If It Sounds Good - It Is Good!
— Duke Ellington

Love To LUFS You Baby

Discovering LUFS was one of the biggest revelations in my audio career.  I only found out about it six months ago, but I've been on a soapbox about it ever since. 

LUFS is an acronym for Loudness Unit Full Scale, and is a standard for setting Broadcast levels so you're not scrambling for the remote every time an obscenely loud commercial comes on while you're binge-watching the latest must-see teevee.

This excellent page from our pals at TC Electronic will give you the skinny: http://www.tcelectronic.com/loudness/loudness-explained/ 

It's taking hold in the Audio Industry too (albeit a bit slowly for a standard ratified in 2011), with Streaming Services implementing it in their Loudness Normalization settings (like Apple's Sound Check or Spotify's Replay Volume Normalization) and Mastering Engineers also following the standard for final output. Mixing Engineers are starting to embrace LUFS as well. This means that it's slowly working its way down the chain... 

This is a very good thing.

The Loudness War was (and unfortunately still is) the idea that louder is better. Since all digital audio has ceiling that nothing can go over ever, Artists and Engineers trick themselves into believing that getting as close to that maximum level as possible makes for better music and more sales and more airplay and therefore more fame/notoriety/money/whatever.

Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Recording every track as loud as you can or 'maximizing' the overall mix with hyped compression, limiting, and other processors does not make the song magically better - It just makes it louder. And when you, Dear Artiste, release your masterpiece out into the wild convinced that it's better than everything else out there because it's so 'over the top in your face' that it drowns out any competition, you win, right?

Your 'competitors', however, will always one up you on their next release by making their releases even 'louder', more 'over the top in your face', and more hyper processed. In retaliation, you will try to find a way to make it 'moar louder' when creating your next track. Audio Engineers will come up with new ways to make mixes louder in conjunction with the manufacturers who will tweak their loudness plugins for more 'volume' while (just) staying under that Digital Zero mark. Everyone follows the leaders, everyone keeps squeezing that last drop of gain out of their mixes...

The casualties in this battle are the listeners who (at best) are annoyed with having to constantly adjust the volume of playback devices as they roll through their playlists, or (at worst) are now listening to steady stream of music that might as well be white noise because it's been so over processed, that it's not enjoyable, it's not memorable, it just sounds like the last track that was playing (and the hundred before it). It's not music anymore.

LUFS levels the playing field for everyone in the audio world (I see what you did there...)

Because streaming sites will adjust volumes to the same overall level, no more fumbling for the volume controls. Because loudness is not the ultimate end goal, artists can now focus on songwriting (imagine that!), dynamics, quality of sound, recording, and mix down. Because this is a simple level setting, no new technology is required - everyone has access to the same LUFS meters, and most Digital Audio recording and editing software has LUFS metering built-in, or if not, you can find third-party ones for free or cheap.

We'll talk more about this in the next post.


Industry LUFS Integration

It's (About) Time...