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You might have noticed that in the last few years, the differences in level between television shows, commercials, and channels are pretty even, with no big jumps in volume. That’s because viewers were complaining for years about the fact that there was a dramatic increase in level whenever a commercial aired because it was so compressed compared to the program that you were watching. Congress set out to do something about this, and in 2012 adopted a method to normalize those volume jumps that the European Broadcast Union put into place the year before – Loudness Unit Full Scale or LUFS.
LUFS (called LKFS in Europe) is a way to measure the perceived loudness of a program by measuring both the transient peaks and the steady-state program level over time using an a specially created algorithm. It’s different from a normal meter in that it doesn’t represent signal level – it measures how loud we perceive an audio program to be. For a broadcaster this is actually pretty serious, since if a station violates the mandated LUFS level of -23, it could possibly lose its broadcast license.
Even though LUFS was intended primarily for broadcast audio delivery, it has a new increased meaning in music production as well, as you’ll see in the video below. Thanks to the fact that streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music are now normalizing the songs so the level is the same from tune to tune, there’s no real benefit for compressing a song to within an inch of its life any more. In fact, less volume and more dynamic range are actually your friend.
Using a LUFS meter allows you to optimize your music mixes for a variety of platforms to be sure that they’re always in the sweet spot for dynamic range.
Check out this video from MasteringTheMix that uses its LEVELS plugin to illustrate how this all works. Keep in mind that there are other LUFS meters on the market as well from TC Electronic, Waves or other developers.