Tale of Two Formats
Updated: Apr 23, 2020
It's not immediately obvious to most artists that when you submit your albums to Aggregator services, such as CD Baby and TuneCore that they accept one master of the album and offer you the ability to distribute to dozens or more web-based music outlets. It's even less apparent as to the reason for lackluster results of the audio that is distributed, how it doesn't stack up against the industry. Many artists submit music to these services to get the album out, only to be disappointed by the resulting audio listeners can purchase.
How do big-name artists get such great-sounding iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, and other places where you can hear their music sound so friggin' awesome??
Here's a little known facet of the "industry". Many major labels maintain their own in-house resources that log into each distribution service, such as iTunes and Amazon and submit music. They can submit individual masters to each of these outlets, because the labels can maintain their own revenue interfaces to the streaming providers, submit tax ID information, and perhaps maintain control to submit and remove music at their discretion. Maybe not every major label does this (I would say maybe 99.9% do), but you can imagine the influence Warner Brothers or Universal might have over selling music to online outlets vs. the influence an individual artist might have.
While it's true, Apple, Amazon, and Spotify have a bigger say in how music is submitted or, (honestly) mangled on their own platforms, the bigger the label's distribution the more revenue these streaming services also receive a cut from. It stands to reason that, for example, Amazon offers APIs (Application Programmable Interfaces) that may allow major labels the technology to manage their own Amazon distribution, elevating the ownership of quality control and release dates. Most of us don't wish to pay those fees or have the coding experience, patience, or time.
While much of this is ample speculation with some insight, the bottom line is when you submit a CD master online to TuneCore or CD-Baby (and many others) to distribute worldwide on dozens of other platforms it's NOT going to sound its best. It's just the truth!
Here's my solution
> Two or more album submissions to the aggregator service <
Using this method, you can submit one loud CD master version to be distributed as a CD or download only. Submit another format that's better for streaming. Submit others, if necessary.
How this can work for you is, in each submission, you more often than not have control over the distribution outlets where the album will appear. For the CD Master, select no streaming services for distribution. For the Streaming master, refuse CD sales. While this may cost you twice as much for two submissions, the end result will likely be much better.
CD Baby, for example offers much flexibility here, especially for these three key areas:
+ Hardware (CD's)
+ Digital Distribution
+ 3rd-Party Partners
The first format should be your loud CD format. The second format could be loud, too, but I prefer to drop peaks to -1.0db and loudness to -8db LUFS, just to be safe. For the third, I prefer to submit what I call the AGGR (aggregator) format, which is a great average of all streaming formats on the web (approx. -1.0db peaks, and -12db LUFS loudness). Below is an example using TuneCore. Note that this may not always be the case, but seems to be at the time of this blog post: CD/MP3 Release (louder files)
Here, you can see I unchecked Amazon, since the MP3 files you would deliver to Amazon for sale should be loud. Keep in mind that this also means that these files would also be played by Amazon's Prime music player. You may have to choose, although I can master your audio to best suit both as a separate "format" (see pricing).
Aggregator/Streaming Release (target dynamics/loudness files (AGGR))
Here, I checked all the streaming media outlets I want, but left off Amazon, which I want to use my louder CD/MP3 files, instead.
If you want the best playback quality for each digital distribution or streaming outlet, you may want to take advantage of multiple releases for the same album or single(s). While this is not a fool-proof solution for every aggregator distributor, it's certainly worth checking into for competing in a larger world of professional-sounding music releases. Please hit my contact form if you have questions!