Aaron Turner
Course Leader - Electronic Music Production Diploma
Last Update: 13.05.15
Radio Production Course Re-cap
SSR Manchester - Aaron Turner, Course Leader - Electronic Music Production Diploma

POSTED ON – 17.03.15

Is The Loudness War Over?

In 2013 Bob Katz declared the loudness war as being over. 

That could have been a bit premature seeing as we’re now in 2015 and music is still as loud and compressed as ever, but he had a point, and what he meant was that the introduction of loudness specifications for music meant that if everything was being played back at the same volume, then there would be no need to make your track louder than everyone else’s.

What are these loudness specifications I hear you cry?

Well to understand it fully you have to take a look into the broadcast industry. For years there have been rules for television that state you can’t broadcast programs and adverts over a certain volume, which means the average Joe watching TV doesn’t have to reach for the volume control every 5 minutes. In the UK, the way they regulated this was with a loudness meter called PPM (Peak Programme Meter), where you couldn’t broadcast anything over 6PPM. The problem with this specification is that peak loudness and perceived loudness are two different things. You can have two programs each peaking at 6PPM, but the one that is more compressed is going to sound louder, meaning average Joe is reaching for his remote again.

So in 2010 the EBU published its loudness recommendation EBU R128. The difference between R128 and PPM is that R128 isn’t a peak volume meter like PPM, it’s an average loudness meter. And the way they regulate this is by using a scale called LUFS (in Europe) or LKFS (in America), which measures loudness over a certain period of time, i.e. the length of the program. In Europe programs have to have a long term loudness of nothing over -23LUFS, which means over the entire length of a program there can be loud parts and quiet parts, as long as it averages out to -23LUFS. This is turn means programs are now more dynamic, and overly compressed programs are just going to have to be corrected to fit in the -23LUFS guidelines, making them sound quieter and less dynamic. This is a massive development in audio quality; it means overly compressed, non-dynamic material isn’t being rewarded like it was when using PPM, where the more compressed it was, the louder it would seem.

So how does this relate to music?

For years now the “loudness war” has been at the forefront of the music industry. Everyone wants to make their track louder than the rest, and to do that music has been limited to an inch of its life. It might sound louder, but if you compare a strongly compressed track to an uncompressed track at the same volume, the uncompressed one will sound punchier and dynamic, with more depth. The video below this post explains this well.

But how on earth can you regulate the loudness of released music? And the answer at the moment is you can’t. But you can start to. The three most used music listening platforms, YouTube, iTunes, and Spotify have all bought in to LUFS, meaning that when music is being played out of these platforms, we’re listening to it at a pre-defined loudness spec: -16 LUFS for iTunes, -13 LUFS for YouTube, and -16.5 LUFS for Spotify. So if you’re releasing music and it’s being played out of any of these platforms then your music’s loudness is being corrected to fit into the LUFS spec. Which means exactly the same thing it does for television: you don’t gain an advantage for overly compressing your track and making it louder than everybody else’s if it’s just going to be played back at the same average level.

At the moment there are no rules to this, and actually iTunes has a thing called ‘Sound Check’ which you can turn on and off, which is essentially turning on and off the -16LUFS correction. The fact that these platforms are introducing this though, is a great step forward for our overall listening experience. Unfortunately it’s going to take a long time before all mixing/mastering engineers catch on to this even if new laws were introduced (there are still TV mixers who mix to 6PPM and use a thing called LM Correct to fix it), and because there are so many ways we can listen to music (CD, vinyl etc.) there is just no way to regulate how loud the music is before it gets put on to the medium.

So where do we go from here?

Was Bob Katz correct in saying the loudness war is over? I would say not quite, but we as audio engineers can educate ourselves to this and start adapting to it.

Next time you mix or master a song, use an LUFS meter (MasterCheck from Nugen Audio is a brilliant one) and master it to between -13 and 16.5 LUFS, labeling it iTunes/Youtube/Spotify Master. Then do one as you normally would and label it CD Master. Give you client options and explain what it means. That way we can start educating the music world to these new developments, and make a better listening environment for everyone.

Feel free to share and re-post this blog to spread the word and help educate people, please credit the original source and Author.

If you want to learn how to make music and record and edit sound the right way, then take part in a course at SSR. We offer everything from short courses in Ableton Live 9 and Logic Pro X, Audio Engineering, Audio Post Production, and lots more

Aaron Turner

POSTED ON – 13.05.15

Radio Production Course Re-cap

POSTED ON – 06.05.15

Passing On Experience

POSTED ON – 17.03.15

Is The Loudness War Over?

POSTED ON – 05.12.14

Our New Radio Studio

Aaron Turner is an Ableton Live specialist who has been producing electronic music since his early teens, and is currently part of an electronic music duo called ‘Perfume Advert’. Since 2013 they have had album, EP and remix releases on a number of independent record labels including: 1080p, Opal Tapes, Where To Now?, videogamemusic and Cong Burn. As part of this project, Aaron has performed at various international events and festivals including: Boiler Room, MUTEK Montreal, FreeRotation, Incubate and The Zoo Project Festival UK.

Since moving to Manchester Aaron has forged working relationships with several venues and promoters including Soup Kitchen and Islington Mill and has also spent time employed within a successful Salford based booking agency, who work with a strong roster of electronic artists such as Lee Gamble, Bill Kouligas and Russell Haswell.

Aaron has a passion for improvised musical performance and spends much of his free time devising innovative performance & production strategies inside (and outside) of the Ableton Live software. His experimental solo musical venture, ‘Anxiety Support Group’, has also had several releases, and he has already begun showcasing these ambient soundscapes in a live context across venues in Manchester.