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Spatial Audio: What is Dolby Atmos Music?

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Spatial Audio: What is Dolby Atmos Music?

Over recent years, spatial audio has become increasingly popular among music enthusiasts and producers alike. Among such technologies is the 360° object-based, immersive surround sound technology Dolby Atmos. This article explores Dolby Atmos for musicians, how to mix spatial audio, and how to upload Dolby Atmos mixes to streaming platforms.

What is Dolby Atmos?

Some of our readers may have previously encountered the term Dolby during a visit to the movie theater. The word stems from the British-US corporation Dolby Labs specializing in audio technology, including spatial audio and noise reduction. The company is primarily known for its widely used Dolby Digital (Dolby AC-3) surround sound system, but it has also developed many other products, including Dolby Atmos. The technology is used in a multitude of contexts, including movie theaters, home theater systems, music production, and audio engineering. But what exactly is Dolby Atmos, and how can independent musicians, music producers, and audio engineers benefit from it?

Dolby Atmos Music: spatial audio mixing

Dolby Atmos is a 360° object-based surround sound technology that allows listeners to experience audio in a highly realistic, vivid, immersive, and interactive manner. To better understand spatial audio, it helps to look into current mixing practices. At the present moment, sound is commonly mixed in stereo. Engineers usually distribute sonic elements from left to right and add further width and depth to tracks through effect plugins. While audio tracks mixed in stereo come with decent quality and a level of immersion, this approach is somewhat limiting, as each sound can only be placed across two channels and speakers (L-R).

As a result, engineers have begun exploring newer, more engaging approaches, commonly referred to as spatial audio formats. By working with audio technologies like Dolby Atmos, they can make use of the entire 3D sonic space by placing sounds across various dimensions. This approach is possible thanks to the introduction of multiple speakers to the mixing and listening process, including further overhead channel speakers. By elaborating on the previous Dolby Digital standard of a 5.1 setup, which commonly consists of five speakers and a subwoofer, engineers have more opportunities to position sounds in highly specific locations. This way, they can add more depth to an audio track and paint an all-encompassing, multidimensional, and dynamic soundscape.

What you need to mix in Dolby Atmos

Music producers and engineers who aim to transcend the limits of stereo mixing can do so by diving into mixing in Dolby Atmos. The three most essential elements to setting up a compatible workstation are a suitable DAW, a Dolby Atmos Renderer, and a monitoring system that integrates spatial audio.

A suitable DAW is one that integrates or can connect to a Dolby Atmos Renderer, a software that allows for the monitoring of Dolby Atmos mixes and the creation of Dolby Atmos master files necessary for delivery. Among the DAWs that integrate the renderer are the latest versions of Apple Logic Pro, Cubase, Pro Tools, and Steinberg Nuendo. Additionally, they need to support 3D object panning or be able to connect to the Dolby Atmos music panner plug-in. The currently most inclusive ones are Apple Logic Pro and Steinberg Nuendo.

Next come the monitors, an essential element for mixing with Dolby Atmos. While encouraging the introduction of more compatible speakers, the company recommends the following 7.1.4 setup:

  • 7 speakers around you (Left, Center, Right, Left Side Surround, Right Side Surround, Left Back Surround and Right Back Surround)

  • 1 subwoofer

  • 4 overhead speakers mounted on the ceiling of your studio

Other tools and equipment engineers might need are an audio interface that supports 10+ outputs and plugins compatible with Dolby Atmos. No license is required to mix Dolby Atmos Music – all you need is a functional setup and a good amount of practice.

Where to listen to Dolby Atmos music

Dolby Atmos music can be found on music streaming services that integrate spatial audio files. Right now, listeners can choose between Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Tidal. Fortunately, as spatial audio is becoming increasingly popular, listeners can discover many (re)mixed songs, both old and new. However, a subscription alone is not enough. To listen to Dolby Atmos music, sound enthusiasts need to own a Dolby-enabled device, such as a smartphone, (wireless) speakers, or a tablet. Luckily, many newer phones and tablets support spatial audio, including the iPhone 7 and all the following models. Those who own a compatible device can use any pair of headphones to delve into the spatial audio experience. Meanwhile, those who prefer to listen to music without headphones will need speakers that are compatible with the technology.

Why and how to upload Dolby Atmos Music to streaming platforms

Considering that spatial audio is becoming increasingly popular, it may make much sense for musicians to begin uploading Dolby Atmos versions of their songs before it perhaps becomes the new standard.

To upload Dolby Atmos Music to streaming platforms, artists need to sign up with a music distributor and provide it with two separate files: a Dolby Atmos ADM file in a .wav format (ADM BWF) and a regular stereo mix for those who do not own Dolby-compatible devices. ADM files are usually created with the Dolby Atmos Renderer. Alternatively, they can be directly exported out of a compatible DAW.

Are you looking for a distributor that can help you upload your Dolby Atmos music to Amazon Music, Apple Music, and Tidal? Fortunately, we at iMusician can help you out! Distribute your Dolby Atmos music with us today!

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