How to Master for Streaming

How to Master for Streaming

Today I’m going to explain how you can prepare your track for streaming services by using MasterCheck as part of your workflow. If you aren’t already familiar with MasterCheck, then I recommend watching ‘An Introduction to MasterCheck’ first. Today’s video will cover some of the same content, but I will also go into more detail about some real-world applications! It’s one thing for a track to sound great on a pair of studio monitors, but for many of us it’s also important to sound great on Spotify, SoundCloud, YouTube and other streaming services. After all, that’s where people are likely to hear your track for the first time. So let’s say we’ve already got things sounding perfect on those monitors – what next? First of all, we can check what kind of effect the encoding process will have across various streaming platforms. Something like Spotify Mobile or YouTube Low Bitrate will likely introduce the most noticeable artefacts. When first selecting these options, you won’t hear any difference to start with, but you will be able to see how the True Peak meters give different measurements depending on the codec. Just because a track doesn’t clip on the master bus in your session, doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t clip after encoding. This really highlights the importance of using a True Peak limiter like NUGEN’s ISL at the end of your chain. In order to hear the effect of a codec, you need to activate ‘Monitor’ and then select the desired platform via the circular buttons on the right. You might notice certain frequencies seem quieter or less defined, or you might notice some slight distortion. You can confirm this with the delta function, which allows you to hear only the missing audio information. If you don’t trust your ears yet, or if you do trust your ears but you want a second opinion, a tool like NUGEN’s Visualizer can help to identify the areas where this is having the most significant impact. You might decide to tweak your EQ in order to compensate and regain some clarity. It’s also worth considering that these codecs tend to have a less damaging effect on less heavily compressed tracks. So you could try backing off some of the limiting and compression, and listen to how each codec responds. Remember that most streaming services apply some form of loudness normalisation, so a super-loud master is often not the best way to make your track stand out. As well as listening to the codecs, we can also check out how loudness normalisation will affect a track. As your track plays through, MasterCheck takes an integrated loudness measurement – don’t forget that loudness is measured over time, so this is an average of the entire track. MasterCheck doesn’t have the same history function as a more advanced loudness meter like VisLM, but this measurement should get you in the right ballpark. You can use the ‘Offset to match’ function to hear the effects of loudness normalisation on each platform. Before even thinking about the numerical measurements, it’s worth just flipping back and forth, listening to the changes. Ignoring the encoding process, the loudness normalisation on these platforms is generally just a linear gain adjustment. On some level you can just trust the listener to turn their own volume up or down if necessary. So if the master sounds good to you after normalisation, then you don’t necessarily need to consider any further processing to compensate. If you do feel like the loudness normalisation is making a big difference, then it’s worth noting that most of the major platforms normalise audio somewhere between -13 and -16 LUFS so you could argue that there is no point mastering louder than this. If you master to -10 LUFS, for example, Spotify will simply turn your track down by 4 LU, and you’ll lose 4dB of headroom, resulting in a less dynamic master. The biggest exception to this is SoundCloud, which doesn’t apply any loudness normalisation. In many ways, the loudness war is still ongoing on SoundCloud, so you could upload a super loud master and still sound “louder” than everyone else. This is a personal choice at the end of the day, but it’s worth weighing up against the disadvantages of losing dynamics on Spotify, YouTube and Apple Music, as well as the extra codec artefacts you’re likely to encounter with a loud master. Unlike a TV mix engineer, you aren’t obligated or even expected to submit audio which conforms to these loudness standards. The streaming platforms will normalise whatever you send them. So that’s a slightly more detailed look at how to prepare your tracks for streaming services. As always, you can find a free trial of MasterCheck on the NUGEN Audio website, along with free trials of the other plug-ins mentioned – that’s ISL and Visualizer. Thanks for watching.

4 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Lot's of good information in the narration. Most important is not worrying about LUFS numbers. The platforms change their policies, and sometimes do not disclose that to the engineering community. That said, create one, best-sounding file. Use MasterCheck to evaluate what various codecs will do to your file. Generally, less level and compression will reduce nasty gremlins from the encoding.

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