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What are the Loudness Wars (and Why They’re Ending)

loudness wars are ending

If you’re new to making beats, you haven’t yet discovered mastering, which is where the loudness wars all began.

Mastering is the very last part of the music production process. It goes like this:

There’s a few things you must know about LOUDNESS when it comes to music.

I will explain the new loudness standards (EBU 128 and ITU-R BS.1770), how they’ve ALREADY changed from first being implemented, and why the loudness wars are coming to an end (it’s a good thing!)

How the Loudness Wars Happened

If something sounds louder than something else, we think it sounds better in audio.

For example, if someone plays your song and it’s quiet, then they listen to another song which is LOUDER, often people lean toward the LOUD song!

But.. what if the volumes were the SAME volume.. which song sounded BETTER?

This is why when you are producing music, it’s very important to have a fair volume comparison!

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The Music Publishers Wanted to Be #1!

Because we think that a LOUD SONG is better than a quiet song… people who were not actually the mastering engineers (who knew better), wanted the music to be LOUDER, because they thought it would help sales and people like their music more.

Mastering engineers were told, “MAKE IT LOUDER”.. even though the music couldn’t really go much louder without ruining the integrity of the music.

Moral of the story – there is a SWEET SPOT WHEN MASTERING when it comes to loudness! Too loud, you ruin the “dynamics” of the music.. too quiet, you haven’t brought up the excitement in the song!

How the Loudness Wars are Ending

Something called Loudness Normalization has now come into play, and it’s GOOD!

Here was the problem..

If something was louder, it caught your attention.. and if something can be used to catch your attention, you can best believe people will abuse it for their own gain!

For example.. ADVERTISEMENTS were way too loud compared to the TV shows you’d watch. Loudness Normalization, means that all audio, whether it be your song or a commercial that pops up in-between the song (or TV Show), has to be at the same volume.

Not only did they push the music so loud that it caught your attention, they pushed the audio so loud that it was WRECKING the life of the music.

You see, music is supposed to have BOUNCE.. loud and quiet parts! If it’s pushed to the MAX, there’s no up and down.. everything is just the same volume, and when a song moves from verse to chorus, there’s no extra loudness or excitement, because it’s pushed so loud, it can’t go any further!

So not only does your music not sound “musical” when you push your music too loud, it also risks distortion and heavy un-wanted pumping!

LUFS, LKFS, LU.. and dB?

This is where mastering engineers spoke out, like Ian Shepherd, and advocated for some type of loudness standard.

Thankfully the audio industry listened, and have now implemented a loudness standard, which we now know as Loudness Normalization.

In short, it just means that whatever platform you are listening to music on (Spotify, iTunes, Amazon Music..), all audio will be played at a similar volume..

IT DOESN’T MATTER HOW LOUD YOU MASTER YOUR MUSIC.

If you master your music too loud, it will be turned down to the same overall volume as other songs!

(Note, each audio streaming platform plays audio at their own “integrated loudness” standard, like -14 LUFS for Spotify, and -16 LUFS for Apple Music.. writing as of June 2022. It’s not that your music will sound better or worse, it’s just all audio will play at that “normalized” volume).

LUFS vs. LKFS?

So this new loudness standard introduced new audio measuring units like LU, LUFS, and LKFS.

This isn’t anything new.. the audio world has already tried to truly find how to measure loudness many times now.. we’ve used “VU Meters”, then it switched to RMS Metering.. but FINALLY LUFS takes into account for how our EAR hears loudness.. this seems to be a great audio measurement solution now.

Simply put.. 1dB = 1 LU (Loudness Unit).

So if you’ve been making beats with FL Studio, this won’t be confusing, because we’ve always been working with dB in the digital world (dB = decibel).

Now LUFS and LKFS are the same thing.. it’s just another one of those things when a recommendation comes out, then the actual ITU BS.1770 Standard differs a little in terminology.. (Loudness Units Full Scale, and Loudness K-Weighted Full Scale).

When it comes to LOUDNESS, they give us three measurements:

  • MOMENTARY LOUDNESS (Very fast measurements.. over a 400ms time constant)
  • SHORT-TERM LOUDNESS (A bit slower.. over an interval of 3 seconds.. I like using this for mastering)
  • INTEGRATED LOUDNESS (This is the BEGINNING TO END of a song’s loudness.. the loudness and true-peak meter recommendation actually calls it “for quality control”)

Integrated is what these streaming platforms play your music back.. but if you’re mastering based off the “integrated loudness number”, this isn’t going to help you much.

Why? Because Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music all have different “integrated loudness levels”!! So they all turn up or down your music the same way for ALL MUSIC (for the most part).

The secret is mastering your music so it sound balanced, and not too loud so you are wrecking the “dynamics”.

Also, you want to make sure you are not over -1dBTP 🙂.

You may like WHAT IS A MASTERING CHAIN!

How the BS.1770 Standard has Changed

So in short..

When the loudness wars were going through hard times, the EBU (European Broadcasting Union) introduced EBU R 128, stating the problem of current loudness trends, and how to fix them.

The ITU (International Telecommunication Union) then implemented the actual standard called ITU-R BS. 1770.

Now, like anything new, things change and are modified over time.

So at the moment, it’s actually on it’s FOURTH revision, written as ITU-R BS. 1770-4.

I haven’t actually read the standard, but from quick research, it sounds like they’ve introduced some “gating” to help give a more accurate judgement of loudness by removing REALLY QUIET stuff.


Summary: What are the Loudness Wars?

Over time, audio was pushed louder and louder into different mastering tools, like a limiter.

People thought “louder audio was better” when it wasn’t compared at the same volume!

Over time, mastering engineers spoke out against the travesty of LOUDNESS.. and how people were DECEIVED into thinking “louder is better”. Music was mastered so loud to the point of NO BOUNCE!

We now have loudness meters to help us know when we’ve mastered music in the sweet spot.

It allows us to not wreck our music, still retain loudness and excitement, but not push it too far (like -4 LUFS Short-Term for example).

Generally ball park would be -14 to -10 LUFS Short Term. Anything louder, you’re getting into dangerous territory!

LEAVE A COMMENT IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS, or contact me directly.

GratuiTous
GratuiTous
GratuiTous (Riley Weller) is a Recognized FL Studio Trainer with over 30 Beatmaking Courses. He writes Beatmaking Books, hosts the Music Production Made Simple Podcast, and helps students with FL Studio Lessons. He also makes lots of his own music!

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