Long read ahead... but if you care about your music you will read it.
As many of you have probably heard, there are multiple "Auto-Mastering" companies out there. The biggest is LANDR. They describe the process in cute ways such as "Siri behind an SSL console".... which is strike one... you don't master on an SSL console... and also.. Siri makes me look like an idiot all the time. That's what LANDR does to your music. It makes you look like an idiot. It's not anyone's fault but LANDR because they are fibbing that they "master" your track and their CEO doesn't even know what mastering is.
I want to start by saying I embrace technology. I embrace the pursuit of creating new things.
What I don't embrace is lying.
The problem I have with LANDR is that they are falsely representing what Mastering is, which goes to show how much Mastering is misunderstood in the industry.
This is how the CEO of LANDR describes mastering - "Mastering is basically creating room dynamics to give the impression that you’re listening to the actual band playing in front of you. When you randomly record the instruments in a song and put them back together in the mixing stage, you totally lose that perception of the landscape.”
So you're telling me ...."mastering" is trying to make it sound like a band is playing in front of you and that when you randomly record instruments the mixing stage causes you to lose that perception and that LANDR will fix that, instantly.
Obviously your song is going to sound like a mess when you "randomly record" instruments... and mixing does the opposite of what he describes.
Everything he just described about mastering is literally wrong. Read any mastering book, talk to any mastering engineer, google what mastering is and there is nothing remotely close to what the CEO said. Maybe this is why LANDR sounds so poor.
One of the main things that goes into mastering is listening. When you listen, you're digesting how the song feels, you learn where the song is and where it needs to go. When you listen, you notice if the kick is hitting right, if the vocal is too harsh, do the choruses hit hard, do they need to be wider, does the bass need to be carved out so the kick can have impact... all of these things are required in mastering. It comes from listening. You have to be able to distinguish what your actually hearing so you can then pick the right tools and signal chain to build up a great sounding master.
LANDR claims it listens. It does not listen, it analyze's.
The algorithm and technology they use literally has no idea what it's listening to. They claim "it's smart and getting smarter".. It can't even distinguish between a kick drum or a bass. All LANDR sees is an EQ curve, RMS numbers, and then it boost, cuts, and smashes to mimic things that are currently popular. If your track has too much low end LANDR will just smash it down. If you work with me I can actually carve some space for the bass and kick. If your track has a vocal with some high sibilance that is harsh, I can smooth that out. LANDR will just smash it down... bye snare, cymbals, and excitement. LANDR has no idea what compression is doing to the track other then making hit a number they have decided is "professional". Also forget any sort of automating or real life and emotion from a master.
LANDR is the blind leading the blind.
Another huge issue I have with LANDR is that they give you a "master" that is not ready for release. They are giving you part 1 of around 10 other steps that go into a standard master. If you want to make sure your music is tracked properly and that you get paid correctly, don't use LANDR. They don't provide ISRC codes, UPC codes, file sequencing, DDP creation, Metadata embedding and a number of other small, but very important things that go into finalizing a standard master. These things matter because it helps your music actually get tracked and recognized as well as helping you collect money when it gets used. LANDR has a small section in the Q&A that address these things. Basically it says... go to a real mastering engineer to get an actual full mastered track that's ready for release.
Another issue with LANDR is that it claims "It gets smarter the more it Masters". It claims it literally got "4 MILLION Times smarter" over the last year because that is how many songs it processed. If this is how we measure smartness... I have gotten 100 times smarter in the last six months. I don't even know what this is measuring.... What is it comparing itself to? Has it cracked the code on the "perfect master"? How does an algorithm know what "better" is? If you had five engineers master a song, you would get five different versions. All are probably great but "better" and "smarter" are moving targets in the field of Audio. For LANDR to claim it's getting smarter is a completely subjective statement that has zero tangible measurements.
One other problem with the way LANDR represents mastering is within their subscription levels. The "PRO" level literally means you just get an actual full 24-bit file back. This is what they call "Professional Mastering"... giving you back a standard uncompressed file. What a low standard.
Speaking of standards.. they call this the "Gold Standard". What does that even mean? Are we giving out gold stars to certain mastered songs? LANDR is essentially saying to all the other levels, that you are not pro. You are not gold. They are essentially creating their own competition by having different levels. The technology is the exact same, the only thing that changes is the file format you get back. It's sad that they would call an mp3 that contains 1/10 the information of an actual WAV Master ... "Mastering" and ready for release. You can't even upload those files to a distributor to have them released.
LANDR also contradicts itself all over the website. It claims genres are dead and then it claims it uses "micro-genre" technology to classify and learn how to master smarter. They say genres "WHO NEEDS THEM?" then state to use a "medium intensity" for Rock.
And please don't get me started on using "intensity" as a word to describe mastering. It means nothing other than.. how much do you want us to smash your music and distort it. LANDR claims you can "fight the loudness war by choosing low" or choose "High to Slam it with Sophistication".
Are you serious?
Once again another contradiction from LANDR. You can either fight what is killing the life out of music or you can be sophisticated.... alright Siri behind an SSL console....now you really are sounding like Siri.
There's nothing sophisticated about your music distorting across all digital platforms when you choose the "high intensity" option.
And let's talk about the fact that auto mastering companies are just anti-art and music. The main problem I have with all of it, is it degrades music, feeling, emotion, creativity, and relationships down to an algorithm and then they stamp it as "Mastering".
As an artist, I would never trust LANDR with my music. As a mix engineer, I would never trust LANDR with my music.
The industry truly does not care about mastering.
All of this is a sign that the industry has no idea what it stands for anymore. It truly is all about money and it's all going to fall apart. The giant companies are scrambling and trying to get in with developers like LANDR who have essentially made a massive dent into the very industry it is in by tricking consumers and giving them an instant temporary somewhat solution to a problem.
It's like a bandaid for a gun shot wound.
I am embarrassed for the industry people that endorse LANDR. You all look foolish. You sold out some of your best friends and peers for some quick money. I have nothing but love for the people who work at LANDR and created something like this... just don't call it "mastering". Don't claim it can replace your engineer and that it is like "Siri on an SSL console", because it's not. It literally is not Siri on an SSL console.. so don't think that when you think of LANDR.
One final issue I have with LANDR is it's tag line. This may be the biggest issue of all the issues I have talked about because it's disrespectful to humans. LANDR's tag line is "Sound like a pro without paying studio rates or learning complex plug-ins". This is insulting to everyone who uses it. Basically this says.... "hey we know your incapable of making a pro sound.. we know you don't want to pay for anything, we know you don't want to learn anything...so will just take care of all that for you. Will give you this product that we decided is "Pro" but you get to go to bed at night knowing your a fake, a phony, someone who doesn't have money, doesn't actually know anything and can't make a pro sounding master". That's the audience they are going for. If you use LANDR, that's who they think you are. They don't care about you or your music. They care about getting the most subscribers to make back the millions of dollars that their investors put in. Many who are people in the industry.
I can hear the push back already to this blog... what about auto-tune? What about drums samples and midi? What about computers instead of tape machines? All of this is terrific.
You have to decide for yourself where you land. The only thing I can say is that auto-tune doesn't claim to be a singer. Samples don't claim to be a drummer and computers don't claim to be tape machines. LANDR claims it's "Mastering" and then states you have to go to another mastering engineer to get the rest of what you need. It doesn't claim to emulate mastering.. it claims it is mastering.. and at this current date, our definition of mastering in the industry looks a lot different than what LANDR states is mastering.
The only saving grace I can see in all of this is that LANDR will be its own enemy. It will become a novelty. It's business model is similar to "Planet Fitness". It banks on people aimlessly subscribing and then not really using it. It banks on winning over the amateur or hobbyist by giving them a cheap imitation of the real thing.
I think LANDR is in a way helping me in that they are showing what bad faux mastering sounds like. It does make it easier for me to win people over and educate them when they get back a song that doesn't sound terrific from LANDR. They can come to me. I listen, I help and add value. They can't go talk to "Lydian" LANDR's "engine" that does the "mastering". I feel like I just described the wizard in the wizard of OZ.
I also view this much like how Instagram has increased photography and brought awareness to how good "professional" photographers actually are, I think that is what LANDR will end up doing. You can toss a filter on a photo to make it look like a pro until it's next to a pro's photo. This is exactly what LANDR does. They compare your mix to a super loud "master". By default you will like the new louder track. Put that track next to a real mastering engineers master.. and LANDR sounds like a cheap imitation.
Anyway.. that's a long enough rant. If you want your music to sound good, work with a real engineer. If you want the best end product you won't use LANDR, plan and simple.