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This short video tutorial will show and explain the hows and whys to master your music specifically for Soundcloud.
Any mastering engineer, worthy of the title, will tell you that music needs to be mastered differently for different media. Whether that be CD, Vinyl, Cassette, VHS, Blueray, iTunes and so on. Well, Soundcloud is no different.
Soundcloud has stated on their blog that everything uploaded to their servers gets converted to .MP3 and streamed at 128 kbps.
"Please be aware that we transcode all tracks to 128kbps mp3 for streaming playback. When you make your track downloadable, however, this allows your listeners to download your track in the same format you uploaded it in, without any additional transcoding." - Soundcloud
We can master our tracks accordingly with that bit of information.
Watch the Video Tutorial
*full written tutorial below
First of all, if you are going to upload a track to Soundcloud, free download or not, upload uncompressed 24 bit .WAV!! Why wouldn't you??!!
Now, let's talk about the process encoding .wav to .mp3. iZotope's Ozone 7 Advanced has a nifty little feature called Codec Preview.
"The codec preview option in Ozone 7 advanced lets you monitor the final results and the artifacts of lossy encoding, so that you can make smart processing decisions and create better sounding masters right inside of Ozone." - iZotope
iZotope - Ozone 7 Advanced - Codec Preview
This is extremely helpful for knowing how your track will be presented on Soundcloud before you even upload it. For example, if you leave a small amount of headroom on your master, like -0.3 dBFS, which I see a lot of "mastering tutorials" suggest, you will notice your output level begin to clip more and more as you reduce the sample rate from 320 to 128 kbps in the Codec Preview module.
If you look at the picture below you will see a mastered track with -0.3 dB headroom being encoded to 128 kbps .mp3. If you look at the output meter you will see that not only is it clipping, but it is actually clipping quite a lot. +1.6 dB on the right channel.
This clipping occurs when rounding errors are introduced to the data when then encoder is trying to reduce the file size. Clipping is bad!!!
clipping from mp3 encoding mastering tutorial
Clipping from .mp3 encoding to 128 kbpsSo, one of the best ways to avoid the clipping is to leave more headroom on the master you want to upload to Soundcloud. Ozone 7 Advanced is a bit pricey for hobbyist producers, so to be safe just leave between -1 and -1.5 dBFS of headroom, if you don't have it. If you really want to get the best sound you will need to try a bit of trial and error. If you do have Ozone 7 Advanced, just use the Codec Preview and adjust the headroom on the maximizer until you aren't clipping at 128 kbps .mp3.
Another useful feature of Ozone Advanced is the Solo Codec Artifacts. This will only play the affected areas so you can make better decisions on what to alter to make things sound the best they can.
One last trick, which I myself didn't know until researching this topic, is one given by iZotope. It has to do with narrowing the stereo field spread of the higher frequencies.
Using a stereo imaging tool like the Imager in Ozone, narrow the high end between 5–20%. 128 kbps MP3 is the lowest commonly acceptable audio quality. As such, a lot of information is lost during encoding and an extremely wide mix is more susceptible to noticeable artifacts. Ironically, some pre-emptive narrowing can help avoid perceived loss of energy and width.
This issue is again caused by the encoder trying to reduce the file size.
reduce stereo field mastering soundcloud
Reduce Stereo Image for Upper Frequencies to Reduce Artifacts
I hope using these couple of tricks helps you get the best sounding Soundcloud streaming experience as you can.
Mastering for iTunes & Youtube
If you want to know how to master you music specifically for Youtube or iTunes, I highly recommend this article by iZotope.
Joshua Casper Online: