2020 Quick Mastering Standard for SoundCloud

First I wanna say that it seems like things have really changed for the better with quick mastering lately. The tools have come a really long way over the decade and the wide spread adoption of LUFs seems like a major leap forward. The transparency on tools like Pro L2 and Ozone 9’s maximizer are ridiculous and concerning at the same time.

One major black eye on all these improvements seems to be SoundCloud refusing to implement a loudness standard. Their encoder almost requires you to either cater to them exclusively with a separate render, or to make concessions on your final levels. This is becomes an issue when you open your tracks for download. Do you upload quieter music to accommodate the encoding process at the expense of your downloadable track? Vice Versa? Additionally, since they don’t implement a loudness standard the loudness war seems to be continuing on their platform. Are their users sacrificing quality mix downs for loud mixes to catch peoples ears?

Now, I understand everyone on this reputable & classy website prefers well mastered music with good dynamics. I’m not really starting this thread to gather the classic “do what sounds best” or “there’s no point in accommodating the dying loudness war” answers. The reality is that, on soundcloud people are still pushing their masters and if you aren’t other producers or listeners may look past your music. I’m specifically looking for information about what benchmarks people are using for soundcloud quick masters within specific genres.

Relevant information would probably include what genre you are working in, what LUFs are you exporting at, and why are you posting music/ who is your intended audience?

I’ll start,
I make Ham fisted underground dance music. I’m primarily sharing music in and around the scenes in Boston Ma and Charleston Sc. I render at around -14 LUFs for playing out and sharing music that’s still in WIP, though I’m finding that some mixers gain knobs have trouble accommodating the wild differences in volume between these tracks and commercial releases.

Thanks for your feedback

I’ve done most of the mastering for the netlabel since IDMF 048, and my target has varied over time as I hone in on what sounds best across most platforms. To me, a master should be a master for all platforms (or as many as possible when you get into doing stuff like vinyl). That’s not laziness speaking either, to me, the job of a master is to make the song sound good on as wide a variety of playback systems as possible, and if you’re doing a good master you shouldn’t feel the need to eek out an extra .5db because platform X happens to allow it - the song should already be where you want it without that. I concede that there’s a competitive element to loudness, and I have experimented with going louder than I’ll talk about in a second, but I have only once been happy with the results, and was not once they were loudness equalized. In the end, bear in mind that I would rather see my tracks turned up by a listener than down.

So with all that said, -14 LUFS is a pretty good target for a final master. That’s what Spotify aims for normally. It’s a bit louder than what most other services ask for, so it will be turned down by them a bit. And you really don’t have to give up too much dynamic range to get there in most music (bearing in mind that my focus is our IDM and my own deep house). Now, there is a case for being slightly louder than that, because the way streaming services turn your track down isn’t destructive, but the way they turn it up CAN change the way your music sounds (they basically apply a brickwall limiter, a clean one, but still). So, off the top of my head, I think the last few albums were -12 to -13 LUFS. At my loudest, I’ve done -11 LUFS as the target for an album, but looking back I’m not happy with how that one sounds, so that seems to be a bit loud for what I work on. You can absolutely make that case that -11 LUFS should be your target though, as that is decently loud, it will definitely be turned down, not up, by all services that normalize. Plus, -11 is the target loudness for Spotify if and only if the listener, in the app, goes to settings and enables loud mode. I don’t have usage statistics for that feature, but I bet it’s on the order of .1%.

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And if you’re mastering yourself, I recommend YouLean.

If you try the free version, you’ll probably get an email soon enough with a reduced price for the “Pro” version. I got the Pro for, $15-$20, can’t remember exactly. The cool thing with this plugin (and especially the Pro version) is that you have streaming platform presets, which gives a good idea where to start.

Note that I also use Ozone to learn/get better at mastering, I find YouLean to be a nice little plugin; the “export your song measurements as pdf” is especially neat.

I happen to use both ozone 9 and youlean!

Some of the ozone features are really perplexing to me. The master assistant is probably the strangest part of ozone 9. It just sort of arbitrarily picks a sound it’s trying to achieve without a “discussion with the client” and slaps a bunch of shit on the chain. I’ve read plenty of techniques from mastering engineers who deal with house music and part of those discussions is always “what’s the source”, “where is it going”, “what’s the final sound supposed to be”. I guess ozone just knows better. All hail the machines.

Some of the presets I’ve found to be a good jumping off point and in some cases I recognize what the chain is trying to achieve. Say a two compressor set up with dynamic eq and a maximizer. I can understand how to tweak that.

I can definitely see how engineers are split on izotope. On one hand the tools are really good. On the other hand they’re probably responsible for a subtle degradation of music on streaming platforms. Any Joe Shmoe slaps on a the Greg calbi presets, hears loud, fools some portion of the masses. Im deathly afraid of being that shmoe.

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Any Joe Shmoe slaps on a the Greg calbi presets, hears loud, fools some portion of the masses. Im deathly afraid of being that shmoe.

That’s the thing - you want professional sounding music? Hire a Mastering Engineer.

That’s really as simple as that (and not all that expensive).

As I was finishing my album, I worked with Ozone & YouLean to get a sense of how I could get it to sound. Then I hired a ME to do the real mastering (yes I removed all compression/limiting from the master track on each song before that), but the ME asked me to send them my “Ozoned” versions as well, so they could get an idea what I was aiming for.

When I got the pro masters back, the difference between “not bad!” (my masters) and “wow” (the pro stuff) was painfully evident. And not just in terms of loudness but in terms of, well, everything.

So all in all, while Ozone is a good tool to learn and get an overall idea, thinking that you can make a professional-sounding record by yourself with barely any experience will only fool people that have no clue about music. As long as you’re cool with that, fine. But people who want to be considered pro musicians and do everything themselves are only fooling themselves, really.

PS: in case you’re interested, I’ll link my album in this forum’s “Member Releases”… as soon as I am allowed to. Not sure how it works, I’ve posted easily more than 30 times by now but the thread is still locked.

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Also: I think the master assistant is terrible. Some of the worst results I got were when I started with it.

I am very interested to hear your music. I’ll definitely check that out when it’s posted. Pm when it goes up.

I’ve always been really curious what the result would be if I hired an engineer to do my music professionally. The only thing holding me back is that a good portion my music exists in a sort of fluid state. It’s set up to be sudo performed using ableton. The result is that I’m always changing small things and the idea of settling on a take seems like it would be really difficult. I think I’m saying I have commitment issues. I should do it just for a reality check. I might realize the benefits of a professional master far out weigh an imperceptible knob twist.

I too use youlean as my output monitoring, and I do a good portion of my workflow in Ozone. I’ve detailed that elsewhere.

I think the only thing that’s changed since then is that I realized I was doing a lot of compensating for IIRC IV, so I moved to using Newfangled Elevate instead, which is a multiband limiter that I have a lot more control over the response/tonality of.

I actually read through this before I posted. Really great insight to your process.

For the segment on high passing at 40-45. Do you do this right across the board on every track. I can definitely notice a difference in sound with some of my music. I’ve seen that deadmau5 & Duda video. Not my favorite producers but I respect the final product. I feel like he is definitely aiming for AirPod users over club setups these days so that decision makes sense.

Also, I currently use eq8 for my high passing duties. It could be that my monitoring just isn’t as clear as it would be if I had a more expensive set up but basically the only time I hear odd phasing when cutting my low frequencies is if I use an envelope follower on eq8 to replace a side chain comp. In fact it’s so noticeable I just don’t do it anymore. How significant do you figure this effect can be?

As for tape emulation I still run ferric tds using j bridge ( i know… I’m a dinosaur) on my drum bus which doesn’t include claps or kick drums. It basically to my ears just reduces some of the sharp sounds. I should look into your plugin. Do you think applying this effect on the master could tie things together better? Sometimes all these subtle changes are so difficult to hear I feel like I do these things from habit.

Finally, I can’t stand the sound iirc4. It comes off as so harsh to my ears. I prefer iirc1 if I’m using izotope. Actually I really liked pro l 2 but can’t justify spending more money on limiters when it’s half the price of a new monosynth.

I don’t always do the hi-passing, though for the release that was written about, being a house release, it did help tighten the bottom end. With ambient or something, I could see less of a need for it.

The phase issues, it depends a little bit on your setup and how well it can reach down there. I’m actually testing the new Audeze LCD-1 right now on a “testing tour”, and I used them to do a re-master of RFJ’s track from the house album head to head against my Hifiman HE-400i last night (both planar-magnetic headphones in the $300-$500 range, both brands renowned for excellent bass response). And man, they were SO DIFFERENT down there. With my hifimans, the phase matters so much, and if it’s out even a little they get downright nauseous. The Audeze on the other hand, were much more precise in the frequency domain. Normally, when I set my 40-45 hz hipass, I kind of feel when it’s in the right spot, but the Audeze let me hear it clear as day. But phasing? IDK, something about them makes the soundstage super narrow, almost mono, so there’s no nausea telling me if the phase is off. All that said, listening back to both masters when I was done, on either set of headphones, I couldn’t really hear a difference in how they turned out. I’ll be trying another track tonight.

And that’s just two similar headphones, add speakers with varying technologies and a room into the mix and I wouldn’t know where to begin.

But I can say, that the phase issues do become much more prevalent when you have movement in the frequency range you introduce phase incoherence into. For instance, say you have a nonlinear phase filter interfering above the fundamental of your kick at 60-ish hz. As I mentioned in the other post, almost all electronic kicks are built on rapidly descending pitched oscilators of some sort. So every time the osc sweeps through that phase distortion, it’s going to cause you problems. On my system that amounts to a slight delay in the bottom end between the two channels and the kick suddenly, for just a split second, drops the mids and slams me with sides. Not fun times, it feels weird. Same thing if you’re moving the filter around, I find that I’ve had much better luck automating linear phase EQs than nonlinear ones (of course, dynamic eqs have some thought put into this, so it’s not as much of a problem with them).

As for tape saturation on the master, if you were sitting in my studio and watching me work, it’s the first place in my workflow you’d perk up and go “that just changed things”. It’s honestly a huge part of my sound. I can’t say it would be the same for you, but the way I use tape sims is to help gel everything together a bit, but also (and much more so) as a subtle drive and EQ that somehow makes a mix just jump out of the speakers more.

Thanks, will do!

About this:

Is there any electronic musician who is 100% satisfied with their finished song(s)? Frankly, I doubt it.

Many agree that the hardest part is letting go - accepting that your song is not perfect, that you’ll probably want to change a few things next time you hear it or in a month or a year, etc. etc. We’ve all spent a couple days writing 99% of a song and then spent months (years? I’ve done that) before finalizing the last 1%.

It may have to do with personal insecurities (certainly has been the case for me) and/or the “curse” of having too many ways to tweak a song nowadays.

I mean, if your project/band is drums + guitar + bass + voice, there’s only so much tweaking you can do before finalizing a song. But if you play with synths/VST/electronics… you could spend your life on the same 5 songs and still be thinking about how you should maybe boost this synth’s low-mids or maybe tweak that one sound with a little more modulation… on your deathbed :laughing:

Way I see it, the imperfections are part of the charm. Listen to one of your favorite bands’ 1st album vs their last or one done 10 years later. Sometimes you may think “wow, that was very raw/bad/simple/poorly produced” when you compare to the same band with 10+ years of experience. But you may still prefer that first one because its flaws/lack of polish make it what it is.

Oh, the Humanity.

I absolutely love Satin by u-he. It definitely brings warmth and strangeness if you let it.

That be the one I use. I’ve had access to a few others and I haven’t heard anything that’s bad, but I just feel like Satin does it all and more. Plus that tape delay is actually pretty lush.

The only other one that has me curious is Acustica Taupe, but not curious enough to pay full price for it.

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And u-he in general is such a great company! Stating the obvious but Diva, Hive, Repro1… They all sound absolutely fantastic. And the effects - Presswerk, Colour Copy and Twangström are all top notch as well.