Everyone wants their music to sound great on Spotify or Pandora, but making a master requires a little more forethought than just getting a loud master. In that spirit, here’s an excerpt from the latest Mastering Engineer’s Handbook 3rd edition that provides 3 tips for a better sounding online music.
1. Turn it down a bit. A song that’s flat-lined at -0.1 dBFS isn’t going to encode as well as a song with some headroom. In iTunes for instance, the AAC encoder sometimes outputs a tad hotter than the source, so there’s some inter-sample overloads that happen at that level that aren’t detected on a typical peak meter, since all DACs respond differently to it. As a result, a level that doesn’t trigger an over on your DAW’s DAC may actually be an over on another playback unit. This is the same for most encoders.
If you back it down to -0.5 or even -1 dB, the encode will sound a lot better and your listener probably won’t be able to tell much of a difference in level anyway.
2. Don’t squash the master too hard. Masters with some dynamic range encode better. Masters that are squeezed to within an inch of their life don’t; it’s as simple as that. Listeners like it better too. And then there’s the fact that on many services (like Apple Music), normalization occurs so all songs play at the same level. Songs with too much compression sound a lot worse than when there’s just a modest amount.
3. Sometimes rolling off a little of the extreme top end (16kHz and above) can help the encode as well. When any type of data compression is involved, it requires the same common-sense considerations. If you back off on the level, the mix buss compression and the high frequencies, you’ll be surprised just how good your online music can sound.
To read additional excerpts from The Mastering Engineer’s Handbook 3rd edition and my other books, go to the excerpts section of bobbyowsinski.com.