I just mixed a commercial for TV and saw it air against other commercials and is it just me or is all TV audio smashed to hell with an L2?

I mean, come on...

My mix was smooth and had dynamic range and was at the level they told me to put it at: -10DB peak with an average peak of -15dB.

The other commercial I saw next to mine must have been brick walled up to -10dB.

What gives?

Are all TV shows and commercials mixed with such lame dynamics?

I feel like the layman is going to hear my mix and think it's of lesser quality compared to the smashed, bright, brittle, distorted junk that comes before and after it.

Do any of you share the same viewpoint I do? Do you wish there were more dynamics in audio on TV?

And how do I stop this from happening in the future? Do I have to master my broadcast audio like I have to master my music albums?

  • Ryan

9 Answers 9


As much as I hate adverts and working on them I've been guilty of making it louder than normal TV mixing. Although ironically it was a TV ad for blind people who perhaps have better hearing than the rest of us.

If I'm working on a show with ad breaks I always bring up the sound a little before the ad break so the sudden change in volume is less noticeable.

As much as I love the L2 it is partly responsible for a lot of pain.

  • Yeah - amen to that. That's interesting turning up the volume before breaks.
    – Utopia
    Jun 2, 2010 at 22:19
  • I feel it's the least I can do to soften the effect of the adverts. Besides being subversive is always good fun.
    – ianjpalmer
    Jun 3, 2010 at 8:35

I feel your pain, but I understand (unfortunately) why it's smashed. It's all about delivery. Most people watching TV (or listening to radio in the car, or hearing Muzak in the store) are being bombarded with other sounds. Yelling kids, traffic, other commercials; they're all competing for the listeners attention. The grand majority TV viewers aren't paying attention to the dynamics anyway. When I worked in radio, everything got run through special, magic compressors that squished everything to the same level as it was getting sent out. Something about FCC standards. My guess is TV does the same thing before transmission. Just to be safe, I would try to avoid delivering audio with too large of a dynamic range if it's going to be broadcasted.


The audio for commercials is designed so that it can be clearly heard from another room. It is assumed that people will leave the room, but leave the television on so that they can hear when the programme starts again. Adverts are also visually designed so that you still see the branding while you fast forward through them.

The 'louder' you can make the advert, without causing pain, the more the ad agency will use you. A similar approach is adopted in radio ads. In the UK the broadcaster is responsible for reducing the 'average' level if an advertiser has been excessive.

Basically the high levels is an anti-social practice, but unfortunately it has become the norm.

BBC News Magazine: Why are TV adverts so loud?


I do a lot of TV and radio commercials. I openly admit that I smash the crap out of my spots with the Massey L2007 Limiter. At the end of the day I do it because that's what everyone else is doing and I need to compete with them. While I don't like squashing my work to smithereens, at the end of the day this is advertising. The job of advertising is to grab and hold people's attention. Unfortunately in some cases I may be deafening them if they're listening to a really quiet program. My bad.

I wish it wasn't this way but sadly it is. :( I hope that something does eventually get passed regulating loudness and limiting and so on but I doubt it will happen.

My two cents (well I may have chipped in 3 or 4 cents worth).

Paul aka @paulswaronlove

Massey L2007 Limiter http://www.masseyplugins.com/images/sml.l2007.jpg

  • But what pisses me off is I went by their guidelines they told me of the average peak at -15dB and nothing above -10 but the other commercials sound like they're -10 brick-walled all the time.
    – Utopia
    Jun 2, 2010 at 22:16

Hey Ryan,

You definitely DON'T want to master your commercial like you would master a music album, but you will probably end up compressing/limiting much harder in a spot than on a broadcast TV show. Unfortunately most spots don't have that room for dynamic range when their message is "BUY ME! BUY ME! BUY ME!" so you have to work within the medium.

I usually anchor myself with my VO/dialogue RMS in the -20 to -18 dBFS range and build my spot around that. I end up hitting the limiter somewhat hard (at -10, of course), but it's mostly catching transients from the dialogue and MAYBE some of the music at the front/end of the spot.

The reason that you can't master your commercial exactly like a music record is that if you do, you run the risk of the broadcast chain taking that flat (pseudo)waveform and compressing it so what you thought was extra loud ends up quieter on air than you had anticipated.

Also keep in mind that no spot is the same - you're not going to slam your mix for a geriatric product the same way you might for a teenage product - though maybe you might have to so they can hear it! :)

There's a movement out there now to try to change these super loud ad practices (including legislation in DC), but it'll be slow to adopt because who's paying for the networks to stay on the air? The advertisers.

It's extremely helpful that you were able to catch your spot on TV next to others - sometimes that's hard to do. All you can do is take what you learn from each mix and apply it to the next!


Ironically, I've gotten into the habit of muting commercials because their offensive levels. I believe the trend in making commercials as loud as possible has the opposite effect than what is intended. I would imagine I'm not the only one. There was a clever trend about ten years ago to make your commercial completely silent. The effect being that people who were not paying attention would wonder why their tv was silent, think that something was wrong and perhaps notice what was on the screen. I believe all advertising is, to use a cliché, taking shots in the dark to see what works. In my opinion, commercials are generally ineffective. More often than not, when someone recounts a commercial they enjoyed, they can't remember for what the commercial was. "Is it 'take the Nestea® plunge' or take the Lipton® plunge?'"

  • Well, you might as well blast 1K or pink noise full blast at them to get your ad noticed - it's the same difference now-a-days.
    – Utopia
    Jun 2, 2010 at 22:15

Since 2006 two ITU recommendations (ITU-R BS.1770 and BS.1771) have been draft to "specify audio measurement algorithms for the purpose of determining subjective programme loudness, and true-peak signal level".

At this moment there is a large group at EBU where a lot of talented engineers are working in a recommendation that will continue this work to the next step, where a Loudness Target Level is suggested and practice guidelines will be added too. This work will be presented during the next months.

  • Cool - I'll keep an eye on that.
    – Utopia
    Jun 2, 2010 at 22:14

"I feel like the layman is going to hear my mix and think it's of lesser quality compared to the smashed, bright, brittle, distorted junk that comes before and after it."

well, who is your target audience? what's an ad's purpose and whom does it need to reach?

i know i'm being the devil's advocate here..

  • I don't know... I come out of a school of thought where quality is king. But I feel like any nut can take a commercial and brick-wall it. The thing literally sounds distorted compared to mine. Oh well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
    – Utopia
    Jun 2, 2010 at 22:13
  • there's always the L3, in my book the ultimate in aggression.
    – georgi
    Jun 2, 2010 at 22:53

You really can't mix anything on headphones or TV accurately, its impossible!Totally impossible! Proof, take a graphic analyzer and check the wave dynamic of each TV & headphone & computer monitor's sound response output, and you will see a hundred different patterns on your hundred different TV's headphones etc., The EQ levels are all over the place!

I've been doing audio & visual for 40 years and all the horror scenes in the Hellraiser movies are a picnic when compared to mixing to commercial audio or visual with any sense of accuracy!

Even the wide variety of codecs, video compression schemes, and digital effects will also all ruin and destroy a mix at every turn or combination of turns. The fact is only the zillion dollar Hollywood production boys can truly make many situations look or sound like a zillion dollars, in all kinds of consumer speaker or visual systems!

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.