The DIY scene has just got a new player in music production that has sparked much debate and got a lot of people talking. The word has spread fast about LANDR, an online mastering service which allows you to drag and drop your tracks, have them mastered in real time and sent right to your inbox. Now, if you’re a recording artist, producer or an audio engineer then there are probably hundreds of questions and knee-jerk reactions going on in your head right now. And they are probably akin that of a professional race car drivers reaction to the news of the new driver less vehicle. I got to meet the LANDR team and sit through a thorough presentation at this year’s MUTEK (EM15) festival where I got the rundown on the operation and some great answers to many questions.

LANDR is the worlds first intelligent music mastering service and is the first commercial release by Montreal-based MixGenius. The team is comprised of a host of artists, audio, tech and business experts who have set out to remove the technical gap between musicians and the infinite details of audio production so that artists can spend their time making music without all the distractions. The service is set up to get you mastered right away – for free! From there you can decide whether or not the service works for you and allows you to continue as follows:

Amateur: Free
Unlimited 192kbps MP3
A/B comparison
Control over Intensity
MP3s are always free

Pro: $9/month
4 uncompressed masters
Unlimited 192kbps MP3
Control over Intensity

Pro Unlimited: $19/month
UNLIMITED* uncompressed masters
Unlimited 192kbps MP3
Control over Intensity
* for Single Artist use only

So how does this work exactly? Here’s a quote from MixGenius:

“Think of MixGenius as your dream suite of audio plugins, but with the intelligence to control itself. Our psycho acoustic and spectral analysis system actively listens to your music and detects detailed features in the audio signals. Our smart algorithms and big-data-driven semantic systems make skilled choices based on audio engineering best practices, optimizing the mix no matter what kind of music you’re creating. There are no presets or templates here, get a custom mix designed just for you to tweak to your own taste — it all happens live and in real time.”

Many artists who have the experience of listening to their music played back in pristine mastering studios with top mastering engineers are immediately doubtful that LANDR could do more than just crank the volume, squish the hell out of the audio and fling it right back at them. Myself among them. So I put LANDR to the test and uploaded several personal mixes I’ve produced, all varying in style, production and general direction to see how it could dish out. I easily navigated through the site (very user friendly and attractive) and simply dropped a stereo .wave file of a mix on to the page, let it load, and within minutes was played a before-and-after of my track. Upon hearing the final product I will admit that my face had contorted into multiple positive smirks and grins, as I had much the same sentiments as I always did while sitting behind a mastering engineer. It did a better job with some tracks than others, some I would consider releasing, some not. But on the whole I feel quite impressed and had the sensation that I was perhaps witnessing the dawn of a new era in music production.

While asking around the music community for opinions on the final product that they had got from LANDR I received a lot of mixed responses. But one aspect of the service that always came to mind when faced with a negative response was this:

MixGenius incubated and refined algorithms developed over eight years of university research, testing and tweaking based on feedback from trained audio experts. LANDR is smart and getting smarter. Its true beauty lies in its ability to learn. Our system is built around an adaptive engine that ‘listens’ and reacts to music, using micro-genre detection to make subtle frame-by-frame adjustments selectively using tools like multi-band compression, EQ, stereo enhancement, limiting and aural excitation based on the unique properties of the song. Basically, the more we throw at LANDR, the better it gets.”

If that is true and the precision of the masters only improve over time then what could that mean for the future of this service and what implications would that have on artists on budgets? How will the masters I didn’t like so much come back to me then? What could that mean for many mastering engineers? Let’s note that the MixGenius team DOES actually consists of audio engineers who know, full-circle, all of the details involved in mastering and are humble enough not to assert that they are on the cusp of putting professionals out of work. Their goal is geared towards providing an accessible standard for the industry. The company is very young and has some work cut out for them before they can provide costumers with options like:

– Encoding metadata and ISRC codes to be registered and tracked by Performing Rights Organizations
– Mastered for iTunes – AAC files (though they say this is on the way)
– Full album mastering. Mastering a song is one thing but to have many songs mastered to fulfill not just the individual tracks needs but also have them fit sonically on a cohesive record takes a mastering engineer
– Mix feedback. Most mastering engineers will not just get to work on a bad mix, they will send it back to the mixing engineer and tell him or her to fix the problems
– Creating fade-ins and outs on the tracks and distancing them from one another to fit appropriately for CD or for vinyl

These few issues I mention above may not render the service optimal for artists who are putting out full-length LP’s and are licensing out their music. And I am sure a professional could sniff out more concerns. But I think that with the breadth of artists who could really benefit from this service it has the potential to be a huge success. Consider artists like:

– Developing producers and songwriters
– Ad music composers
– Indie film scorers
– Electronic artists and DJs
– Making demos, podcasts, soundbites, ringtones, ringbacks, etc.
– Touching up the audio to live footage
– Vocals and other audio for remixes
– This list can get long

We release so much music and surely not everyone can afford a professional mastering engineer and you better believe that not every artist wants to spend countless hours learning so many mastering plugins so that they can maybe eventually learn how to do a pretty decent master on their own. I’ll surely be following LANDR with much interest and would encourage anyone to try it out for themselves and draw their own conclusions.