Studio One offers multiple diagnostic tools. We covered the LUFS loudness measurement (based on the R128 loudness standard), in the context of creating consistent levels in a collection of songs. But what about that mysterious LRA reading to its right?
LRA stands for Loudness Range. A complex algorithm measures loudness, analyzes how it’s distributed throughout a song, determines a song’s dynamics properties, and represents that with a number. The lower the number, the less dynamics. (Note that this is not about dynamic range, but rather, musical dynamics.)
Dynamics don’t reflect recording quality. Some songs have lots of dynamics, some don’t. Dynamics may or may not relate to whether the music is compressed or limited—heavily compressed music can still have major loudness differences, whereas music with light compression may not have much dynamics at all.
An Artistic Measurement—Not So Much a Technical One
LRA is more interesting from an artistic standpoint than a technical one. There’s really no “typical” LRA reading for various genres, aside from broad generalities: Classical music is most dynamic, so you can expect LRA readings of 9 or more. Country or jazz will have less dynamics; a reading of 6 to 8 is typical. Rock and EDM often hit around 5 to 6, and hip-hop, 5 or less. But again, LRA readings vary all over the place within any specific genre, as well as within an album. On my most recent album, LRA readings varied from 4 for a slamming, full-tilt track up to 10 for a longer, more nuanced song.
My main use of LRA is checking out soundtracks intended to go behind narration or industrial videos, because excessive dynamics can distract from the messaging. If there’s a high LRA reading, I’ll tweak the level automation as needed to smooth out variations. (Of course, I’d hear any problem variations when assembling the video, but prepping a track beforehand saves time.)
Conversely, if I want some sections in a rock track to really pop in contrast to sections that are more sedate, the LRA reading will confirm whether that goal has been met. If not, I might want to re-consider making the parts that are supposed to be quiet quieter, and then supercharge the dramatic sections. This isn’t only about changing levels. For example, the part that’s supposed to hit harder might benefit from a screaming lead guitar overdub, and more drums.
Do Dynamics Really Matter?
People might assume EDM doesn’t have a lot of dynamics, because they think of four-on-the-floor kick drums. But while researching various pieces of music for this post, I found that my favorite EDM artists tended to make music with more dynamic range—often more than typical rock songs. Coincidence? I’m not sure. But it makes sense that if a DJ wants to take you on a journey over the course of a set, that would involve dynamic variations.
Dynamics are a part of music. If all your songs have LRA readings of 3 or 4, there may not be enough changes in dynamics to keep listeners engaged for more than a few songs…but maybe your intention is to create a hypnotic groove, in which case a low LRA reading could be totally appropriate.
Ultimately, LRA isn’t about rules, but about data. How you use that data is up to you, but I hope you now have a better understanding of what that data means.