Where do music productions fit into discussions about loudness standards for broadcast? How loud should music producers and mastering engineers be making their tracks?
Broadcast loudness standards and the Sound Check feature found in
Apple’s iTunes software could effectively end the loudness war. There is
simply no value in attempting to make a song louder than any other since all
tracks will be adjusted to a standard level automatically. Hyper-compression
just robs music of its natural transients, excitement, and impact.
There is also the true peak level. As more music is distributed in the
form of data reduced files, more headroom is needed to avoid clipping
distortion following conversion to data-reduced formats. Apple’s “Mastered
for iTunes” initiative requests that all 96 kHz/24-bit uncompressed files submitted never exceed a maximum peak level of -1 dB true peak. The writing is on the wall; the world must back off the loudness. The question is, can we? Making everything loud is addictive. If we don’t, there’s the fear that clients will abandon us, that our work won’t stand out, that
others will judge us for not being competitive. But is there an alternative to going cold turkey? I think there is.
In a white paper by Roland Löhlbach, a proposal is made to combine the metering of the EBU R-128 standard with Bob Katz’s K-System to add some additional measurements to a broadcast loudness meter, allowing the music producer to progress gradually to lower average levels. To honour Katz’s work, Löhlbach named this the “K-System v2.”
The TB EBULoudness meter by ToneBoosters is an inexpensive plugin with a full-featured loudness meter with R-128 and ATSC R/85 metering and the K-System v2. Using a meter like this, a gradual path to working with progressively larger amounts of headroom and lower average levels can be introduced slowly, starting with 12dB, then 14, and finally 16 for pop music and 20 for dynamic material like soundtracks and classical music.
The results of letting go will be quite apparent once a production is auditioned through a broadcast chain, or as an AAC or MP3 on an iPod. By working with the new volume limits instead of against them, peaks and transients will have punch, dynamics will follow the artistic contour, and the music will breathe more naturally. Fatiguing edginess will have
given way to pleasing listenability. Here is a gentle, gradual method to get the loudness monkey off your back.
Frank Lockwood is a Location Music Recording Engineer and Owner of Lockwood ARS. He is old enough to be thrilled that after 21 years, My Bloody Valentine released MBV, which he thinks is a textbook example of the artistic use of level and dynamics in music that you wouldn’t think had any. Go to www.LockwoodARS.com.