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Mix and Master for the Listener

Transcript
Warren: Hello, it’s Warren Huart. Hope you’re doing marvelously well. Those of you who have been watching for awhile know we have several other contributors to this channel. Guys like Chris Selim, David Mood, and of course, Carlo Libertini.

Carlo is — he’s kind of our Melodyne expert. In fact, he’s an expert in lots of other different softwares. He’s very kindly done this Nugen Audio video for us. This is a really wonderful plugin called Master Check Pro, which allows you to basically see or hear more importantly how your music is going to be played on various different platforms.

It seems that these days, every streaming service, whether it be Spotify, or Apple, or whatever it is, has their own idea of how loud you should be listening to your music, and they are turning it up, down, sideways, whatever, and there is no standard.

So, this plugin itself will allow you to hear how that’s going to be.

As ever, please subscribe, go to producelikeapro.com, sign up for the email list, get a whole bunch of free goodies, and of course, if you hit that notification bell that’s bouncing around here somewhere, you’ll be notified when we do a new video.

Okay, the best thing about this plugin is you can win one of three of them by entering the competition, and also grand prize of a Producer pack giveaway, which is like, $549 worth of plugins an all kinds of free goodies.

Thank you Nugen for doing that. Carlo, take it away.

Carlo: It is no secret that more and more people today are consuming their audio through online streaming services than ever before. But as content creators like us, singers, song writers, producers, mixers, engineers, we should understand exactly what is happening to the quality of our audio through these online streaming services, and work within those parameters to maintain the highest quality possible at all times, and in this video, we’re going to take a look at just that.

Now, I setup a session here. I’ve got some stems for mastering. I’ve got drums, bass, rhythm guitars and such, and I’ve chosen a rock band. This song is called Mad Love by my indie rock band. It’s punchy, it’s dynamic, and I think it’ll exactly serve the purpose.

Now, on my master buss here, I’ve loaded Nugen Audio Master Check Pro. Programs like this are available to help you understand what is going to happen to your mixes, to the quality of your audio, when it’s sent through a streaming service.

What this will do is this will demonstrate in real time, it’ll demonstrate and audition your audio for you through any one of the streaming practices.

In taking a look at the plugin, it’s really simple. Here we have our loudness, K-weighted, full scale meter, our PLR, which is very important. This is our Peak to Loudness Ratio. This measures the perceived density, the perceived loudness of our music.

And here we’ve got the value box that’s indicating that.

Now, from the dropdown here, if you’re using Master Check, you’ll get these options. If you’re using Master Check Pro, you’ll have these. All you have to do is load any one of these standards. For example, I’ll choose Apple streaming and hit okay.

Now the program is here, you can see -16 LKFS. This is the value that Apple streaming, for example, is going to lower your music to for its streaming service, and the reason why these services do this is so that there’s a continuity in perceived volume from song to song to song, so the listener isn’t constantly reaching for their volume knob every time a different song comes to their headphones and such.

The way this works is you also have here below what it’s going to be streamed at in terms of the bit rate. You see AAC 256. So not only can we hear what’s going to happen to our music when it’s lowered, we can also audition it in real-time through one of these converters.

Let’s take a listen. I’ll show you what’s going to happen here. Let’s go back to my meter, I’ll choose none here, and I’ve loaded the Apple minus 16. Now, when I play the song, you’re going to get a value here in the peak to loudness area, and what the average LKFS number is, and I should note that in order to get a proper PLR rating, one should play the track entirely through.

That’s going to give you the correct average, and that’s what these streaming services will do, obviously, because they don’t want any sudden surprises jumping out at people in the middle of the song. They’ll analyze the whole song in advance, accurately find what the peak loudness ratio is, before the song is loudness normalized down to -16 LKFS.

One way I’m going to bypass that is just jump to one of the most dynamic parts of the song, the chorus. Let’s take a quick listen.

[mix]

There. Now you can see, we have an average LKFS of about -9, and our Peak to Loudness Ratio was fluctuating around 8. This is pretty normal for a more conservative mix. Not extremely loud, but since this is going to be treated for streaming, I didn’t want to be as aggressive, so keep that in mind.

Now, what does this tell us? If I have -9, Apple is going to squash this down to -16, and using this offset to match button will in real time demonstrate that. Check it out.

[mix]

And that’s what your audio is going to sound like when it’s loudness normalized. Now, keep in mind, a lot of people have a misconception about loudness normalizing. It’s not just turning the level down. Loudness normalizing actually calculates the perceived loudness, and compensates for that as well, not just the peak loudness of your audio.

And, here under the monitor section, if I activate that and select 256, we can now hear what this is going to sound like exactly through Apple streaming music.

Here to the right of the selectors, we have these mini-meters. What this is going to tell you is it’s really nasty to be clipping prior into an MP3 conversion. You never want to be — you never want to convert audio to an AAC or MP3 that’s being clipped. I mean, it sounds bad enough already, it’ll sound totally nasty that way. So keep an eye on these meters, they’re there to help you.

[mix]

Here’s none, straight waveform. And here it is at AAC 256. Now, the average here, this is going to tell you the difference between my mix and what Apple is going to do is about -5.9 LU. Okay? So I have an idea.

This is what I can do. I can now take my final mix, and you can trust it to these streaming services to squash down for you. That’s one way to do it. Or, knowing in advance what’s happening, I can now tweak my mix to maintain dynamics, punch, and clarity, and what a way to that is I’ve taken all of these tracks, and I’ve assigned them to this VCA fader. Now, I’m going to de-activate offset to match, and I’m going to lower this down about five dBs.

And this is one way to do it — let’s say -5.9. Now when I play it back, my playback LKFS should be around 16 already.

[mix]

Let’s bring it down just a little bit more.

[music]

And what I’m doing now is I’m taking the entire mix, and I’m tweaking it. I’m customizing it.

[song]

There. Now, I’ll offset to match, and you shouldn’t hear any volume difference at all.

[mix]

Perfect. You see right here? 0.0. So now that there is no difference, no loudness difference between my mix and what Apple is going to do, the difference however, is that I’m not letting the loudness normalization turn it down, I’m doing it myself. I can tweak this mix as necessary, and it’s not going to squash any of those peaks more, possibly creating a more dense and lifeless mix. This is very important.

So we talked about letting the codec do it, and we talked about you tweaking the mix. Why don’t we load another streaming service. How about Spotify? And I’ll hit okay. And you see that’s -14. I’ll reset my meter up to zero. Let’s say 3.5 or so. Let me play this.

[mix]

Look at that. -14, -14.

So now I’m choosing, prior to exporting my audio and uploading it to Spotify, and I’m going to show you something very important at the end of this video why you want to consider doing this than letting the codecs at these big companies decide for you, because after all, this is our audio, and we should be in complete control of the quality the whole time.

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Now, keep note down here, under the monitor section, we’ve got mobile.

Spotify broadcasts mobile at 96kbps. Desktop is 160, and Premium is at 320.

Let’s take a listen to what this is really doing. There’s a difference button right here, and I’m going to play this for you, and it’s going to show you exactly how much of this amazing quality is being removed to create this for your mobile app.

You know what I’m also going to do here is I’m going to load something up so we can also throw in a visual with this. I’ll open up Visualizer. Here we go. So we can also see and hear the effect. Alright, and let’s open up a spectrograph. Alright, beautiful.

Okay, so let’s play the audio again.

[music]

Now we have an image of the Full Scale frequency and audio. When I switch to mobile, I’m going to hear just the difference here. This is what’s being removed from that.

[filtered audio]

Exactly. Here’s before…

[mix, before filtering]

And here’s what’s being removed at 96kbps.

[mix, dropped to 96kbps]

Now I’ll switch to the desktop app. 160.

[mix, dropped to 160kbps]

And the premium 320.

[mix, dropped to 320kbps]

You might have to turn up your headphones to hear this, but be very careful.

And then back to none.

So I’m doing this to give you an idea of how much quality is being sacrificed through these online streaming services. All the more reason to really pay attention to what’s going on and be in complete control the whole time.

Now, what I’ll do here is I’m going to show you one more method that I like. Let me reset this and bring my VCA back up to zero. Here, you can see I’ve got Ozone 8 here on my 2mix. Let me open this up.

There’s a really cool feature in this application. If you haven’t been using this yet, definitely check it out. Down here in my maximizer, we’ve got a learn function. Okay?

Let’s say I wanted to put this back onto Apple’s streaming or any of these services at all. I can see it’s -16 LKFS. Well, it’s right here. LUFS is the same. This is just the European version of the standard.

All I have to do is press the audio and press learn, and Ozone will literally — it’ll match and create a -16 reference for me. Again, you should let it play throughout the entire song, but I’m just going to take it from the more energetic strong parts for this example. Check it out, I’ll hit learn then play.

[music]

There. And you can see, it set it around -15.3. This would be a lot more accurate if I let it play on again. Check it out.

[song]

Okay, I’ll deactivate learn, and you’ll see right there, -16.1.

So programs like this are already capable in advance of helping you work with the quality of audio and maintain that throughout. Alright?

Now, I’m going to show you what exactly is happening to our audio. I’m going to print this version. Let’s call it the CD version. I’m going to print a version at -16 using the codec, and I’m going to print a version at -16 using my method to preserve the dynamics and punch. Okay? I’ll be right back.

Okay, check it out. In this track, I printed out my mix at Full Scale.

[mix]

Alright, now below that here, I printed out what will happen if you let the codec decide.

If you let the Apple streaming music decide, you can see that it’s a lot less dynamic of course, because it’s being turned down, and to prove it, here. I’m going to play it back, and you’ll see that it should be somewhere around -16.

There you go. -16, -16.

[mix]

Now, on the next track here, what I did is I used my VCA fader to bring it down and match the codec manually, and you can see how much more dynamic and punchy my track is. Take a listen.

[music]

And it’s exactly at -16. So here you’ve got the codec doing the choices for you, and here, you’re in control. That’s taking advantage of tools like Master Check Pro here, where not only can I audition it in real time through the streaming standard — the peak to loudness ratio — the loudness normalization that they’re going to be using, but also as whatever streaming type, regarding the conversion here would be AAC 256.

So what would I rather have in my mixes? Would I rather have the codec decide and have something like this? Or I could make those informed choices and have something like this.

Audio quality is of the utmost important, and more and more people are taking advantage of these tools, and the best way is to try it out for yourself. Stay busy and keep creative everyone, and thanks for watching.

Warren: Thank you everyone, I really hope you enjoyed that. Thank you Carlo for doing another video for us, thank you Nugen Audio for the giveaway as well. Please enter to win it. Go to producelikeapro.com, sign up for the email list, get a whole bunch of free goodies, subscribe, hit the notification bell, have a marvelous time recording and mixing.

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Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at producelikeapro.com.

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