About a year ago I wrote a blog for Avid called MasterCheck: How Dynamic is Too Dynamic?. Since then, Avid has announced AvidPlay, a new music distribution platform. Let’s take a look at 3 key points paraphrased from last year’s piece, and consider these observations in the context of AvidPlay (or even other distribution services, for that matter!).
1. Revenue from music streaming now exceeds that of downloads, CDs and vinyl combined. So it makes sense to optimise your mixes and masters accordingly.
Not only does it make sense to optimise your mixes and masters, it also makes sense to ensure that you’re happy with your choice of distribution service! Different platforms offer different annual and lifetime rates, which vary depending on the number of artist profiles, number of releases and so on. It is also worth noting that some of the services with cheaper rates will take a larger cut of royalties, so you should weigh up your own circumstances (are you uploading ten albums of niche experimental music under multiple different monikers with a tiny audience, or one album which is likely to be streamed heavily?). For what it’s worth, AvidPlay’s royalty retention rate is 0%.
2. A track mastered at -10 LUFS for CD will be turned down by 3dB to reach YouTube’s -13 LUFS target, 4dB for Spotify and 6dB for Apple Music. This means up to 6dB of unused headroom!
When distributing music through a platform like AvidPlay, it’s not as though you can upload separate masters for each individual streaming service, so is it even worth paying attention to their loudness standards? Well, yes and no. Regardless of how loudly or quietly you master a track, the fact is that some loudness processing will happen before playout on some streaming services, no matter what. But submitting a master which sits close enough to a few of the services is probably a better approach than uploading a -10 LUFS “commercial” master. Many engineers have grown accustomed to mastering at that level for CDs, but even on a comparatively loud service like YouTube, you’ll still be losing 3dB of headroom. And headroom is important, because…
3. In a playlist where every track is normalised, a song which takes advantage of all available headroom (i.e. the track with the widest dynamic range!) might seem to “pop” more.
The received wisdom is that the loudness war was the result of every artist and label wanting their music to “pop” more than everyone else’s. Starting a “dynamics war” might be similarly daft, but at least we wouldn’t suffer the same loss of transient detail, and increase in listener fatigue! Clever manipulation of macro dynamics can also be used to create very loud sections in an otherwise quiet track – keep an eye on MasterCheck’s short-term loudness measurements to take advantage of this neat trick.
If you find yourself mixing or mastering music for streaming services, for a limited time you can take advantage of 50% off NUGEN Audio’s MasterCheck plug-in. This offer is exclusive to the Avid store.