The LUFS [loudness units relative to full scale] meters in LEVELS are extremely accurate at displaying the perceived loudness of audio material. The LUFS scale (sometimes called LKFS, though they're exactly the same thing) was introduced primarily to outline broadcast standards to keep the perceived volume of the different shows and adverts the same.
This is called loudness normalisation and it stops the consumer from constantly reaching for the remote to control the volume.
The music industry is following suit, and now many leading streaming platforms such as Spotify, Youtube and iTunes Radio are normalising music so the play back is at a consistent volume. If you hear a dynamically mastered jazz track followed by a compressed, loud dubstep track on Spotify they maintain a relatively constant perceived loudness.
If you produce music, the following information is crucial for you to know, as you need to understand how your audience will experience your music. The current trend of mastering music super LOUD is already extremely detrimental to the quality of the audio…But, as I will explain in this post, the future of music consumption will favour dynamic music over loud compressed music. So understanding and using LUFS meters in your production process will ensure your music is heard in its best possible form.
So how should we use the LUFS meters in LEVELS to master our audio for streaming?
The short-term meter on the left will display the LUFS measurement over the last three seconds. The integrated meter on the right shows the accumulating LUFS level of your track. You can reset the meters by clicking on the readouts. Each bar represents 1 loudness unit. The default integrated LUFS threshold for mixing is -16 and -9 for mastering. You change the integrated LUFS mastering target to -16 for streaming.
If your track is breaching the threshold during mixing you could reduce the amount of compression or limiting to both reduce the loudness and increase the dynamic range. Alternatively, if you didn't want to change the compression you could lower the overall volume of the mix using a gain plugin on the output bus.
If you want to increase the LUFS value of your track you could increase the overall volume using a gain plugin. LEVELS will warn you if you breach your headroom threshold. If you still wish to add some loudness to your track you could compress the elements within your mix, or even add some parallel compression.
If your track is breaching the threshold during mastering you could reduce the amount of compression or limiting. You could also tweak the plugins that are adding gain. This can be any EQ boosts you’ve made or harmonic distortion.
To increase the LUFS, without changing the sound and balance of your mix, you could use a gain plugin at the start of your chain. You could also add some compression, limiting or harmonic distortion to increase the loudness.
This is all a lot to take on board. But LEVELS can make your production process easier by letting you know you if you breach your LUFS target. If the LUFS thresholds are not breached, you can just get on with you mix knowing that you’re not negatively affecting quality of your audio.