PreSonus Blog

Friday Tips: Easy Song Level Matching

As you’ve probably figured out, these tips document something I needed, and the solution. If you’ve ever put together an album or collection of songs, you know how difficult it can be to match levels—which I was reminded of all too clearly while preparing the album Joie de Vivre for upload to my YouTube channel. It’s rock-meets-EDM, and is done as a continuous mix that includes not just songs, but transitions. So, all the levels had to be matched very carefully. Fortunately, Studio One’s Project Page made it easy.

The key was using the Project Page’s LUFS meter readings; for a complete explanation of LUFS, please check out the article I wrote for inSync magazine. In a nutshell, it’s a way to measure audio’s perceived level that’s more sophisticated than the usual average, VU, or peak readings. If two songs have the same LUFS reading, they’ll be perceived as having a similar (if not the same) level.

This measurement standard was created in response to issues involved in broadcasting and streaming services, and also in part as a backlash against “the loudness wars.” For example, YouTube doesn’t want you to have to change the level every time a video changes, so they’ve standardized on making all audio -13 LUFS. It doesn’t matter if you squash your master recording until it looks like a sausage, YouTube will adjust the perceived level so that it can slip into a playlist with something like a live acoustic jazz recording.

In Studio One’s Project Page, the Loudness Information section for each song (Fig. 1) shows a song’s LUFS as well as readings for the RMS average level (somewhat like a VU meter) and True Peak, which indicates not just peaks, but whether any peaks are exceeding the maximum headroom on playback, and by how much. The Loudness Information can come from before or after the track’s effects, so to see how editing these alters the LUFS reading, choose the Post FX tab.

Fig. 1: The Tricomp/Limiter combination makes it easy to “fine-tune” the perceived loudness of your songs in the Project Page, as shown by the Loudness Information section (outlined in red).

 

Leveling the Levels

Now that we know how to measure levels, here’s one way to tweak them for consistency. We’ll assume you want something fairly compressed/limited, but not enough to become collateral damage in the loudness wars.

For each track (likely all of them) that needs to be set to a certain LUFS measurement, insert the Tricomp compressor followed by the Limiter. The screen shot shows my preferred Tricomp settings, but note that the optimum Compress knob setting depends on the material. You don’t want to compress too much, because the limiter will do most of the leveling anyway. If the gain reduction peaks reach the last “s” in “Compress” on the Limiter’s Reduction meter, you probably won’t hear too many artifacts, but you might not want to go any higher.

Next, decide what your target LUFS reading should be. As a very general rule of thumb, most rock songs are around -8 to -10 LUFS. -11 to -14 LUFS is considered as having a decent amount of dynamics, while classical music hangs out around -23 LUFS. Of course, this is all subjective—you can choose whatever level sounds “right.”

Now turn up the Limiter’s input control. The Loudness Information label will change to “Update Loudness.” Click on this; Studio One will analyze the track, and show the LUFS reading. (Note: You can force a reading by right-clicking on the song in the track column, and choosing “Detect Loudness.”)

Adjust the limiter Input level, then update the loudness. If the LUFS is below your target, turn up the Input. If the result is higher than the desired LUFS, turn down the Input. It takes a little trial and error, but eventually you’ll hit the target.

With the Tricomp and Limiter, once you get much above -13 LUFS you can “hear” the limiter because it’s stereo. With a phase-linear multiband maximizer like the Waves L3 Multimaximizer, you can push for higher LUFS readings while still sounding reasonably free of artifacts. Still, I wouldn’t want to go much above -10 LUFS—but as always, that’s a subjective call and there are no rules. If you like the way it sounds, that’s what matters.

However, be aware that even slight tweaks can make a difference, especially with the Tricomp. The Tricomp and the Limiter work together, and you can fine-tune the sound by fine-tuning each processor. For example, having Knee up all the way on the Tricomp gives more perceived loudness, and a narrower dynamic range…which may or may not be what you want. Turning on Autospeed also makes a difference.

When you listen to Joie de Vivre, I think you’ll hear that it benefited considerably by being adjusted in Studio One to a consistent LUFS reading. There’s a decent amount of dynamics, but the average perceived level of all the cuts is very consistent…and that’s what this tip all about.

 

  • Danielson

    Thanks so much !! Very clear article

  • Terry Miller

    Wow, over-the-top, super-valuable tip. I didn’t really understand this particular project page feature and how to utilize it for level-matching until you explained it so well. Thank you Craig!

  • Anderton
  • Danielson

    Hi I’m newbie… The article is very interesting…. I tried to apply it to a project track and I obtained like you some value in the field DC of the loudness information.
    So my question is…..what means DC in the loudness information ?
    I have got some DC value, sometime, only importing a single track and till now I solved the question introducing a HP filter cutting below 25 Hz with 48 slope.
    Other times nothing to do……
    Thanks a lot for your help

  • Very Helpful. I tried it and can hear the results. Thank you for a great tip!.

  • Anderton

    Yes, good point – there is a correlation between dB and LUFS, and often you’ll get the results you describe by correlating dB to LUFS. In my experience it doesn’t always work out exactly, but it does put you in the ballpark for sure.

  • Luke Nyman

    Nice confirmation of how I’ve just helped a friend level his album last week. I’m going to send it to him, to let it sink in.
    BTW, my way of hitting the required level you are aiming for is this; after setting up the Tricomp (and other plugins – he used EQ and sometimes even reverb), set the limiter input at 0dB, and click on the,”loudness informaton” area.
    This will give you the post FX LUFS. Now, all you need to do is a bit of maths by finding the difference between the LUFS shown and the LUFS you are aiming at. Now add this number to the input of the limiter.
    Hit, “Loudness Information” again (it should have turned orange again) and you will (should) get the perfect LUFS readout. It worked every time for us, and was so satisfying to see it land exactly on -14dB (our chosen level).

  • Anderton

    I suspect it would be possible, since that’s what YouTube seems to do. But, I’m adjusting the amount of maximizing to hit the LUFS reading, not the levels per se. So I suppose you would need to feed the algorithm a completely tweaked file, and then it would alter only level. Might be a good feature request.

  • Jeremiah Boothe

    While this is super awesome and helpful and I really enjoy using the Project page for album work, Why not just have a “match loudness” option where you pick the target lufs and it auto detects and adjusts all the masters? So like 2 clicks and all your songs are -11 or whatever?