Our lodestone as mastering engineers is the listening public hearing music as the artist intended.
That’s why we are surprised to be struggling to get our clients to take seriously an issue that has a dramatic impact on how their music is heard. Spotify is the market leading streaming platform with 87 million subscribers worldwide (as of September 2018). Spotify takes a position that, to our knowledge, has never before been taken by a distribution platform. They arbitrarily adjust the volume of music files on playback to “improve” their users listening experience. Below is a direct quote from www.spotify.com
“We want to ensure the best listening experience for users, so we apply Loudness Normalization to create a balance. It also levels the playing field between soft and loud masters. Louder tracks have often been cited as sounding better to listeners, so Loudness Normalization removes any unfair advantage”.
We are not anti-streaming or anti-Spotify, far from it. But everything about this policy undermines the lengths that artists and engineers go to create unique, impactful recordings. So what to do about it? To start, we should acknowledge that Spotify (with its current algorithms) is a completely different release medium than Apple Music or Tidal (which do not default normalization-on). Next, we should acknowledge that the current mixing/mastering approvals process is a holdover from CD mastering. Maximum level is expected, even demanded from both mix and mastering engineers. Paradoxically, on Spotify, the louder you get your music files, the lower and smaller they sound.
Over the long-term, Spotify will hopefully change their policy on default normalization, or at least provide emulator tools so that recording professionals can optimize for the platform. Until then we recommend creating an additional mix without maximization. We appreciate that people can be skeptical of the incremental cost and effort of optimizing music for each platform, but Spotify’s 36% market share insures that many more people are likely to be listening on Spotify than on CD.