Could we weaken the "Loudness War" this way?

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RobC
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Post 28 Mar 2022

You have your professional master, and there's the sadly common "Loudness War" master. There are attempts to control this trend that is getting out of hand, such as the -12 LU FS limit, but there's only so much it can do, and it still gets tricked.

In comparison, the professional master will sound quiet and weak, with a frequency response that lacks especially bass. That's because our hearing changes quite a bit at different volumes.
Not everyone is going to set the volume and may even skip your song, cause it appears to sound "worse".

All is not lost though, cause there might be a trick that may or may not work. Worth a thought!

What if you take your song file, and the one you compete against, listen to both with the (digital) loudness differences as they are, then equalize your music to match the frequency response of the loud one?

EDIT: OOPS! I forgot a major detail! You listen to your song while it's quieter and compensate its frequency response that way. So you don't exactly copy the loud one, cause then you'd just get to the same loudness.

Yes, that would result in a slight "consumer Hi-Fi loudness button" effect, but honestly, I always found myself using that - as a listener - cause boosting the bass and treble sounded enjoyable and needed less volume. As a result, the quieter, dynamic song might sound better even when (unfairly) compared to the louder one.
Of course, gotta watch to stay on that perceived loudness once set, and engineer the dynamics a little bit to fit the digital scale.

This would just be a bonus version - hell, you could publish/upload it as a separate "bass boosted" version, cause trust me, people do look for that, silly or not.

As for potential risks: the loudness war songs can't really do this trick to "fight back", cause they already are pushed to the limits. There's no room. Or they have to get quieter.

Thoughts?

RobC
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Post 28 Mar 2022

I'll add my original idea here.

You have a reference pink noise, that is about 80 dB SPL loud (or whatever volume you work with). You reduce its digital volume by how much the difference was between your song and the loud song.

Then you level your song to the now quieter pink noise, and "fix" your equalization/frequency response.

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Billy+
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Post 28 Mar 2022

Pink noise mixing has been a thing for quite some time

2014 SOS article:- I quite like the tonal balance method


RobC
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Post 28 Mar 2022

Billy+ wrote:
28 Mar 2022
Pink noise mixing has been a thing for quite some time

2014 SOS article:- I quite like the tonal balance method

In this case, pink noise is just a reference for loudness. You could use a white noise that you level to the 80 dB SPL pink noise, so you hear them equally loud. Then if you do an A/B comparison (example White noise / kick) and start leveling, you will get to the same level, whether you use pink noise, or white noise etc.

But my post was rather about applying your own equalization to compensate for the apparent weaker bass and other frequencies, when compared your own dynamic song to a heavily compressed, super loud song.

Here's a Dan Worrall video that partly talks about how things change when listening more quietly:


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selig
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Post 28 Mar 2022

Other colors work well too - I’ve seen mixes from white to red (with pink being in the middle), and recently read someone choosing halfway between pink and red (4.5 dB/Oct) as a better reference than pink.
I’ve built a noise generator that smoothly transitions between Pink and Red noise (with the middle position equalling 4.5 dB/Oct) for those interested in exploring other curves.
And I agree, adding bass and treble sounds better in many cases. As a kid I was lucky to have an older brother in audio. He saw I had maxed out the bass and treble knobs on the home stereo and took it as a teaching moment. HE had me turn both knobs all the way down and wait a minute. Then we listened and both agreed it didn’t sound that great. Then he had me move both knobs to the center position and listen again and we both agreed it sounded great. Then came the kicker - he asked me since it sounded great, why would I change it? I never touched the bass and treble knobs again.
Lesson: context is king.
As for the equal loudness curves, they are 100% level dependent. You can only compensate relative to the actual SPL at the moment, and the only way to know that is to measure it in real time. If you start going down the path of multiple mixes for each listening level, you still need to measure the current SPL. That said, mixes have been working fine for all listening levels since the beginning of mixing, so IMO there is no need for multiple mixes at different levels. If you want the bass boosted, you likely want it boosted for ALL audio, which is what the bass EQ knob is for.
What I would worry about is bass wars, where each new mix tries to boost more and more bass, making listening double difficult since you now have to ride the volume AND the bass control from song to song. Better IMO to have one ‘standard’ for all mixes, even knowing some will intentionally push those standards.
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jam-s
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Post 28 Mar 2022

Image ;)

EDIT: Also I think that the informed listener can adjust the frequency balance simply to the liking of themselves. So having a mix that sounds OK on most systems is just good enough. No need to over-think this to get the best possible mix, as "best" in this context is subjective anyway.
Last edited by jam-s on 28 Mar 2022, edited 2 times in total.
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TritoneAddiction
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Post 28 Mar 2022

I honestly don't care much how loud my mixes are. I used to care a little bit in the past, but not anymore. Other people can do what they want. And I'll do what I want. I do music for me.
I set the limiter level to where it sounds good to me. And that depends on the song. If a track is drum heavy I actually like when the limiter takes off a bit of the loudest peaks. But if my track is very soft and dynamic without drums I typically have very minimal and soft limiting.
But overall I don't go crazy with the limiter just to make it loud. Not worth it. There is a volume knob after all.

WarStar
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Post 28 Mar 2022

Isn't that the whole idea about mastering to a reference track though? I think if your were to reference the loudest part of your song to the loudest part of a reference track then you still maintain dynamic range with the quietest parts of your song.. popular "loudness war" mastering really comes down to how loud are the quieter parts.. nowadays the dynamic range is pretty minimal.. but then again what kind of genre are you creating? Plus with streaming platform protocols they all have Benchmarks to ensure volume leveling, as close as possible, with every song.

I feel like I'm missing what you're saying I guess..

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selig
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Post 28 Mar 2022

Hey Rob, maybe you should try mixing to grey noise, which is noise that is shaped to the equal loudness curve. :)
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FGL
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Post 29 Mar 2022

I hope for a one Button Automation for this Task. Way to much erffort goes in to balancing overall loudness. Also there should be a Automation to eliminate hurting highmiddle Frequenzes and sensless Bass and Hights. KI we need you.

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Chizmata
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Post 29 Mar 2022

why do "normal" people even still try to make this kind of music? you cant compete with the million-dollar-advertised mediocre-pop industry anyway, especially not in their own game. so just make music the way you want it and you may find people who appreciate it.

RobC
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Post 29 Mar 2022

selig wrote:
28 Mar 2022
Other colors work well too - I’ve seen mixes from white to red (with pink being in the middle), and recently read someone choosing halfway between pink and red (4.5 dB/Oct) as a better reference than pink.
I’ve built a noise generator that smoothly transitions between Pink and Red noise (with the middle position equalling 4.5 dB/Oct) for those interested in exploring other curves.
And I agree, adding bass and treble sounds better in many cases. As a kid I was lucky to have an older brother in audio. He saw I had maxed out the bass and treble knobs on the home stereo and took it as a teaching moment. HE had me turn both knobs all the way down and wait a minute. Then we listened and both agreed it didn’t sound that great. Then he had me move both knobs to the center position and listen again and we both agreed it sounded great. Then came the kicker - he asked me since it sounded great, why would I change it? I never touched the bass and treble knobs again.
Lesson: context is king.
As for the equal loudness curves, they are 100% level dependent. You can only compensate relative to the actual SPL at the moment, and the only way to know that is to measure it in real time. If you start going down the path of multiple mixes for each listening level, you still need to measure the current SPL. That said, mixes have been working fine for all listening levels since the beginning of mixing, so IMO there is no need for multiple mixes at different levels. If you want the bass boosted, you likely want it boosted for ALL audio, which is what the bass EQ knob is for.
What I would worry about is bass wars, where each new mix tries to boost more and more bass, making listening double difficult since you now have to ride the volume AND the bass control from song to song. Better IMO to have one ‘standard’ for all mixes, even knowing some will intentionally push those standards.
selig wrote:
28 Mar 2022
Hey Rob, maybe you should try mixing to grey noise, which is noise that is shaped to the equal loudness curve. :)
Regarding the first part, then a later comment, like I said, the reference doesn't matter in my case, cause it's just a loudness reference, not for example tone or EQ reference. I could for example take a kick and do an A/B listening/leveling with anything and get similar or the same results as with noises. I'd just go for any noise, because it's a static, neutral sound that I don't get annoyed with.

Back then, people probably didn't go crazy like today with the loudness war though. So I guess everything sounded pretty decent.
It's not like I mean to vandalize a good song, but the sad truth is that people swear by the bullshit of how much better a loudness war master sounds. Which is because louder sounds better. I just wish that the -12 LU FS limitation would be stricter and pull the leash on songs that deliberately start quietly, then start screaming with a 4x louder part - which lets them go above that limit on Youtube for example.
jam-s wrote:
28 Mar 2022
Image ;)

EDIT: Also I think that the informed listener can adjust the frequency balance simply to the liking of themselves. So having a mix that sounds OK on most systems is just good enough. No need to over-think this to get the best possible mix, as "best" in this context is subjective anyway.
I already explained how I use reference loudness, not reference tone, multiple times.

I meant situations where your music is, say 6 dB quieter than another, but that was already discussed, too.
TritoneAddiction wrote:
28 Mar 2022
I honestly don't care much how loud my mixes are. I used to care a little bit in the past, but not anymore. Other people can do what they want. And I'll do what I want. I do music for me.
I set the limiter level to where it sounds good to me. And that depends on the song. If a track is drum heavy I actually like when the limiter takes off a bit of the loudest peaks. But if my track is very soft and dynamic without drums I typically have very minimal and soft limiting.
But overall I don't go crazy with the limiter just to make it loud. Not worth it. There is a volume knob after all.
Same with me. Point is to make it sound as best as it can. I would tops do multi-band foldback distortion, until it starts getting audible. There might be some weird peaks that needlessly tire our eardrums.
I will go crazy momentarily with a limiter or distortion for one reason though: I listened to my old music that I found, and the crazy volume changes were very interesting. I would probably replicate whatever sounds cool. Sometimes, drums can create really cool breathing rhythms for example.
WarStar wrote:
28 Mar 2022
Isn't that the whole idea about mastering to a reference track though? I think if your were to reference the loudest part of your song to the loudest part of a reference track then you still maintain dynamic range with the quietest parts of your song.. popular "loudness war" mastering really comes down to how loud are the quieter parts.. nowadays the dynamic range is pretty minimal.. but then again what kind of genre are you creating? Plus with streaming platform protocols they all have Benchmarks to ensure volume leveling, as close as possible, with every song.

I feel like I'm missing what you're saying I guess..
Not exactly what I meant. That said, listening to a reference track isn't a must. The very first songs came from somewhere, too. : )
I think, the genre doesn't matter too much when it comes to dynamics, and modern trends of ruining them. But I'm mostly into dance genres.
Like I said, Youtube could easily be tricked. I once listened to a vlog, then the idiot put in a super loud dubstep song for a moment, and it went through.
FGL wrote:
29 Mar 2022
I hope for a one Button Automation for this Task. Way to much erffort goes in to balancing overall loudness. Also there should be a Automation to eliminate hurting highmiddle Frequenzes and sensless Bass and Hights. KI we need you.
Or "loudness war" masters should become illegal, because it damages people's hearing. Half kidding!
Chizmata wrote:
29 Mar 2022
why do "normal" people even still try to make this kind of music? you cant compete with the million-dollar-advertised mediocre-pop industry anyway, especially not in their own game. so just make music the way you want it and you may find people who appreciate it.
Luckily, I quit the loudness war ages ago. I want it to stop.

---

Thank you everyone again! We can always learn from any topic. And I think, it's also a good lesson to learn what not to do.

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Paralytik
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Post 07 May 2022

FGL wrote:
29 Mar 2022
I hope for a one Button Automation for this Task. Way to much erffort goes in to balancing overall loudness. Also there should be a Automation to eliminate hurting highmiddle Frequenzes and sensless Bass and Hights. KI we need you.
This is entirely genre specific imo.
On the automation part, iZotope has some crazy tech going nowadays, with EQ matching to reference and that.

Also, I want to add that making several different mixes is, of course, industry standard when it comes to working with commercial audio production, but you all probably know that already. Not really useful when it comes to music production for "music as an artform" or whatever.

RobC
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Post 05 Jun 2022

Paralytik wrote:
07 May 2022
Also, I want to add that making several different mixes is, of course, industry standard when it comes to working with commercial audio production, but you all probably know that already. Not really useful when it comes to music production for "music as an artform" or whatever.
Meaning stuff like for radio, an album, or the demands of different distribution platforms, etc?

My favorite thing would be if websites, such as youtube had and option for multiple audio mixes, because then we could add binaural, stereo and mono mixes, too.

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Paralytik
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Post 08 Jun 2022

RobC wrote:
05 Jun 2022
Meaning stuff like for radio, an album, or the demands of different distribution platforms, etc?
I was more thinking of mixes of commercials for Youtube, radio, cinema and TV here, but sure, those things too.

DJMaytag
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Location: Madison, WI

Post 08 Jun 2022

Timely topic:


First step: turn on SoundCheck on all your devices and Target your mixes to that level. LoudnessMeter by MeterPlugs is a really good tool to have.

RobC
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Joined: 10 Mar 2018

Post 09 Jun 2022

DJMaytag wrote:
08 Jun 2022
Timely topic:


First step: turn on SoundCheck on all your devices and Target your mixes to that level. LoudnessMeter by MeterPlugs is a really good tool to have.
Sadly, not even the Loudness Unit system is safe from the loudness war. Some deliberately take advantage of the fact that usually, the average loudness is measured. A nice long quiet intro, then the hyper compressed part kicks in - and just like that, the analyzer lets it slip through a lot louder than -12 LU average.

Unless this issue has been fixed meanwhile, it can do only so much.

That said, I will always have a clean version, which will be as loud or quiet as it wants to be. I will tops tame peaks that make no audible difference, and only puts needless pressure on our eardrums.

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moofi
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Post 25 Jun 2022

Then in that situation with your brother, did you aswell listen to the boosted version once again after coming from the dipped lowend?
selig wrote:
28 Mar 2022
[...]
I’ve built a noise generator that smoothly transitions between Pink and Red noise (with the middle position equalling 4.5 dB/Oct) for those interested in exploring other curves.
And I agree, adding bass and treble sounds better in many cases. As a kid I was lucky to have an older brother in audio. He saw I had maxed out the bass and treble knobs on the home stereo and took it as a teaching moment. HE had me turn both knobs all the way down and wait a minute. Then we listened and both agreed it didn’t sound that great. Then he had me move both knobs to the center position and listen again and we both agreed it sounded great. Then came the kicker - he asked me since it sounded great, why would I change it? I never touched the bass and treble knobs again.
Lesson: context is king.
[...]

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