Loudness occurs in your brain. Loudness is all about perception.
The average level is one of the main elements that contributes to loudness as does timbre, and the frequency distribution across the spectrum.
A record that’s focused in the upper midrange is going to be louder by definition than a record that has a lot of low-frequency information if played at the same level.
Loudness needs contrast, a chorus being louder than a verse, for example. The dynamic contrast between sections results in a higher perceived loudness.
How Loud Should You Make Your Music?
Ask yourself, how loud can your record be?
There are trade-offs to be aware of. A track with a high crest factor, when the drums are the loudest element, will have a high crest factor but you won’t be able to push the record as much as if the drums were closer in volume to the other elements.
The question isn’t what level do I need to hit for x streaming service. The question is, can I make this louder and have this sound as good, if not even better than it does now? This is where we begin to develop the craft of mastering, by managing the trade-offs and recognising when we’ve got to the place where the music is as loud as it can be, sounds as good as it can, so then if it’s turned up or down on a streaming service, will still sound great.
If you see your peak to average measurement diminish, to the point where you have less than 8dB of difference, you’re beginning to over-compress and flatten out the track too much. This is often not the case for EDM, where the genre can favour an over-compressed sound.
You need to gain match before and after mastering so you can hear the differences aside from the increase in level.
Pro Tips for Making Your Music Loud (Best Practices)
Having your peak level sitting at -1dB if your music is going out to streaming services is a good idea.
For vinyl, relax the level and turn off your limiter. Get the music to sound as good as possible without the use of a limiter.
When you use peak limiting, you generate something that looks like a square wave at the top of the dynamic range. Vinyl styluses are not good at cutting square waves, hence why they dislike limiters.
MV: “The square wave at the top of the dynamic range”, I believe is temporal distortion, that all limiters cause. Alan Silverman goes over that here, as well as how we can hear the temporal distortion that each limiter applies to our music.
For non-normalisation formats: Let the level come right up, as loud as you can make it.
For clubs/festivals: for RMS level is critical in these mediums.