HOT mix/mastering levels and streaming services

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joninc
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HOT mix/mastering levels and streaming services

Post by joninc » Wed Jul 29, 2020 3:32 pm

I'm working with some different artists who are on a label that is very focussed on Spotify. (I'm sure that's fairly common now that it's the primary way music is consumed.)

They want their songs to "pop" a bit more on the playlists and my preference is generally to not go too aggressive with compression, especially for gentler music so they are asking for a bit more aggressive mixing because they feel it will make a better impression when it comes on amidst other songs in the genre. Fair enough.

(This is dreamy folk type stuff with very little in the way of drums - mostly acoustic and piano with lots of harmonies and some little overdubs here and there. It's super hushed overall)

I have been doing some listening to some of the playlists and there is a pretty large difference in some of the levels between songs despite Spotify's efforts to "normalize" or have some type of standard.

So the question I have is how do you get your music SUPER LOUD like this: https://open.spotify.com/track/4EPLcAKK ... KnqaBsy8jA

Honestly - this came on on a gentle folk playlist and LEAPT out of the speakers - its just so much louder. Mastered by Bob Ludwig - must be that the mixes are crafted for maximum density. I am curious about how this is achieved. I remember noticing the same thing on the album ROSCOE by Midlake.

To my ears there's still a pretty warm tonality to the whole things - it's not crunchy sounding - it's smooth. I'd love to know more about this. It's finger picked, not bright or harsh and I don't hear super audible compression but obviously they've found musical ways to get lots of RMS volume.

I'm using multiple stages of analog and digital processing to get to my end result but really I'm not close to this level of perceived "fullness".

Help?
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Re: HOT mix/mastering levels and streaming services

Post by Nick Sevilla » Wed Jul 29, 2020 9:02 pm

While I won't open Spotify... reasons...

These types of Folk mixes which sound FULL and LOUD, simply are mixed at the top of the digital dynamic range.

If, for example, you are used to mixing with your RMS at -16 and your peaks under -6dBFS, well, time to crank it up.

There are tons of ways to use subtle compression on individual tracks to give them that fullness and loudness, while still
retaining the acoustic character of the instrument.

This has to do with knowing two basic things:

1. What does the ADSR (Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release) of an acoustic instrument you are mixing?

2. Which compressor / limiter or other processing can make this be LESS dynamic, while retaining those ADSR characteristics.

The guys who know this, they can mix stuff like what you are hearing.

Basically, you want to reduce the overall dynamic range of the instrument, without destroying it's normal ADSR. So, you would
usually go for a digital compressor which has tons of controls to do so. My go to used to be, believe it or not, the Avid Compressor.
The shit factory one that comes with Pro Tools. It is very transparent sounding, and has all the controls to do this.

If, after you get the dynamic range down, and you still want to grow some hair on the instrument, you would use a coloration
plug in, like a convolution plug in with coloring samples instead of reverbs, or also use those plug ins that emulate transformers
or console paths etc. Even tape emulations can work, if you need to be more heavy handed.
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Re: HOT mix/mastering levels and streaming services

Post by losthighway » Thu Jul 30, 2020 6:10 am

I agree that it's probably as much or more steps in the mix than the final master. Acoustic guitars are hard to compress a lot without them getting that weird oversquashed acoustic sound which is a great effect in a dense rock mix, but annoying in something open and folky. It's good to have a few different types of compression in your arsenal, and to do things in steps. It's nice to have a Vari Mu/tube/Sta Level type of thing to coax more db out of an acoustic without making it pumpy. 'Over Easy' on a DBX gets close to that too. Maybe some people know some plugins that can work this way.

But Bob Ludwig probably did some tricks on that too. I'm not a mastering engineer so I won't pretend to know how he does it.

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Re: HOT mix/mastering levels and streaming services

Post by Recycled_Brains » Thu Jul 30, 2020 9:30 am

I'm not sure how Spotify works in this regard, but when I use the "soundcheck" feature on my iPhone, simple acoustic tracks or just quieter tracks in general are always a lot louder than say, a doom band with 46 dimed Model T's on the track. I hate it.

Could just be that. You could download the tracks and listen outside Spotify and see if the same thing happens.
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Re: HOT mix/mastering levels and streaming services

Post by darjama » Thu Jul 30, 2020 10:11 am

I think you might be bumping into the 'loudness penalty.' Check out this site: https://www.loudnesspenalty.com/

Basically if your tracks are going over a certain average loudness they will get turned down by most services. IF you're targeting specifically Spotify you can try to adjust your mixes so that you aren't going over -14 LUFS and should help it not get turned down. I use Youlean meter to check LUFS. https://youlean.co/youlean-loudness-meter/

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Re: HOT mix/mastering levels and streaming services

Post by joninc » Thu Jul 30, 2020 2:50 pm

I am aware of the loudness penalty - the strange thing I am finding thought is that certain tracks will still have a louder perceived fullness and that It was i am curious about.

What types of compressors or limiters do this most transparently while doing extreme gain reduction?

I have been using the limiter in Ozone mostly as the last step in my chain of processing - I have a few friends who prefer the SLATE FGX and I read a lot about the Fab ProL too... I used to used the L2 in this spot.

Another related observation - a Townes Van Zandt song came on yesterday and again - seemed to be noticeably louder overall than the tracks that preceded it. I noticed there was a definite roll off in the top end that was more pronounced as well and it made me think more about the correlation between high end frequencies and loudness. It seems you can push the overall level more aggressively without as much "air" HF stuff going on maybe?
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Re: HOT mix/mastering levels and streaming services

Post by dave watkins » Fri Jul 31, 2020 7:38 am

This is something I've been thinking about/dealing with a lot over the last couple years. I definitely do not claim to be a mastering expert but have found a few things to be true when it comes to mastering with streaming services in mind:

You will drive yourself mad if you try to master to a specific LUFS measurement to meet the standard of a specific streaming service. All of them have different loudness measurements they aim for, and different algorithms that they use to limit or lower the volume of your tracks. Some like Spotify have the option for the end user to turn off the normalization, and then you are left with an even greater discrepancy between your production and that of others. There's definitely no right way to make loudness translate everywhere because there are so many variables that are out of your control.

The answer that seems to make the most sense because of all those variables is to mix/master a song to sound as good as possible and as loud as possible while not totally eliminating dynamics and crushing the life out of it. In years past I tried to be a bit more judicious and get closer to the -14 LUFS loudness that Spotify and other streaming services were saying they were looking for. My mixes were clean and dynamic and sounded good to me and I was stoked that I didn't have to try and push them into oblivion. But I ran into the same problem your'e having with clients asking for more regardless of how much I try to explain to the that the loudness wars are over. Even/especially with folky stuff. Had the same issue with artists wanting to make sure their tracks are competitive :/ if they get put on playlists. But at the end of the day it's my job to please, so making things as loud as possible while still trying to be able to look myself in the mirror was the plan.

Agree with everyone saying that multiple stages of subtle/transparent compressors are the way to go. Getting things to sound loud at the tracks and instrument buses, before the 2buss has to do and heavy lifting can help tons. I use a lot of Izotope stuff at various stages in the mix because they do make it possible decrease dynamic range and boost loudness pretty transparently if you're careful. I use the ozone limiter as the last stage in my master buss If i'm mastering as it definitely affords the most clinical control of limiting without clipping and has excellent metering so you know what's happening. I also use the Shadow Hills mastering compressor, that's offered by Plugin Alliance (highly recommend the mega bundle subscription if you do a lot of paid work, lots of brilliant and useful plugins included with it)in the master buss before ozone, literally just placing it in the chain makes things sound a bit fuller and gives things personality before you even start tweaking things I'm usually only doing the tiniest amount of reduction with it. Their townhouse buss compressor and mastering console are also great. Oxford Inflator is also a go to for me whenever I'm trying to increase perceived loudness without making things pump. It's magic in that capacity on drums and bass but easy to overuse. As of this year there's some combination of those plugins on everything i'm doing to try and get things hot without destroying songs and i'm pretty happy with the results.

EDIT: Also I try not to get super hung up on LUFS measurements, but generally aim to get it a little louder than -14, and will also double check it with the loudness penalty analyzer. If the various streaming services it tries to emulate are only turning my track down -0.5 to -2 i'm not going to worry about it too much. On a personal note I'd rather have my mixes stay at a good volume if a user decides to turn the service normalization off, and if normalization is on I'd rather a service turn down my tracks a bit than use whatever algorithm to boost them up. I'm also always setting the ceiling on my limiter to somewhere between -1 and -0.05 dB true peak to make sure no clipping happens in the data compression process once things are uploaded. I swear I've listened to music, especially early on in the streaming era that was clipping digitally and I can only assume the CD masters that were pushed right up to 0db were what were sent on to upload. I can't speak for what goes on at major labels but for me and the small artists I work with, we are only capable of using aggregate services like cd baby and distrokid to get music on streaming services. Again there's a lot that can happen to your music when your done with it. It's sort of the same argument we face when thinking about mixing for shitty phone speakers and earbuds vs. a high end sound system. Songs should definitely sound amazing on a great system, but if the mix is good it'll probably still hold up just fine on the crappiest of systems. But at the end of the day, stressing out about prioritizing every possible playback system scenario won't do the song but so much good. just do your best!
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Re: HOT mix/mastering levels and streaming services

Post by Recycled_Brains » Fri Jul 31, 2020 10:14 am

joninc wrote:
Wed Jul 29, 2020 3:32 pm
I'm working with some different artists who are on a label that is very focussed on Spotify. (I'm sure that's fairly common now that it's the primary way music is consumed.)

They want their songs to "pop" a bit more on the playlists and my preference is generally to not go too aggressive with compression, especially for gentler music so they are asking for a bit more aggressive mixing because they feel it will make a better impression when it comes on amidst other songs in the genre. Fair enough.

(This is dreamy folk type stuff with very little in the way of drums - mostly acoustic and piano with lots of harmonies and some little overdubs here and there. It's super hushed overall)

I have been doing some listening to some of the playlists and there is a pretty large difference in some of the levels between songs despite Spotify's efforts to "normalize" or have some type of standard.

So the question I have is how do you get your music SUPER LOUD like this: https://open.spotify.com/track/4EPLcAKK ... KnqaBsy8jA

Honestly - this came on on a gentle folk playlist and LEAPT out of the speakers - its just so much louder. Mastered by Bob Ludwig - must be that the mixes are crafted for maximum density. I am curious about how this is achieved. I remember noticing the same thing on the album ROSCOE by Midlake.

To my ears there's still a pretty warm tonality to the whole things - it's not crunchy sounding - it's smooth. I'd love to know more about this. It's finger picked, not bright or harsh and I don't hear super audible compression but obviously they've found musical ways to get lots of RMS volume.

I'm using multiple stages of analog and digital processing to get to my end result but really I'm not close to this level of perceived "fullness".

Help?
That example you shared sounds very audibly compressed to me. I was reaching for the volume 1/2 way through to turn it down.

I do think there is something to being conservative with with the HF/air stuff. My ears just gravitate to darker sounding records. They always sound louder to me. The good shit is in the mids and down low so it's better to emphasize that part of it, IMO.

No offense intended, but why not hire a dedicated mastering engineer to handle this stuff? I'm always able to get a loud mix at home, but something about the way a mastering guy does it is usually much more full range and huge sounding without neutering the dynamics. Any time I've sent a mix to my dude where I used less compression and EQ in the mixing stage sounds bigger and fuller and louder to me than the mixes where I was more heavy handed.
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Re: HOT mix/mastering levels and streaming services

Post by MoreSpaceEcho » Fri Jul 31, 2020 11:47 am

Recycled_Brains wrote:
Fri Jul 31, 2020 10:14 am
I was reaching for the volume 1/2 way through to turn it down.
And on a "gentle folk playlist" it seems likely to me that a song that comes on SUPER LOUD is gonna annoy at least as many listeners as it impresses.

Anyway....it shouldn't be too tough to get a sparse folk song with no drums really loud. Usually it's easy to make those sort of songs have more apparent level than a dense rock/metal song.

This limiter or that one shouldn't really matter, for the amount of GR you'd need to get a folk song loud enough they should all be fine.

If you/they want it denser (again, a dense folk song seems kinda like an oxymoron to me, but whatever works), then more compression, parallel or otherwise, in mixing is the way to go IMO.

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Re: HOT mix/mastering levels and streaming services

Post by joninc » Wed Aug 05, 2020 11:22 am

Recycled_Brains wrote:
Fri Jul 31, 2020 10:14 am
No offense intended, but why not hire a dedicated mastering engineer to handle this stuff? I'm always able to get a loud mix at home, but something about the way a mastering guy does it is usually much more full range and huge sounding without neutering the dynamics. Any time I've sent a mix to my dude where I used less compression and EQ in the mixing stage sounds bigger and fuller and louder to me than the mixes where I was more heavy handed.
This is going to a dedicated mastering engineer - but I don't think it's solely a mastering issue, there's an overall shaping and density thing happening internally to the tracks that helps get you part of the way there too. I do master a lot of the stuff that i mix but generally not the label stuff.
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