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LUFs are a unit of measurement used to quantify how loud the music is perceived. These measurements are done to ensure that the best quality of audio is delivered to the consumer. In this piece, we take a look at “The Loudness War”, understanding what “LUFs” are and going through the requirements that each platform has.

The Loudness War

Those reading this will definitely be able to relate when we talk about being sat in a studio, car, bedroom or wherever and all of a sudden one song is louder than the previous, resulting in you rushing to turn it down. Another example might be enjoying your favourite TV show before a cut to the adverts blasts you with audio trying to sell you tablets for the heartburn that you’ve just received from the shock of the volume rise. Producers and engineers always want their art to stand out and grab people’s attention, and having loud tracks is still a relevant and valid goal, however in recent years with the rise of digital streaming providers such as YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music and other formats which have audio such as Netflix, Disney+ and more, platforms have all landed on a similar loudness level. This means that whether you’re a band that releases dark heavy metal or a producer who releases chill LoFi hip-hop beats, the average level will be exactly the same.

What are LUFs?

All of this is measured using LUFS (Loudness Unit Full Scale), which can also be referred to as LKFS (even though they are exactly the same). In recent years has become the more commonly used metering technology of today, taking over from RMS (Root Mean Square). The reason for this change is that RMS measured the total signal from all frequencies to produce an average level, compared to LUFS which takes out all outlier signals for frequency and peak dB. This results in LUFS ignoring any instances where there is a sudden rise in volume such as a quick drum spike. The end results with LUFS producing a much more accurate measurement of the average level of the track. 

LUFS were primarily introduced to ensure that there was a standard for broadcasting and that the perceived volume of different TV shows and adverts were all the same. This act is called loudness normalisation and is featured in many of the previously mentioned streaming platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music and more. LUFS fell into place along with the CALM Act, the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation law. This law was put into action at the end of 2012 and ensured that there were limits on the volume of commercials as well as TV shows. It required broadcasters to ensure that everything was the same volume preventing consumers to reach for the volume control every 5 minutes.

Level Recommendations & Requirements

While there are recommendations from different platforms and requirements for certain formats, there is no absolute standard for the level of LUFs your music should be. If anything, just mix and master your music so it sounds great to you! However, there are some factors to keep in mind.

Consider where your music will be released!

If we use Spotify as our example, they stream their audio at -14 LUFS. If you upload a track that sits around -8 LUFS, Spotify will decrease the volume of that track to their standard of -14 LUFS. It works the other way round, where if a track had -23 LUFS, it would be increased to -14 LUFS. 

For tracks that sit higher than -14 LUFS and are then lowered, they lose volume meaning they aren’t as loud as other tracks for consumers. It also means that any compression or limiting done to the track is irreversible and the track may now be clipping in the process. The fact is, the track that’s been lowered will have lost a lot of energy and character due to it being ‘squashed’.

Aim for -1dBTP (decibels True Peak)

Another acronym thrown around when it comes to mixing and mastering, decibels True Peak are super important. True Peak levels display the absolute peak of an audio waveform as it will be heard. All platforms advise you to aim for -1dBTP as it leaves a good amount of headroom if they need to convert it to other formats. If you have a louder track, then they also advise -2dBTP of headroom in case the tracks clip during conversion.

Never be too quiet!

While Spotify will turn your music up or down depending on its level, not all other platforms do this. For example, Amazon Music will turn loud songs down but, at the time of writing this article, they do not turn quiet tracks up. 

Below, we’ve constructed a small table of the advised LUFS for each platform. All digital streaming platforms such as Spotify are shown in green, while broadcasting formats such as Netflix which contain videos are shown in red and have slightly different requirements.

We’ve also included links to different platforms where they state their guidelines or requirements on the levels of your audio. We highly advise you check them out and just get a basic understanding of what they are asking from your audio.

BBC UK Requirements

Netflix Requirements

Youlean is a fantastic company that specialises in mixing and mastering and have a fantastic free app for measuring the loudness of your music. If you follow this link, you can find a page full of loudness standards for all the different platforms and formats.

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With contribution from AFEM, AIM, PRS For Music, Mixcloud, DJ Monitor, Soundmouse, BMAT, Sentric, seeqnc, ACRCloud and PEX we recently published 'Music Recognition Technology -The hidden superpower behind the world's leading music companies'.

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