Now that Spotify has FINALLY joined the rest of the streaming services by reducing their loudness playback level, in the current era of digital distribution, you only need two versions of your final master: one for Soundcloud/Bandcamp, and one for all other streaming services. This makes the previous “Peak + RMS” meters obsolete for streaming services and instead, the new “True Peaks + LUFS” metering system is used because it more accurately compensates for the way that humans perceive sound. Although it might seem confusing at first, it’s actually even more simple than the old way.

Recommended free LUFS meter: Youlean

In Youlean, the value that you’re looking for is called “Integrated LUFS”, and is a measure of average loudness over the entire song. While short-term LUFS can be a useful measure as well, the integrated value is what loudness normalization takes into account. This plugin has a great manual with lots of good information so definitely check that out if you’d like more info on any of the other values and customization options.

“Levels and Loudness Metering (RMS, LUFS and True Peak)”

Soundcloud (and Bandcamp)

For now, RMS is still an important measure because Soundcloud doesn’t do any sort of loudness normalization, making it essentially a “competition” about who can get their track the loudest without sacrificing too much dynamic range. Since Soundcloud converts your track to a 128kbps MP3 anyways, there’s no point in uploading an MP3 yourself. Instead, a **24-bit WAV** file is recommended because that’s what the Soundcloud conversion process is tailored towards. No need to dither for online distribution in this day and age.

A gentle low-cut filter at **20-30Hz** and a gentle high-cut at **16-17kHz** can help to increase the amount of headroom by cutting out frequencies which most people over 25 aren’t able to hear. This can help you to push your tracks a little louder when it comes time for limiting. An EQ with a phase-linear mode such as Fabfilter Pro-Q can help to prevent any “ringing” frequencies created by the phase shift generated by the low-cut/high-cut filters.

I’d suggest that you keep your True Peaks (also known as Intersample Peaks) **below -1dB**, although if your limiter has an oversampling option you might be able to get away with -0.5dB. This will help to prevent clipping when Soundcloud converts your track. If you have Izotope Ozone, you can preview how different MP3 codecs will affect your track after the conversion process, and Apple has a similar VST for their AAC format.

I would aim for no louder than **-10/-9 RMS**, and hopefully less than 3dB of gain reduction. Anything past that will likely be sacrificing bass content and stereo image, unless the mix is already really well balanced. Many limiters have a “constant gain” function that keeps the volume the same while you increase the amount of gain reduction. This allows you to hear the effect of the limiting without being fooled by a change in loudness so that you can accurately assess how much is too much limiting. Remember the golden rule: if it sounds good, it is good.

Lastly, a big reason why some tracks sound so different on Soundcloud is because of too much high-frequency content and especially sounds that are very wide in the stereo image. Izotope themselves recommend that you narrow the stereo image of the very high frequencies (above 10kHz or so) by maybe **5-20%** but I haven’t personally ever found this necessary. If you’re noticing that your hi-hats sound weird but only on Soundcloud, they’re probably just too loud for the mix and you need to turn them down.

Other Streaming Services | Spotify

No more need to slam your tracks into a limiter! With loudness normalization your tracks are measured for average loudness using LUFS and then shifted up or down in volume to reach a specific target. Here is a list of the current (as of October 2018) targets for the major streaming services:

* Youtube: -13 LUFS / -14 LUFS (depending on view count)
* Spotify: -14 LUFS
* Tidal: -14 LUFS
* Apple Music: -16 LUFS

Again, a **24-bit WAV** is recommended and based on the above, I’d recommend that you target **-14 LUFS** as a good middle ground. If you’re the type of person who wants to be prepared for the future, -16 LUFS fits the AES recommended guidelines on loudness and may be adopted as the standard for all streaming services, and will essentially “future-proof” your music and ensure maximum dynamic range on all platforms. Although this rule doesn’t always apply, generally 1dB is equal to 1LUFS. So if your track is at -18 LUFS before limiting, you should simply be able to increase the gain on the limiter by 4dB to reach your target of -14 LUFS.

Like with Soundcloud, I’d recommend that your True Peaks be **lower than -1db** although it matters less here because the conversion is going to be of a higher quality and intersample clipping will be less of an issue.

 And that’s it. See? Way more simple than Soundcloud.

 Hope that helps clear up a few misconceptions, especially when there is so much misinformation going around that only applies to working in the analog realm or mastering for vinyl.

Alex Gagliano

Alex Gagliano


I’m an all-around music lover with 3+ years of experience running my own audio engineering business, Primarily focusing on mixing and mastering, I work with artists from around the world across many different genres, but mainly focusing on hip-hop.


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