Normalize to minus 3.0 dB, not 0.0

Hey, there!

The other day, I showed you how I helped my client Lee fix a noise problem in his recordings. The screen shots of his normalization dialog in Audacity caused a couple of people to point out that his normalization level was too high.

I couldn’t have disagreed more. But now, I’ve changed my mind.

An example of the emails I got – this one from Charles:

Hey David! Always love reading your stuff. I’ll make this quick.

I noticed his “normalization” level is 0.0. Shouldn’t it be set to -3 as that’s what sites such as Voice123 require for submissions?

Have a good one!

I get this a lot. And I’d like to take a moment to make sure that this misconception is cleared up.

Voice123 doesn’t require that, they suggest that. And, I used to think that they were completely and irretrievably incorrect in doing so.

Normalizing a piece of audio to -3.0 dB reduces the maximum volume to only 72% of full volume. Now, I’m all for headroom and avoiding the possibility of distorting sound, but I thought that went too far, that it was too much headroom, and the resulting audio sounded weak.

I wanted my clients and students and readers – you – to sound powerful and professional, full and rich. And there really was no danger of distortion – if you don’t distort your recording to begin with, no amount of normalization will add distortion.

It took putting the finishing touches on the editing system I created years ago for audiobooks that made the difference in what I recommend. That, and the production requirements for ACX audiobook projects.

ACX wants all their submissions to be normalized to -3.0 dB. So, OK. I’ve changed my mind about this – and I’m happy to change my advice as well. This one’s now a no-brainer:

Normalize to -3.0.


Hope that helps.


13 Responses to Normalize to minus 3.0 dB, not 0.0

  1. George Whittam February 3, 2014 at 9:52 am #

    For auditions, Normalizing to 0 isn’t going to hurt anything, especially considering the client is probably playing back your audio in iTunes on iMac speakers or worse (not on a DAW). Engineers get their panties in a bunch if they think you might be “clipping” the waveform, which when Normalized to 0dB can be difficult to tell.

  2. Yvonne Lynch March 9, 2014 at 10:16 am #

    Thanks for that – I often wondered about the normalization guidelines on Voice123

    That makes much more sense.


  3. Helene jaubert March 10, 2014 at 3:09 am #

    Hello David!

    I totally get the 0.0 normalization and have been going rogue on my levels for a long time, through experimentation suiting what’s best for my voice tone. I work on a Adobe Audition CS5 software and in record and playback I used to be able to see my levels fluctuate on the meter as to avoid going “red”. I reset my workspace to “classic” and now I can’t get it back. can you help me with that?



    • David H. Lawrence XVII March 10, 2014 at 3:35 am #

      Hello, Helene!

      I’m afraid I stopped using Adobe products a long time ago – when Audition was still called Cool Edit. I can’t help you, but maybe someone else here can.

      • Ed Waldorph March 10, 2014 at 11:21 am #

        Hi, Helene!

        I started with Audition CS 6 and never used 5 but the User Interface (UI) should be similar. In ‘Classic’ the Level meter should stretch across the entire bottom of the screen, but no worries you can get it back.

        The menu bar should have an item called ‘Windows.’ Clicking opens a window showing all the windows you can have on your display. If ‘Level Meters’ is not checked, click on it and the meter should be displayed. Alternatively you should be able to click on the ‘Classic’ item as you did before and bring it back to its original configuration. You should be able to click back and forth between ‘Default’ and ‘Classic’ at any time to restore those basic configurations.

        All the windows on the display are configurable. You can dock them, undock them, resize and add and delete them to customize your display for the way you work.

  4. Mike McGonegal March 10, 2014 at 5:25 am #


    If CS5 is anything like CS6, try hitting “Alt+7” (on a PC). If you’re on a Mac (or the key command doesn’t work), go up into ‘Window’ and one of the options should be “Level Meters”. Put a checkmark next to that and you should be good to go.

    David – thanks for the info on normalizing to 0.0. I’ll start bumping things up as I’ve been part of the -3 crowd for years and I often think my billboards sound a little weak when I hear them, so this may be the solution.


  5. Uncle Roy March 11, 2014 at 8:11 am #

    Great points regarding normalization (Helene – call me and we’ll find your meters). No casting director or agent or client wants to get a ‘tiny’ file where they have to crank up the volume a ton (and possibly miss the opening few seconds). I normalize to between 90 and 100% – the 90 is for those who have the (visual) fear of clipping. Also, when delivering a final file to your client – if your voice is the only element, then 100% is fine. If it will be mixed with music, the post ‘engineer’ might prefer -3 or -6, If anyone requests this it’s not that your voice will be soft – it’s just how the ‘mixer’ wants the elements prepared. Hopefully the FINAL MIX will be mastered and normalized to 0 (100%). One tiny tech point – it IS possible to distort by normalizing – if you (accidentally) normalize to greater than zero/100%. And now, we all know about normalizing to zero – it takes the loudest peak in your recording, and amplifies the entire track so that the peak is at zero – it’s the loudest it can be without it being distorted. Yay! – ‘Uncle Roy

    • David H. Lawrence XVII March 11, 2014 at 9:55 am #

      This article was, again, aimed at VO artists who are submitting auditions – and auditions should never require any music or mixing. Ever. If any voice seeker demands music or effects, pass on the project. If you’re doing production work (the job itself), there is a whole set of requirements that don’t apply to auditions, and you’ll need to take a look at what those are. But for auditions, -0.0 is the setting in Audacity.

  6. Guy November 3, 2016 at 5:23 am #

    Just to be clear, for commercial auditions should I be normalizing to 0.00 or -3? My default settings for audiobook has always been -3. Thanks

  7. Kathy Bell Denton November 3, 2016 at 11:29 am #

    If using Levelator you don’t normalize because it does?

    • David H. Lawrence XVII November 3, 2016 at 11:37 am #

      No, you still normalize to -3.0 AFTER using Levelator, for audiobooks ONLY. Levelator does a different kind of normalization (RMS) than does Audacity (peak). Both types are required, in that order, for audiobooks.

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