How to Analyze Music
Part One: Analysis of Loudness
We all have our favorite tracks, that just sound amazing and perfect to us. That is mainly because of beautiful melodies and thrilling sound design, but another big part of why we enjoy music is the technical aspects. Other than the “creative” and “musical” aspects, we can perfectly measure the technical side of things to understand what the artists did to make their tracks sound so brilliant. In this article we want to take a look at techniques to analyze music, that eventually will help us make our music sound better.
Analyzing music matters to us, because every genre has its own standards, and it is not too easy to analyze those by just listening. Those standards are about the balancing of frequencies and the overall compression and loudness of music. Knowing the standards of your genre will help you shape your sound in a way, that fits the genres style, which will help you get signed and played by other DJs! So how do we analyze music?
First of all, we have to understand what the term “Loudness” means.
Loudness is a little tricky. All tracks get mastered to a volume of 0db, yet some tracks seem “louder” than others. This is because of the overall compression those tracks have. The more compressed a track is, the louder it will appear to our ear. This Loudness-value is measured in LUFS. There is no loudness measurement tool in Ableton Live (yet), so we have to use external Plug-Ins. “Youlean Loudness Meter” e.g. is free and works very well.
Theory aside, now grab your favorite track(s) and put them into your DAW. Let’s have a look at how you can measure stuff and get conclusions for your own mixes.
For measuring the overall Loudness you should run the full track with the Loudness Metering Plug-In open. It will show you different values, which can be important to you.
We want to have a look at the Short Term and Integrated LUFS as well as the Loudness Range. First of all, the difference between Integrated and Short Term LUFS is the time value. Short Term will show you the Loudness right in the moment, while Integrated shows you the overall Loudness of a track. Both values can be very interesting. Looking at the Short Term Loudness in different parts of the song, can show you how loud for example the Drop is compared to the break, while the overall Loudness is a good value that you can compare with your track.
The Loudness range shows the difference between the loudest and the most quiet part of a track. The smaller this range is, the more compression was applied, as the compression brings the peaks and lows closer.
In the pictures example where a looking at a peak time techno track (Future of Mankind by Ramon Tapia), which revolves around -5 to -6 LUFS. This is already heavily compressed, yet very typical for modern dance music. Keep in mind though, that applying a lot of compression and limiting to your tracks will also cut the transient and might leave your mix without punch. It can also make the track feel less alive because of a lack of breathing room. It’s very appealing to our ears, to listen to a dynamic signal. Think of classic music: When a classic piece is very quiet and then builds up heavily to a point of maximum volume, this will make it feel very dramatic and powerful. This is harder to accomplish with high loudness values.
Nevertheless, you should try to aim for a value of Loudness close to your reference. Think of it from the perspective of a DJ: If all the tracks he plays range from -7 to -5 LUFS but your track is at -10 LUFS it will sound weak and quiet in a DJ set.
As this topic is very sensitive, I also want to say some more words about loudness in general. Even though I said before that it’s necessary to keep up with the Loudness of other tracks, there comes a certain problem with that which is called the loudness-war. Because our human brain tends to prefer loud tracks over quiet tracks, music producers generally have always been trying to make music louder. But the negative consequences of loudness, as explained before, are loss of dynamics and punch. And also, there is a certain Limit to Loudness. -5 LUFS, as in the examples track, is already an astronomic value (even though very usual for electronic dance music at the moment) and getting to even higher values seems almost impossible. This is why a lot of artists tend to ignore the “industry standards” and go back to more dynamic mixes, revoling around -7 LUFS. With all that said, it’s up to you to decide how you want to tackle this issue. If the label you want to sign on only releases very loud music, it’s probably necessary to adapt that. If your dream label releases a bit quieter music too and you like dynamic music, this can be a good way for you as well.