Loudness in Production Music – What You Need To Know

‘The Loudness War’ is a hot topic in production music circles. For those who aren’t familiar, loudness involves the way that music is compressed and limited at the mixing and mastering stages. This allows the music to sound LOUD!

Apart from being weary of giving the listener ear fatigue, regulatory standards (such as R128) impact the way loudness relates to music production. New measuring metrics, including LUFS, compete with older RMS measurements. All of these factors make loudness a potential minefield for anyone looking to produce professional, high-quality audio.

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The whole premise of ‘loudness’ in music comes down to the way the ear perceives the quiet and not so quiet passages within a piece.

The history of LOUD

The idea of making your music sound loud is nothing new. Making sure that your album out enough volume was essential back when records competed with each other on jukeboxes in bars. The actual mechanics of mastering records required various tricks to make things sound louder and more bassy. Meanwhile, physical limitations of making sure the stylus stayed in the groove meant that loudness could only go so far.

These limitations no longer applied after the introduction of CDs and DAT in the 80s. Mastering engineers realized that boundaries could be pushed to make releases sound louder than ever before.

Mix and master

Essentially, loudness comes down to the way the ear differentiates between loud and quiet passages. (Dynamic range is the difference between loud and soft.) A listener percieves an overall boost in volume by squashing peaks and boosting quieter sections.

Compression and limiting tools in mixing and mastering often achieve this effect. However, dynamics can be lost (essentially the difference in volume peak levels), and an ear-fatiguing, ‘brick-walling’ is the end result.

Loudness and Production Music

It is important for production music to stand out from the crowd. Yet, making it too loud can mean end-users suffer in the long run. Most broadcast platforms, including online services like Youtube, apply their own normalization processes. This makes sure everything sounds similar in terms of volume. So, highly compressed pieces of music end up sounding thinner and less effective than those that maintain dynamic range. This is especially true when extra layers of modifications are used.

Moderation and balance are key when it comes to deciding how loud to make production music tracks. Composers and producers should learn this lesson if in order to stand up against the competition.

Expanding Your Production Music Library

Ideas for composers for increasing the number of clips in their music library.

Would you like to have or need more clips of your production music along with a wider range of time lengths and potential applications for your music? Here are some relatively simple and good ideas.

One thing you can do is to use pieces of music that you already have as completed works. Let’s say, for instance, that you have a five minute film score with a spacey ambient string section intro, a main full instrumental chord progression, a catchy melody theme, an energetic driving drum break, and a calm serene melodic interlude. It is not very difficult to have all these related individual sections edited into separate stand alone music clips. If you were to take for example the percussion break, this can easily be edited and turned into two individual clips, one as a percussion phrase with a distinct resolute ending and the other one as a loop.

Production Music EditingAlways remember you must be sure to check that the loop loops seamlessly before making it available for lease. All too often what sounds great in your audio editing software will have noticeable seams when actually looped. These loops can have noticeable clicks, timing errors, artifacts, or dynamic inconsistencies. It is always a good idea to make sure and check the rendered file before making it available for licensing! The same technique holds true for the chord progressions, ambient interludes, and melodies.

Two more benefits of this are:
1) the producer who is licensing your music can now have more options for time lengths and choices for dynamics of the original piece to use in their related project, and

2) you will have many more clips for a wider range of applications even if they are not related to the same end production.

Another way to have more clips can be by using different dynamics for the same passage. For example, one version can have only chord changes, another will have the melody line, and another without any percussion.

And yet another way is to make different time lengths of the same piece. One easy way to do this with MIDI produced tracks is by increasing or decreasing the tempo. For instance, a sixty second track at 60 beats per minute will become a thirty second track at 120 beats per minute. Yes, it will speed up the tempo but it does work for some things like ambient and certain kinds of melodic ambient and can have some interesting results. Of course there is always “copy and paste” too.

Well, I hope these suggestions will help a bit because they have worked for me!

Zoid Proteus “Interstellar Music”

Production Music and Content ID: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

With production music venturing more and more into the online space, content ID and musical fingerprinting programs are becoming evermore necessary, evermore prevalent and evermore obtrusive. Fingerprinting and content recognition is vital for combating piracy, but at the same time creates headaches in a crowded and quickly-changing creative field of royalty free music production.

audio fingerprinting
The Good
Content Identification is great for maintaining order in an industry that sees more piracy every day. With the increasing availability of high-end but low-cost audio software, more and more people are expressing their creativity with music more than ever. While accessibility drives innovation in the arts, technological progress oftentimes comes at the expense of time-honored copyright laws. For content owners and the artists who create, content ID programs offer a way to monitor and be properly compensated for your work. Content Identification systems can recognize your music in a video, on a website, or in an app, thereby giving you the opportunity to exercise your right as first exploitation. No matter your distribution and compensation strategy, all artists benefit from knowing who is using their music, and where their music is playing.

The Bad
On Youtube especially, Content ID is soulless. The systems in place do not recognize people, and cannot infer circumstances, nor does the system attempt to try. Some may argue that this is by design — an attempt to leave authoritative control in the hands of the copyright owner. However, without fully grasping common licensing practices, especially in the stock media and production music industries, these content scans are an all-powerful guilty-until-proven-innocent judge and jury. Customers of stock music sites often find themselves harrassed by the YouTube Content ID system for using music that they have properly licensed, oftentimes with threats of closing down the user’s channel. So much for doing things the right way, and ignoring pleas from the licensor, no matter how much authority was granted to them by the original copyright holder, requiring full licenses from the original owner in order to fully satisfy its documentation needs.

Additionally, content identification systems don’t have real ears. While fingerprinting and sonic imaging have come a long way in recent years, true content matching can only be done by a human being — especially when it comes to production music. Think about it: every composer out there is using the same sample libraries as the next guy. OF COURSE THEY ALL MATCH SOMETHING ELSE, it’s because the instruments are identical. Only a human can make the distinction between a fair use of a lick or sample kit, a common harmonic progression, or a loop pack.

youtube content idThe Ugly
The YouTube Content ID system contractually requires the content owners who provide the data to be exclusive rights holders. Yes, exclusive. Read the terms. All of those Ad Rev and Ad Share companies out there? Yeah, they’re all claiming that they own your (the composer) work. Worse, they’re collecting ad revenue on your behalf and chances are, unless you’ve signed a contract with these companies, you’re not seeing a dime. We know of a bunch of music libraries who made deals to provide huge databases of music tracks to these companies without telling you, and without paying you. What winds up happening because of this, in addition to someone else making money off of your hard work who is not you, is that tracks are getting improperly attributed. Confusion abounds as to who really owns what — and usually, to satisfy the DMCA, service providers are forced by the law to turn a blind eye. Some protection.

How Productiontrax Uses Content ID
Productiontrax.com does not submit song data to Content ID programs. We do, however, scan our library against the content identification databases to identify songs, and we match this data to the data provided by our users. Why? We do this for two reasons:

1) To make sure that our clients are properly licensed when they purchase music on Productiontrax.com. Scanning, fingerprinting, and identifying songs uploaded help us to keep the promises we make in the end user license, representing and warranting that we have properly and adequately obtained rights to license all of the work posted to our site. This protects our customers, protects us, and helps protect you.

2) To protect composers. Through content identification, we can spot fraud, illegal uses, and stolen music — not from us, but from you. We can also spot errors in the content identification database, where your music is being attributed to another musician, composer, or fraudster, when in fact, it belongs to you.

Ultimately, Content ID, when used and maintained properly is an excellent tool, and should be used by copyright owners. But for your sake, do it without the middleman.

Recording Public Domain Songs for Production

Classical music and other public domain songs make for excellent source material for production music. But utilizing these compositions and then legally licensing your recordings can get tricky. With a little forethought, research, and knowledge of copyright rules, you can avoid inadvertently infringing on another composer’s copyright. Give your tracks a copyright tune-up. Here are some things to consider:

copyright1) Research the song. First and foremost, you need to know exactly when the song was written and published. Take careful note of this, as copyright terms expire after a specific time, as determined by where the music might be used. In the United States, works published prior to 1923 are currently public domain. For example, the common song Happy Birthday was written and published after 1923, meaning that song, as common as it is, is still under copyright and cannot be used. There are some caveats, however. So…

2) Research your composer. Know some basics about your composer. Is he still alive? This is important as copyright status depends largely on the composer’s date of death. Find out when the composer died. If he or she is still living, chances are you cannot license any of their music. In the United States, for all works published after 1922, if the composer is no longer living, the copyright expires 95 years from the date the song was written and published. That means that any work published in 1923 will enter the public domain in 2019.

3) If there are lyrics, the lyrics must also be in the public domain. This makes operas, arias, and classical songs a royal pain. You cannot reproduce a song with its lyrics unless the lyrics are also in the public domain, as the lyricist still has rights in the piece. Research this carefully if you are considering producing a recording of any popular operas. Puccini operas are a prime example of this — depending on the lyricist, some operas are now public domain, and some are not.

4) Never, EVER, sell or license a recording you did not make. Period. Don’t do it. Because of the complexities of copyright law, absolutely NO SOUND RECORDINGS are currently in the public domain. Sound recordings have their own copyright, so all recordings must be licensed from the producers or owners of the recording, i.e. the record label that produced them.

Considering producing a classical work for your next round of library music tracks? Be sure to carefully research every aspect of a song before you dive in. This will save you huge headaches, legal trouble, and lots of time.