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Do you need a separate master for streaming services such as YouTube and Spotify?

With so many different delivery formats and streaming services available for music today, it's important to be clear on where your mastered song is going to be delivered and how that medium will affect the audio: a master that is perfect for iTunes and CD will likely be completely inappropriate for Spotify, YouTube or vinyl.

So how many masters do you need?

Before we answer that, let's talk about what happens to your music when it is streamed.

In 2015 YouTube implemented a level correction algorithm that assists with keeping all audio at a consistent volume; their objective is to maintain the same volume for the listener no matter what they are listening to on YouTube. While this is generally a welcomed feature, it's important to understand what this means for you as an artist when it comes to uploading your music to YouTube. For example, if we were to upload to YouTube a regular full-level master that's suitable for CD or a standard iTunes release, its volume will be decreased significantly in order to meet YouTube's new target loudness level. So essentially there is no benefit to mastering loud for anything destined for YouTube as it will only be turned back down and in the process will sound flatter and weaker than if it was mastered to meet YouTube's required level.

This sort of auto-levelling algorithm isn't just an isolated case either, with many different variations of this loudness algorithm being used today in streaming services such as Spotify and Tidal.

How to make your music sound great on YouTube etc.

So how do we prepare the audio in such a way that it won't be turned down by these streaming services? We maximise the dynamic range and allow higher peak headroom so that the music sounds more lively and punchy, which in turn creates a competitive edge over traditionally less-dynamic masters.

This is easily proven: the attached image shows the waveforms for two masters of the same song we recently uploaded to YouTube - the first being a competitive master and the second a dynamic master optimised for YouTube - along with the audio we captured after playback from YouTube. Comparing our optimised YouTube master to the competitive master is a real eye- and ear-opener: the competitive master sounds squashed, distorted and weak while the song optimised for YouTube's levels are clearer, punchier and perceptively louder.

youtube test results watermark

Back to the question: how many different masters do we need?

Do we need a different master for each medium and service? In an ideal world, yes we do. But practically speaking two masters is close enough to the ideal; typically this would mean a traditionally competitive (less dynamic) master if you're releasing your music through iTunes or plan to do a physical release on CD, along with another more dynamic master for releasing to Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music and Tidal etc. We also offer mastering for vinyl and Apple Digital Masters which have their own set of specific requirements. We recommend that you discuss with us which formats and streaming services you'll primarily be releasing to in order for us to work out the best options for mastering your music.

With all the different formats and various requirements available these days it's easy to get confused and hard to keep up, but we've got you covered: we are constantly keeping up with the latest in developments so you don't have to. We'll get your music sounding amazing not only wherever it's played but whatever format or streaming service it's played on.