How To Master EDM For Spotify | 5 Pro Tips From An Industry Veteran

How To Master EDM For Spotify: 5 Tips From A Mastering Engineer

Mastering EDM for streaming services like Spotify, SoundCloud, or Apple Music can be confusing due to the mass amount of contradictory information online.

If you’ve ever googled “Should I master my music to -14 LUFS” or asked a similar question online, then you’ve probably seen answers from both sides.

That’s why we asked our friend Aaron Roman, a veteran mastering engineer and owner of APR Studio, to clear up some of the finer points of mastering music for these streaming services – Spotify in particular.

Enter Aaron…

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Meet Veteran Mastering Engineer Aaron Roman

Aaron Roman Mastering EDM Music For Spotify

Hi, my name is Aaron Roman, I’m an SAE graduate engineer with 14 years of experience specializing in mixing and mastering Electronic Dance Music and Bass Music.

Music that has left my studio has been released on imprints such as Trap Nation, Lowly, UKF, Deadbeats, Spinnin Recs, Sabel Valey, Dim Mak, and many more.

Today, I’ll be answering questions regarding mastering electronic music for Spotify including questions about loudness penalties, submitting multiple masters for the same song, and whether or not you should master your music to -14 LUFS.

Should I Submit All Masters To Distribution At -14 LUFS?

Should I Submit Music To Distrokid Or Other Distribution Sites At -14 LUFS?

Before getting deep into this post, one thing needs to be considered first.

This discussion is about electronic dance music: music that is made on a computer, for the most part, expected to be played in a club or festival and featured on Spotify playlists alongside top-tier producers.

So when I mention -14 LUFS, it is only an example target. Some of my masters go well into the -3’s depending on the genre.

I only use -14 LUFS as an example because that’s what’s commonly spoken about.

The misconception is that people think if your master goes over -14 LUFS and you submit the song to distribution, as soon as someone plays it on Spotify, you’ll instantly cause WW5!

The simple truth is that streaming services change their targets and units of measure all the time.

And, not all streaming services normalize to the same level.

"All these services now use LUFS, and they’re all normalizing to -14 LUFS, apart from Apple, who are following the AES TD1008 guidelines and normalizing music to -16 LUFS."

So, if you’re wondering whether you should master to -14 LUFS or not… the short answer is no!

If you’re unsure what numbers to aim for, download 3 or 5 songs in the same genre then measure them using a free LUFS meter like Youlean Loudness Metre.

I always measure the drops as they are usually the loudest part of the song.

Take the short-term reading of all the references then try to push your song to match that same target.

Do I Need To Worry About A "Loudness Penalty"?

Do I Need To Worry About Loudness Penalty

Loudness Penalty is another misconception.

It’s a clever way to sell you their product in fear that if you go over their target you’ll end up being penalized.

It literally says on their website “We deliberately chose the name “Loudness Penalty” to be a little provocative”.

All this plugin does is show you when you upload a master to the streaming services, how many decibels the song will be adjusted by, that’s it!

Either my song will be turned up or down to suit their targets.

So don’t worry about hitting a predetermined target. 

Instead, focus on matching your loudness to the references and genre trends, for example, most modern dubstep/riddim is in the -2/3 LUFS range.

Will DJ's Have Problems Playing My Track If It's Not Mastered To -14 LUFS?

Will DJs have issues with my song if it's not mastered to -14 LUFS?

Another issue with mastering to -14 LUFS is when the song is distributed to all platforms it’s not considering those DJs who buy songs for their sets.

Say you buy a song from iTunes because you want it for your gig next week, guess what, it’s too quiet in comparison to the other songs in rekordbox, Traktor, or Serato.

Yes, you can re-gain the song up in your DAW or trim it live, yet we live in a world where most of us, myself included, have a short attention span, so having it now and ready is always your best bet, no double handling!

In a live scenario, trimming the gain on the DJM is risky because there are so many distractions while on stage and one error can cause a big energy shift.

Say you forget to turn the trim up or even worse…. Down!

Having a song at -14 LUFS is far too quiet for any trimming to be manageable in real-time.

Again, it’s all about what the genre calls for and matching your master to modern references.

Should I Make A Dynamic Version And A Loud Version?

Should I Make A Dynamic Version And A Loud Version Of My Song?

In my opinion, you should always master the song to sound as dynamic or not as you want, it’s all about taste, simple!

If you want it slammed, slam it!

But just be aware, because of IRSCs, you can only submit one master for distribution per song.

If you’re not familiar, an IRSC stands for International Standard Recording Code.

It’s basically a digital fingerprint for each song.

And it’s impossible to have two masters attached to one code (such as dynamic or loud versions).

Until there is a way to have a dynamic version and loud version both attached to the one ISRC code, I always recommend making the song as loud (compressed) as you want and distributing that out once, with one master to rule them all!

Make the song as loud as you want, because different genres have trends and aesthetics, and let the services turn up or down the song to fit their standards. 

The question you need to ask yourself is, would you upload two versions of the same song, one dynamic and one loud?

We live in a world where streaming numbers could potentially mean going on tour so I can’t imagine many up-and-coming producers uploading two versions and splitting the stream counts?

Do I Need To Worry About Normalization Artifacts When Mastering Music For Spotify?

Do I Need To Worry About Normalization Artifacts When MAstering Music For Spotify?

Normalization is the process of turning up or down a piece of audio.

Streaming services normalize tracks to suit their playback targets and the theory is, that if your song is mastered too loud, there could potentially be added distortion from the normalization process. 

However, in my experience, masters that have left my studio have gone well into the red and these releases have been on labels such as Trap Nation, Lowly, UKF, Deadbeats, Spinnin Recs, Sabel Valey, and Dim Mak and they sound absolutely fine on all services.

For example, here’s a playlist that contains some of my client releases:

If you listen to those songs, you’ll hear that I work mainly with loud, high-energy, compressed, and distorted music.

So the biggest thing to consider here is, what difference would a bit more distortion make?

If I was mastering fully acoustic delicate piano music then yeah, I’d be careful but it’s all about the context of the music.

If you still don’t believe any of this, buy a song online from your favorite artist, preferably modern music.

And don’t just rip it from youtube!

Buy either the full WAV or high-quality MP3 version and drop it into your daw analyze their waveform, and use a LUFS meter to see what goes on, you’ll be surprised!

Some songs will easily go into the red and have true peaks over 0dB.

Wrapping Up

Mastering can be confusing because of all the information – and misinformation – out there.

However, when in doubt, the best thing you can do is reference your music against the professionals.

If you’re unsure what direction to take, download 3 songs in the same genre you’re producing and try to fit your song somewhere in between.

If you have any questions or want me to handle your mastering for you, feel free to send me a message through the contact form at APR Studio.

With all that being said, make the song as loud as you want and submit that one master to rule them all!

Picture of Aaron Roman

Aaron Roman

Aaron is an Australian SAE graduate engineer specializing in Electronic Dance Music. He's mastered songs released on Trap Nation, Lowly, UKF, Deadbeats, Spinnin Recs, Sabel Valey, Dim Mak, and many more

Picture of Aaron Roman

Aaron Roman

Aaron is an Australian SAE graduate engineer specializing in Electronic Dance Music. He's mastered songs released on Trap Nation, Lowly, UKF, Deadbeats, Spinnin Recs, Sabel Valey, Dim Mak, and many more

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