At What Level Do You Mix and Master?

I’ve been working on mastering a song that I’ve recently mixed. For a reference mastered mix, I am using Disturbed (Ten Million Fists, circa 2006) and some of my older mastered songs. I noticed that Disturbed’s album is mastered to -6 LUFS integrated and peaks about +1.6…or =1.4…I forget now…:thinking: My older recordings were also mastered very LOUD because I was trying to keep up with the hard rock and metal bands of the modern age. I’m at similar levels as the Disturbed album that I mentioned. Between -5 and -8 LUFS integrated.

I really don’t want to limit the crap out of my music anymore. Those levels are ridiculous and it’s impossible to get a great sound out of the music when you’re pushing the levels so hard. I know that itunes, spotify, and youtube all have suggested ideal Limiting levels, because they will limit the music you post. Their suggested levels seem to run between -12 LUFS integrated and -16 LUFS integrated.

I’m thinking of mastering/limiting somewhere between -8 LUFS and -13 LUFS because I’m going to be releasing my music through my own website and I want my music to still have enough LOUDNESS to compete with Rock, Hard Rock, and Metal CD’s that have been released in this era. If I decide to put my songs on itunes, Spotify and youtube, I’ll make a master that is suitable to those respective sites.

What levels do you guys typically master your heavier music to?

AND…Do you set your Mastering limiter to peak at zero, -0.1, -0.2, -0.3 ??? I noticed that Disturbed’s album slams to 0.3 in Reaper.

I haven’t tried to master anything lately, but decided to shoot for -10 to -12 LUFS maximum for heavy stuff, and only if that didn’t hurt the sound.

What I took away from the Pleasurize Music movement some years ago is - you’re either a leader or a follower. :slightly_smiling_face: You either decide to stand up for what really works, or continue the Loudness Wars by insisting on engaging in the loudness pissing contest. Your choice.

I have used -0.3 for a long time. Some things I saw recently, talking about inter-sample peaks, suggested no higher than -0.5 or -1.0 (particularly if bouncing to a compressed format like MP3), but there are a range of opinions on this from what I can tell.

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At this point, I want to piss only as far as I can spray my music, while still maintaining the audio quality. :grin:

I think I might shoot for -10 LUFS , as long as it doesn’t smear the audio too much for my taste.

It sounds beautiful when you see it written down like that but let’s be honest, the pissing contest is unfortunately still alive,well and thriving, and a little hard to escape when the majority of your peers are all still smashing their tracks as hard as humanly possible.
Why wouldn’t you mix down to non destructive levels, it seems like a no-brainer? And yet you just can’t help getting suckered into the bullshit sometimes, welp.

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There was a lively discussion about this a few years ago. With clients it’s one situation, and you can agree to whatever they want since it’s their music (but your name’s on it too …) and they’re paying you for your services. When it’s your own stuff, you can’t shift the blame onto somebody else. You will stand on your own. The blue pill, or the red pill. :pill: Your choice.

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-10LUFS seems to work pretty well for rock stuff. Sometimes I push it to -9 depending on the material. It feels easy hitting those levels after the insanity of the mid 2000’s.


I master most rock and pop at -10 to -12 LUFS currently. That may become lower over time as the loudness war retreats over the horizon.

I master to 0db with a peak limiter set to deliver zero reconstructed peaks. The problem with mastering to an arbitrary figure below 0db is that it is doesn’t guarantee an absence of inter sample peaks, and since that is the one and only reason for doing it, the practice seems pointless to me.

One major area that is not loudness normalised is CD players, especially car CDs. Contrary to popular belief and marketing hype, CDs still have about 50% of the global market, and while that situation continues, consideration has to be given to that fact in terms of mastering loudness, if the intention is for the master to go to CD.

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I don’t know what I am doing. When i export a track, it usually says “this track is 6 db over in places, do you still want to export”? I say yes. I just leave the peaks have a little fun. ha ha


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In the mix, I don’t really mind too much as long as it’s not clipping. I just mix the track to be as dynamic or compressed as I think sounds right for the song for artistic reasons.

In mastering, if someone else is doing it (which I prefer by a long way) I won’t even think about it beyond telling them not to go crazy on the volume. If I’m mastering it myself, the loudest, loudest parts will be somewhere around -9lufs short term, which tends to give an average long term reading of -12 or so. It’s just about not crushing the loud parts, really, and if that makes the quiet parts too quiet they can be brought up a little through whatever method feels best (automating volume up, or compression)

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Yeah, I’m not sure if there’s any real solid reason for mastering to a peak lower than 0 dbs. I guess it won’t hurt the perceived volume too much, as long as the peak level isn’t set too low.

I’m wondering what hard rock bands and metal bands typically set their peak level to, when mastering for CD’s. Have you noticed any particular industry standard?

I just checked out a Nickelback CD (circa 2004, roughly), and the limiter is peaking above zero dbs. Not sure if that’s typical or it’s an anomaly.

Maybe you have natural mastering instinct. You were born with THE gift. :grinning:

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We are only just coming out of the loudness wars, there is no industry standard as such. Historically the standard has been “make it LOUDER!”.

Not sure what you mean, why would you have a limiter on a CD? Can’t you rip the CD to Wavs and measure their LUFS?

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I’ve been importing songs from different CD’s into Reaper, so that I could see what levels and peaks commercial CD’s are typically mastered at. My initial intent was to measure the LUFS, but then I started noticing the differences at which the peak limiter was set. Looks like anything from 0db to -0.3 is commonly used for commercial CD’s. When I tested the Nickelback CD, the meter would go above zero, into the red, often. Did their mastering engineer set their limiter to peak above 0dbs, or is Reaper’s metering not accurate?

I don’t know Reaper, so I’m not sure what you mean by the peak limiter setting. However, it is not possible to go over 0db in a digital recording.

If you want to analyse commercial recordings - always a good idea IMO - you can rip the files to wavs and analyse them using Orban’s standalone loudness meter. It can analyse a complete recording in seconds and give you the integrated LUFS, as well as the number of reconstructed peaks.

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Ok, so these are all intelligent questions and answers. Here is a stupid question. So in studio one there is a mastering section that I have tried messing with. There is a bar that shows the db’s. I see my track going in the red way over the 0 db mark. Some of the choices to use are 0 db, 3 db,-6db. I select one and I see the track now never goes beyond that mark. There also is a limiter. My problem is that after I use one, I can’t hear any improvement at all. In fact, to me it sounds worse. Just wanted to say I have that capability. haha

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I don’t know if this is as sophisticated as the Orban one, but a FREE option for checking the loudness of a .WAV is Melda’s MLoudnessAnalayzer. It has a “Batch” option where you can just drop a file (or pick one) and it will analyze the loudness and tell how many dB’s +/- are required to achieve your “Target” loudness. I use it pretty much every time I think I’m “done” to see what level my mix is at.

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The Orban loudness meter is free too.

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Oops! I Googled it because I was unfamiliar with it and came up with like a $400 or something series of plugins. My bad.

Thanks AJ!
I’ll give that loudness meter a try.

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