get a hugely discounted rate on instrumental mastering, you should order the alternative instrumental versions at the same time as getting your regular masters done.
Just upload your main mixes and instrumentals to us (or order our magic instrumental creation service if you don’t have them already), then order Stereo Mastering (for the main masters) AND Alternative Version (for the discounted instrumental mastering).
We are offering a HALF PRICE deal on Instrumental Mastering until the end of August 2022. Just order as usual and enter the code: SUMMER22ALT at checkout!
To be extra-clear, if your track is only an instrumental anyway, you only need to book the main Stereo Mastering. If you are using our magic instrumental mix creation service, you still need to purchase the Alternative Version too, as these are separate services.
Make your musical ambition a reality, and start by getting your audio quality slick and professional. In this email I give some tips on stem mastering, and when it’s most needed.
Add 2 x FREE stems per track (£14 value) with code: 2022FreeStemsOffer Order “Stereo Mastering” then select “Add Stems” and use the code at checkout to get 2 x free stems!
(You can use the code up to 5 times! Get 5 x stem mastered tracks done & save £70! Code doesn’t expire until the end of June 2022. Scroll down for more details)
Topics covered: What is Stem Mastering? How can it help improve your music productions? How is it different to “regular” stereo mastering?
The difference between a good master & a fantastic master is subtle but important…. A great one just has “something special” about it, which noticeably adds to the overall impact of the track, but isn’t always easy to pin down why. It just sounds “quality”! Labels, sync agents, music supervisors and playlist curators notice the difference.Mastering is like most things in life – the better the input, the better the output. So today we are going to talk about Stem Mastering, which can help optimize a few of the most demanding parts of a mix as an integral part of the mastering job.
What is Stem Mastering? Stem mastering is like a mini-mix combined with mastering. It can optimize a mix that’s already great, or correct a few difficult elements and rescue a mix that would otherwise have major issues.A mediocre mix will be massively improved by an experienced mastering engineer anyway, but think how much slicker the end result would be if the tricky mix elements were perfected.Stem mastering is the process of sending certain parts of your mix separately, so the mastering engineer can adjust key elements individually during the mastering process.Often during mastering certain elements get highlighted and mix flaws revealed. It’s really useful for the engineer to be able to adjust these aspects on the fly to get the best end result.For example, there may be an instrument that overlaps the frequency band of a vocal performance, and during the mastering process the vocal needs a little EQ tweak… but this makes the other instrument sound harsh. Or vice-versa and adjusting a harshness in the other instrument then dulls the vocal. It would be helpful to be able to adjust these elements with a little more separation (there are A.I. tools that can be useful, but they are hit-and-miss sometimes).
When do you need stem mastering? Low-end problems (kick, bass, sub):Many technically excellent, talented producers don’t have the luxury of a fully accurate listening environment which can cause problems balancing their low-end. Matching the kick & sub levels between each other is a very common problem which relies on both accurate monitoring AND environment.There are a few A.I. driven tools on the market which are helpful, but in my experience they don’t quite get it right most of the time. I often use one in my chain, but the majority of the time (90%+) I don’t actually follow its suggestions completely, and use it more as a quick way to check another approach, like a second pair of ears to ask an opinion of. The neutral room + human ears still give the best results tailored to your track.Vocal balancing:A vocal is one of the most tricky parts to make sit naturally inside a mix, and because we all know the sound of a human voice intimately, a vocal that’s not quite blended perfectly is the easiest way to make an otherwise amazing mix go downhill. So many talented producers find getting the vocal to sit right the most challenging part of a mix. If this is you, you are not alone!The highest level mix optimisation:Even if your mix is pretty damn great already, and you just want to get the most optimized mastering possible, then stem mastering can make that happen. It gives the engineer full flexibility to tweak micro aspects of the master and get really precise for ultimate results.Weak sounding drums:A classic problem, especially when using live drums. The track is banging, guitars sound huge, vocal is great, bass is thumping, but the drums sound weak and let the whole track down. By sending the drums as a separate stem we can give the extra push needed to fatten them up in the mix.Any instrument that isn’t “sitting right”:Don’t let it annoy you. Send it separately as a stem and let the engineer fix this in the mastering.
How To Set Up A Stem Master: It is good general practice when mixing a song to group various elements to different subs/buses before the master output fader. This is helpful for many reasons: You can pull down just 1 fader to adjust all the drum channels for example, or effect all vocal channels with 1 effect. Or send different parts of your track to 1 reverb… Or many other cool things beyond the scope of this article! Sending grouped parts to buses is also useful in optimizing your gain structure to avoid clipping. It’s generally a good habit to have when mixing.When you export your mix, you will choose the option that exports all these different buses separately – these individually grouped wav files will be your stems.
There’s no specific rules for what parts to use as stems – it will vary depending on how many instruments are causing issues, or how complex your track is.Often you will only need 1 or 2 stems to get an optimized result. Vocals and Drums are common choices in this scenario.
For a rock stem mastering job, you might have the following stems: vocals drums bass rhythm guitars lead guitar synth
Or for an electronic track:
kick drum other drums bass sounds soft sounds hard sounds
This is a common stem setup for a dance track: kick drum Bass sounds everything else
Tricky vocal?: lead vocal backing vocals everything else (also makes it a breeze to bounce an instrumental master version at the same time)
Lots of options! Note how sometimes I’ve grouped them as “hard” & “soft” sounds – really it depends on the track and what elements work most naturally together.
Once you have chosen the best stem configuration for your mix, export them (“Export – Buses” or similar), then load them up in a new project and check to make sure they play back exactly the same as your normal stereo mix.
Feel free to reach out to us for advice if you have any problems making stems.
Send them all separately in a zip file to us HERE, along with a regular stereo copy of your full mix as a reference so the engineer can check all is correct.
Final thoughts: Stem mastering is not essential for every track. But on a tricky or complex mix it can make the difference between a good final result and a fantastic final result.
It doesn’t have to be expensive either. For example, at Fat As Funk Mastering, you can add a stem for just £7 on top of the mastering cost (or free with this offer!).Try stem mastering on your new track and see how much difference it can make.
Try our stem mastering for free: Add 2 x free stems per track with code: 2022FreeStemsOffer (Order Stereo Mastering + Add Stems, & add the code at checkout for the 2 x free stems discount per track. You can use it up to 5 separate times to get 5 x tracks stem mastered & save up to £70! Code doesn’t expire until the end of June 2022)
Official loudness targets for different streaming platforms
How to “Win” the loudness war in 2022 and beyond
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 2022? – Here’s The Short Answer:
Your master should be finished to the volume it sounds best at to you, with consideration to what’s expected by the average 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 quiet intro, longer quiet breakdown and longer quiet ending, remember the LUFS measurement will take ALL the audio into account, and so the extended mix will have a lower LUFS reading than the more concise radio mix! If using an automated method of setting all the tracks to the same LUFS, then this would mean the Main Mix and Extended Mix could actually sound different, with the Extended mix being pushed harder (maybe too hard!) and could sound different across different playback systems with or without auto-volume levelling.
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?
Most streaming platform guidelines state an ideal Loudness of around -14LUFS, but… I KNOW CATEGORICALLY FROM EXPERIENCE that if I deliver a dance/electronic/hard rock/hip-hop/breakbeat/punk/D&B track to a client finished at -14LUFS, they will INEVITABLY ask for it to be pushed harder! 99% of the time. Even if I explain the theory, they ask for it to be pushed louder anyway. Make of this what you will, but that’s the reality of mastering records professionally for other people, and hence the reality of how most released records are finished in the real world. More on this later…
The “correct” mastering volume is 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 the sweet-spot 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 a blistering -5LUFS (for insanely fat “pushed” sounding dance music – that’s TOO pushed in my opinion!) to -15LUFS (for gentle ambience).
In a nutshell I deliver what the client wants. I have a couple of clients who are quite big names, that I know to deliver at around -5 or -6LUFS because that’s what they want. Personally I don’t agree with that approach, but I’ve had the discussion & that’s what they want. Their music racks up millions of Spotify streams, so it would be wrong of me to consider them “wrong”. Food for thought.
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 2022? = 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 for you. Whatever finish you feel represents your music and what you are trying to achieve – that’s the ideal mastering LUFS target in 2022.
“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 2022 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 while still considering the streaming platform.
Because there are different playback systems, you may need differently finished masters, especially with the True Peak. A track finished for download would ideally have a True Peak louder than a track finished for Spotify. The solution = purchase an alternative finished version, as there is rarely an ideal “One size fits all” approach for heavy music.
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. Many streaming platforms adjust for the True Peak too, so you can have a “pushed” sound, but if your True Peak has headroom then it will come out “louder” on Spotify for example.
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.
To fully realise your vision across all platforms, you may need 2 versions of your master: one for download/CD & one for Streaming.
Tommy Farrow’s track “Let’s Just”, mastered by Fat As Funk has over 2 Million Spotify streams and is pushed WAY harder than the “recommended” LUFS level of -14. It obviously sounds great to the listeners on Spotify.
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 2022 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.
In this new producer interview series, I interview regular Fat As Funk Mastering clients whom I’ve got to know over the years, & have some interesting things going on musically.
First up is reggae producer Hal, from theArrival Sound System, who has recently released the sublime album “Voices”. A collection of blissful positive dubwise vibes, featuring a variety of different vocalists. A perfect refresher from the stressful world of today.
What was the first moment in your life that really stands out as the driving force behind your musical path?
Buying my first DnB 12”. I think it was by Peshay. I can’t remember the name but I can remember what it looks like… That was the first step into DJing which led to production, learning keys etc.
How long have you been writing & producing music now?
Since age 15 so that’s coming to 20 years in august, I had no idea that much time had passed!
What album/track/collaboration are you most proud of, & why?
The album I’ve just finished which you mastered! An all female voices reggae album called… Voices Its definitely the best thing I have ever made!
Was there a particular piece of equipment/unusual instrument/recording technique that stood out as especially important during the making of that session?
It would be my new Ableton Push! Having gone through loads of different controllers and keyboards over the years I have finally found something that bridges the gap between human and computer! Music music making so much more of a collaboration, before I always felt separate from the computer and with the push it feels like the computer has become an instrument. You can fly around your DAW at a lighting speed and scroll though scales without changing your hand shape and then add tracks/plugins and mix and play and more and more.
Are there any moments in your musical life where you still feel really nervous?
I still feel nervous before a live show or in fact a live stream. Standing behind the controls ready to play your original music is like opening yourself up to the world and as an introverted person that always makes me nervous and I actually hope it always will, it is what makes playing this game worth it!
What aspect of the music industry have you found hardest to gain traction in? And how did you overcome the resistance?
Getting booked for shows or festivals, it has been very hard to cope with so much rejection! Sending countless emails off into the void of no reply or worst getting a reply that leads to nowhere. The only way to overcome the resistance was to teach myself to care less or cultivate no attachment. Its still exactly the same game but it doesn’t reduce me to a depressed wreck anymore.
Tell us about a couple of musical breaks you had that really made you feel you’d progressed forward in your career.
So there was this one gig at Shambala festival, I think 2018, on Sunday night at 10pm. When we arrived at the stage the venue was empty and as it was Sunday I thought it was going to be a real let down but just after we started this stream of people came in, there had been the closing fireworks not far from the venue, we ended up playing to well over a thousand people who rammed the tent and jumped and danced for the whole hour. Life changing! The second would be Goa Sunplash in India, I made contact with the organizers through a friend in Nepal and went and played the January festival three times over consecutive years. It’s a great festival with a mixed audience from around the globe and a lot of great reggae musicians come to play, unlike the UK where its unusual create links with other artists, as often they leave straight after a festival gig, here as we’re all on the beach in the sun far from home. There was a great opportunity to meet and mix and build relationships with other dub heads.
Do you want to share any funny/shocking/surprising/scandalous stories you have from on tour/in the studio/around the music industry? Please change the names to protect the innocent/guilty!
The only one I can think of would be a show at One Love festival where I thought our stage time was 2pm and Delroy the mc was super late, more than usual so I had to detour to get him, we arrived after foot to the floor mad driving at five minutes to two to be told that it was actually a 2:30 stage time and that because they were having problems with security that the festival wasn’t open yet anyway! We played our gig to a completely empty tent. But it was funny and we did a really good show!
What excites you most about making music nowadays, compared to what excited you when just starting out?
Its exactly the same, that buzz when you’ve just got a really good loop going or a singer send you a test vocal on one of your tunes and you feel all energized.
What was the most inspiring gig/festival/club night you went to in your youth? & what stood out as being so special about it?
Mad Professor Glastonbury 2002 or 2003 Sunday night in lost vagueness with this huge pile of speakers, it sounded so good and was wobbling all my organs. Every now and again the professor would leave the stage for some reason and this younger guy would sidle over and crank up the bass with a naughty look on his face, then professor would come back and notch it down again, this continued for what seemed like hours! Banging!
What was the first studio technique you learned where you thought “wow this is next level!” & really felt like you had advanced your technique a notch. & what was the equipment/DAW you learned it on?
It would probably be either the power of side chaining or mastering Melodyne. Both on Logic, although I am now a complete Ableton convert.
Do you have a favourite microphone/s? What do you like about it?
I don’t own many microphones but I do really like the new one I bought recently, Aston Origin fixed large diaphragm condenser. It sound super smooth at the high end and gives me everything I want from a vocalist or instrument and it is very fairly priced!
If you’re in a recording session & inspiration drags, what gets you back in the creative zone?
Well it used to be a little smoke but these days it’s a bike ride, if I’m working with another human than it would be a cup of something and a snack.
What are your favourite headphones to produce/DJ with? Why do you like them?
I don’t have any favorites, I bought some £300 focal ones that I thought sounded pretty good until I bought some £30 Sennheiser at an airport and discovered I liked them far more. But in general I now hate headphones, as I’m pretty sure that they are responsible for my tinnitus.
Has traditional music theory been useful to you?
I would say yes, a good knowledge of scales and chord positions speeds things up, since buying the Push I have started to approach music in a completely different way sort of based on traditional theory and sort of not. My teachers always said its good to know the rules (theory) to understand how to break them.
What was the first bit of kit you acquired that you were insanely excited by, & when?
Probably my first Pa speakers when I was 14, three way with a 15” for the low end. Loved them, I still have the 15” drivers the boxes are long gone.
Who were the first few musical artists that really turned your head & influenced your work?
Bob Marley (of course), Dreadzone, Zion Train, Mad Professor plus all of the Drum and Bass and Jungle.
What, if any, cultural aspects influence your music most heavily? E.g. films, politics, art, regional influences, religion etc.
Sound system culture or rave culture, as a youth I went to a lot of free parties in the woods.
Yep, I enjoyed those parties. Good times raving with you back in the day. I dug out an old photo from 2009:
Has being a musician affected your personal relationships, either in positive or negative ways?
It has been the central theme of my life so I would say it has affected all of my relationships hopefully positively I can’t think of any negative impacts from my perspective but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.
Got any predictions for what the next big sound will be?
I wish but even if I did know what would be popular next I would probably still make the same kind of sound that I make now. I sometimes try to push outside my box but I always end up making stuff that I like that sounds the stuff I like. If that makes any sense maybe.
Do you have a particular workflow you usually start with? Or do you find a sound or groove that grabs you & just go from there?
I put a lot of work into a really great template in Ableton and so it all starts just with a jam, could be drums first or chords or bass.
Have you had to diversify much across your music career, in order to pay the bills at times? What else have you done while building up your music career?
I work as a sound engineer, lighting designer and general show tech which has very fortunately paid my bills and allowed music to just be a passion in my life.
What’s your current favourite instruments?
Again it’s theAbleton push! But that’s boring so my next one is a little coconut Kalimba I bought in Kathmandu (with a contact mic built in!) followed by my mouth harp twanger thing and my melodica!
Are there any good Music books that you have learned a lot from & recommend?
The music lesson by Victor Wooten is a nice story with lots of tips about how to be musical and avoid being confined by notes and scales.
What piece of advice would you give someone about to self-release a record?
Make double sure you’re super happy with the mix and master and read all of the criteria for distribution, metadata, image formats etc very VERY carefully!
If you could go back in time & give your younger self some important advice, what would it be?
Get on with it! Practice! Don’t get too attached!
What are your favourite festivals? Either to play at or go to as a punter?
Shambala just has the best people and amazing music! Boomtown is the most awe-inspiring and also has great music and Goa Sunsplash is on the beach in Goa and has reggae – ’nuff said!
What’s your favourite movie soundtrack? Why?
Tough one! Probably Jurassic Park, I love john Williams and that theme is just killer.
What’s the most essential bit of music kit that has helped define your sound?
Native Instruments Komplete Ultimate basically is my sound in all the various presets. I do tweak them a bit once I’ve got my part recorded but mainly I find my sound in their sounds. Obviously the mix has a massive impact so I would have to throw in the Waves Platinum bundle now as well.
What’s the most precious thing to you in the studio (not the most expensive!) & why?
My hearing! The tinnitus has got a lot worse in the last year and I wish I had been more careful. I now have very expensive earplugs and mix at low levels but the damage has been done!
Your top tip for aspiring musicians?
Look after your ears! Practice non-attachment!
Do you want to shout out any musical mentors that have helped you along the way? How did they help you?
I live with a bass player called Simon Lovelock, over the last 8 years he has been a constant source of support and also has incredible musical knowledge and is always very willing to help over or have a listen to whatever it is I’m making.
Apartfrom music what else do you enjoy doing?
Carpentry, I like building speakers and furniture. Also lying around in hammocks on beaches or walking in mountains.
What are your upcoming musical plans?
I’m currently promoting my new album “Voices” (mastered by Fat As Funk), then I have a remix album for my sound system in Nepal out sometime. After that, just keep making music!
Any last words?
Where words fail music speaks
Nice. Thank you very much!
“Voices” By Arrival Sound System is out everywhere NOW!
In this day of the disposable digital-only single culture, the release of a proper, full album is a thing of beauty. An album remains the best place to showcase your musical works and demonstrate who you are as an artist.
Our album mastering service is where we really demonstrate our skill too. Mastering an album requires subtlety, intuition & a certain sprinkle of black magic that can only come with plenty of experience.
Even if you have a mixture of soft & heavy songs on the album, the end result must make them flow perfectly together, & smooth out any discrepancies between mixes. This must be achieved while keeping your original preferences & ideas in mind.
Highly dynamic, subtle music must be blended flawlessly & sensitively into an understated work of art. By contrast a bass-heavy, banging album needs to hit the listener hard and loud all the way through. The skill comes in minimising the compromises needed on each track to join-up different tracks naturally. A compilation album is the most extreme example of this problem, but most albums have some variation that needs smoothing out.
Be Beyond Binary – Feel The Music In All Stages
Whatever the music needs, an experienced mastering engineer can intuitively make it happen – they must feel the vibe first to know the best approach to master an album!
The best album mastering service is a human expert. Mastering an album is not a “1-size fits all” task that can be properly achieved with technical metering alone. It’s important to trust your gut – where the music is felt.
No A.I. online mastering service (like eMastered or Landr for example) can actuallyfeel music in the same way as you the artist did when creating it – by definition A.I. automatic mastering can only ever see it as digital binary code. Musicians think and feel beyond binary.
A.I. online mastering is getting better, but there’s a big difference between an unfeeling computer algorithm making decisions based only on maths, Vs a human music lover with soul thinking “that 2nd guitar riff is fu**ing wicked – I’ll bring that out!”.
Analogue hardware is another essential part in achieving next-level sound quality across your album. Especially if the track was produced 100% “In the box” as so many are these days, a lovely mastering-grade analog tube EQ for example, can enhance it sweeter than any plugins could, and bring a certain “magic” to the sound that is still not-quite “there” yet with even the best plugins.
Your finished album should sound cohesive, level matched & with appropriate pauses between tracks (or seamlessly if you prefer). Softer songs shouldn’t feel overly pushed, and banging tracks should feel fat and hefty – and most importantly should both sound “right” when played together. This is where experience comes in.
Dynamic range won the loudness wars – celebrate!
Mastering in 2022 is a little different to a few years ago. Physical CD releases are less common every day, and streaming services are using sophisticated auto-volume levelling to even out playback between songs.
This means that trying to max out your tracks to compete for the ultimate perceived volume blast is not as important as it used to be (although we are fully equipped to max out the volume if you want).
Depending on the genre of music, you may prefer the sound of a more dynamic, quieter master which can sound punchier and more dynamic on streaming services than a super-compressed crunched master. Most music sounds better with more dynamic range. Also with services such as Spotify Loud, listeners have a certain amount of control over the perceived loudness of playback.
Of course many electronic genres and heavy rock styles just sound fatter with a more pushed, louder master – and it is what’s expected from the listener. There is a lot of well-meaning pressure from some places not to push your music to an extreme level, but in the real world a heavy dance track finished to the suggested -14LUFS will simply sound weak in comparison to similar tracks, even with volume levelling. This is a slightly controversial opinion, but a realistic one. Looking at the vast majority of big dance and heavy rock tracks released, they are finished much louder than -14LUFS, and everyone loves it.
So really the best choice is what is right for your genre of music AND your intention as an artist. As an experienced mastering engineer I know immediately what is the best LUFS to master an album.
These auto-volume levelling systems are only going to get better, so it really makes sense to master your music for ultimate sound quality for your individual album and genre, not just maximum volume for the sake of it OR stick rigidly to a LUFS number without taking into account the needs and expectations of your genre. We recommend this approach – if you have other ideas, we are happy to oblige you.
It’s important to finish the album slightly differently for a vinyl press run too, so the vinyl version translates well in keeping with the version finished for digital. There are a few key differences in the mastering finish if it’s going to be pressed on vinyl to avoid problems with the cut, and make it sound great. Often using masters that have been finished for digital use will lead to a less dynamic vinyl cut, and not “kick” as hard as you’d hoped. We recommend getting dedicated pre-vinyl optimised masters in the same session (for only £10 each).
If you are having a CD run made, you can then optionally deliver a DDP file to the pressing plant. A DDP is like 1 special zip file with everything needed to make a CD, with all your ISRC codes, credits and title metadata embedded. This is not essential, but some pressing plants request them, and it is the neatest, most secure way to deliver your album.
Let’s Go Far Out For A Moment
Loz (our mastering engineer) is a zen practitioner and generally esoteric chap. He uses barebow archery, meditation and other ways to clear his headspace when the computer gets too much, and comes back to the job with fresh perspective and clarity.
We feel this gives us an edge which, in our opinion, helps make us one of the best mastering services around (especially when you consider our highly competitive rates). These visceral approaches really come into play when finding the correct natural point in an album to start work from, and in the final levelling and “tying it all together” thus making the final result flow together beautifully (spoiler alert: you can’t just rely on a LUFS meter to level out an album properly).
Trying not to be too much of a hippy about it, but perhaps music is a tangible expression of the living, all-connected energy of the universe, and when musicians are totally buzzing during a recording, they are channelling that energy during their flow state – reflecting their synergy with the universe at that time. That’s when a track turns from good to awesome.
When the hairs on your neck stand up and you feel your blood run cold from hearing your great new song on a fresh head, or you just know that this take is “the one” while you’re recording it – that’s what I’m talking about. That’s what needs to be channelled during mastering an album. Why throw all your magic to an A.I. tech company’s cash-cow, (essentially just running your music through a meter-adjusted plugin preset chain) just to save a small amount of money right at the end of your creative process – one of the most crucial stages. Get a human expert instead who can feel your music.
Fat As Funk – Est. 2006. – Album Mastering Experts
Fat As Funk offers great rates on album mastering, & you can order with confidence knowing that your carefully crafted studio mix will stand up as a complete work you can be proud of.
You can try our online mastering free. Upload your track today for a free stereo mastering demo!
If you want to test our stem mastering before committing to a full analogue mix+master, you can buy some stems and try it at a greatly reduced cost! (Stem mastering is like a mini-mix+master).
We usually hit the sweet-spot first time, but rest assured that if you feel any adjustments are necessary, we will gladly tweak our work for free. We insist on our clients being thrilled with their masters, as we want you to tell your friends how pleased you were with all aspects of our work. If you’re happy with your album, we’re happy.
We would love to transform your recordings into a record! Try us today and level-up your sound!
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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