Song mastering for CD, Club Play and Streaming.

It is customary to create one final master and use it in all scenarios. However, given that music is consumed in many different ways, it’s more appropriate to create a few variations to best suit the distribution mediums you will be using. This might sound like a lot of extra work, but in reality the minor tweaks might take an extra 10 minutes. When you’ve spent so long on the songwriting and production, this final step is the icing on the cake to a job well done.

Lets have a look at some ideal mastering settings for different scenarios.

Heres a table for those of you in a rush…

Platform

Peak

Loudness

Dynamic Range

iTunes Store    

-0.1dBTP
-9 to -13 LUFS 
>9DR
iTunes Radio 
-0.1 dBTP
-15 to -16.5 LUFS 
>9DR

Youtube

-0.1 dBTP
-12 to -14 LUFS
>9DR

Spotify  

-0.1 dBTP
-11 to -13 LUFS
>9DR

CD 

-0.1 dBTP
> -9 LUFS 
>9DR

Club Play 

-0.1 dBTP
-7.5 to -9 LUFS
>8DR

Soundcloud 

-1dBTP 
-9 to -13 LUFS 
>9DR

 

If these numbers and acronyms confuse you you can brush up on what they mean by navigating to the links below.

LUFS

dBTP

DR

 These settings can be monitored easily using the mastering presets in LEVELS.

Mastering Presets

Lets look at these platforms in a bit more detail. 

iTunes 

The iTunes Store converts audio to AAC (Advanced Audio Coding). For the best result, bounce your audio at 24 bits with a maximum peak of -0.1dbTP (decibels true peak). You can use the free AAC Roundtrip plugin to preview your audio as AAC. -9 to -13 LUFS would be good target for the iTunes Store (even though they don’t normalise music before it’s purchased).   

 

iTunes Radio streams audio around -15 to -16.5 LUFS. If you will be submitting your music to a radio station that operates through iTunes Radio it’s worth creating a specific version around -16 LUFS.

 

Youtube 

Youtube is still one of the main places people discover and enjoy the music they love. Youtube normalises music to around -13 LUFS so the ideal settings for your YouTube master would be -12 to -14 LUFS with the dynamic range reading on LEVELS not exceeding 9DR and with a safe true peak of -0.1dbTP.

 

Spotify     

With over 100 million people using Spotify, it’s crucial to make sure your music is heard in its best light. Consider this, the loudest your music will ever be heard on Spotify is about -11 LUFS. So why submit a CD master or Club Master measuring -9LUFS when it’s just going to be turned down. It’s better to make good use of the opportunity to provide a more dynamic master. Lay off the limiter and go for a setting of around -11 to -13 LUFS with the dynamic range reading on LEVELS not exceeding 9DR and a true peak of -0.1dbTP.

 

CD 

CD is the only time you’ll want to use a ‘16bit’ bit depth. This is just the technical configuration of the CD, for other purposes you should use 24 bit. Click here learn what bit depth is in 2 minutes. CDs obviously are not subjected to any normalisation so you could push the loudness a bit further it you wanted to. I would recommend not breaching a threshold of -9 LUFS and -8DR as this is the point at which the audio can start to sound distorted and lifeless. A good setting would be from -9 to -13 LUFS with the dynamic range reading on LEVELS not exceeding 9DR.

 

Club Play 

Mastering audio for clubs would be an exception where you could push the loudness a bit further. (club tracks will be the last to submit to the end of the loudness wars UNLESS there were loudness/normalisation guidelines brought into clubs…) The louder club tracks sit around -4 to -6 LUFS during the drops. I master club tracks to about -7.5 to -9 LUFS for my clients and they work perfectly in their mixes. They might not be quite as loud as other tracks in their genre but they have superior dynamics & transients which make them hit harder and sound punchier. So i would recommend a setting of about -7.5 to -9 LUFS with the dynamic range reading on LEVELS not exceeding 8DR.

 

Soundcloud 

Soundcloud has over 175 million users. Most artists utilise the Soundcloud platform to present their audio to their fans free of charge. Soundcloud streams audio in MP3 format at 128 kbps (I hope they change this soon as 128 kbps is extremely poor quality…) You’re able to upload a high quality  24 bit Wav file to Soundcloud but it is transcoded to MP3 to make streaming faster for its users. To make the best of this situation Headroom is more important in this scenario than any other. I would recommend mastering your track to -1dbTP for Soundcloud to minimise the artefacts that WILL happen when your track gets transcoded to MP3. Regarding loudness, A good setting would be from -9 to -13 LUFS with the dynamic range reading on LEVELS not exceeding 9DR.

 

LEVELS is a mixing and metering plugin that was designed to allow music producers to keep an eye on all of these technical details without it getting in the way of their mix. Click here to learn more about LEVELS.  

levels metering software.

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