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audioXpress Magazine

July 2024

 

Making Music Louder
Maximizing and optimizing everything to create something that stands out.
Editorial By J. Martins

 

audioXpress July 2024

 

  I doubt many of our readers have a deep understanding about how music is "made" these days. Yes, a lot of music elements are still fundamentally recorded in studios where everything from microphones to preamps, to dynamic processors, and well-treated rooms are vital. Human voice remains one of those key elements, but even the "voices" we hear are far from what was recorded.

A lot of the music we listen to today is done from pre-existing sound elements that are either sampled or synthesized, often overlayed with actual recorded parts. There's hardly any long section of music that relies on a continuous recorded element that stays true to what was recorded. Basically, everything is transformed, stretched, pitch-manipulated, then sequenced, and heavily processed, before being mixed. Many times, multiple mixed elements are further sampled, inserted in the sequence and remixed.

The former notion of artist, composer, and performer is another big grey area, where music production is actually what defines the finished work that's released. And that's why increasingly in today's music we do not see a single name associated with a track but a sequence of names. And when there's a major artist's name for notoriety, all we have to do is check the credits to find out who exactly is responsible for what we understand as "the track" normally a music producer. Actual names we recognize are sometimes listed as "associated performer" and "executive producer" at best.

 

 

The most surprising part is finding more than two producers and five names listed under "composer." Remember I mentioned sampling and "music elements?"

In this issue of audioXpress focused on audio amplifiers you will notice an important article by Thomas Lund, titled "For the Love of Music: Loudness Normalization." This is a must-read, and we hope to continue to explore that topic in more specific perspectives, because perceived levels or loudness continues to be an extremely relevant topic in many evolving disciplines in audio.

Going back to those endless lists of names in credits associated with a single track of music, we find titles of "engineer," "mixer," "mix engineer," and "mastering engineer" (increasingly also a separate "immersive mastering engineer").

 

audioXpress July 2024

 

All of those participants in making a "track" try their best to create something that stands out in today's platforms how people listen to music. And that's as much as a tiny Bluetooth speaker as a smartphone or laptop very often the car sound system and most frequently headphones and earbuds. Plus, that same track is not "released" once to be enjoyed by everyone. Because of the multiple streaming services, that track is "mixed" for five or many more platforms, all of which have different requirements in terms of the master file to be uploaded, and all of which implement different loudness compliance rules. While all streaming services embraced existing loudness standards, they also decided to define different normalization thresholds a slightly different loudness target measured in LUFS (Loudness Units Full Scale). Spotify requires -14 LUFS, Apple Music -16 LUFS, and Deezer -15 LUFS.

This, in itself, is a great positive step. But because people are people, and because all of those services encode the streams using different codecs, music producers and mastering engineers quickly noticed that the "perceived" results are not exactly the same and differences can be measured objectively.

 

 

We are far from the days of the so-called "loudness war," where everyone (radio stations and record companies) was aggressively applying multiband gain compensation and compressors / limiters to achieve the "loudest perceived sound." Today, everyone accepts and understands the loudness standards, but they continue to play with existing tools to basically achieve the same effect on each of the mainstream streaming platforms to sound louder, while remaining LUFS compliant.

The latest available software tools even use machine learning and AI for loudness management and advertise how to "maximize the spectral power of your tracks" and "make your music sound professional, polished, and louder without penalties".

Not a single note or weaker area in the spectrogram is left untouched. Everything is "optimized!"

 

 

J. Martins
Editor-in-Chief

 

 

 

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