Mastering for Spotify® and Other Streaming Services Are You Listening S2 Ep423.07.2020
Mastering for Spotify® and Other Streaming Services | Are You Listening? | S2 Ep4 Hello, I'm Jonathan Wyner and welcome to another episode of Are you listening? Today I'm gonna to talk to you a little bit about streaming services, and thinking about mastering for streaming services. People like to talk a lot these days about mastering for streaming services, and you have to wonder why, what's different about mastering for a streaming service than mastering for anything else?
For vinyl, for CD, for, you know, any format that you can imagine, and what's different? So maybe I need to break this apart for a minute and say that there are two issues here. One is the lossy codec that streaming services use, and we have to think a little bit strategically about preparing masters that are going to get turned into lossy files.
By lossy I mean, mp3, or AAC, or Ogg Vorbis
Or anything where the goal is to reduce the bandwidth requirement, or the file size, so it's easy to share or easy to broadcast over the internet. The other issue has to do with level and whether or not the listener's going to play back the audio, peak normalized or loudness normalized. These two issues are kind of connected, but they're kind of not connected, and they really are very separate.
Quick bit of perspective that comes from thinking back about why we're even talking about this. In general, maybe over the last 50 years or so, since the early 1960s, people have owned music. In other words, they have owned a physical object or hosted a file on a hard drive that lives locally on their machine. The reason that that's different than a streaming service is that once you get the audio, it exists in whatever resolution and at whatever level you bought it at, right? So nobody's gonna go into your house and change the level or the resolution of your turntable, your needle might wear down, you might have to replace it at some point or get a new stylus for your turntable, but in general, you've got the audio, you own it, it lives in your house.
With streaming services, this is more like broadcast radio, right?
Where audio is uploaded to a service and then it's distributed, whether you're playing back at home through a laptop or a desktop machine, through a media player that's integrated into a home service, or through something that might feed your TV set or a sound bar, or you're listening on your phone, or your tablet. Each one of those streams might be slightly different, and each service might handle your audio slightly differently. If you're out in the wild listening on your phone, the streaming service might reduce the bandwidth, and you may hear a slightly modified version of the audio. In fact, if you have a really poor cell connection, in some cases, the service might even throttle the audio down to a mono playback of your audio. It's not as if we master something for every single different streaming service and every eventuality, that would be crazy. That would take too much time, and we can't anticipate what's going to happen in every instance. It does, however, lead us to have to think about our mastering so that in every playback paradigm, the audio doesn't completely fall apart.
So this is one of the reasons that we make sure we pay attention to mono compatibility for instance. Another thing that we think about is how do we set the levels in our audio so that when it goes out to the streaming service, it will sound as good as possible? Mastering engineers, well, we care about the fidelity and we are nerds, and we are trying to eke out that last little bit of audio goodness, right?
So let's take a look at some of the things, the adjustments that we can make when we're preparing audio for streaming services.