Can LANDR Replace Your Mastering Engineer?
Drag-and-drop online mastering is here, and it’s free to try. LANDR (affiliate link) provides unlimited 192 kbps mp3 masters of your tracks in seconds.
If you like what you hear, you can pay for uncompressed 16-bit .wav masters. Pricing is very reasonable at $9 for four or $19 for unlimited masters per month. Paid users also get to select the “intensity” of the mastering: low, medium (the default), or high.
Their algorithms were refined over eight years of university research, and they even have a resident astrophysicist. An astrophysicist!
Guess this mastering engineer is out of a job, right?
To find out, I selected tracks from three recent mastering jobs, to compare my results with LANDR’s.
Three notes before we get our hands dirty in this mano-a-microchip match-up:
- Am I biased? Perhaps, but who’s more qualified to evaluate a mastering service than a mastering engineer? Let your ears be the judge.
- Louder pretty much always sounds better to the human ear. While differences in volume are important for the purposes of this evaluation, you should try to match playback levels when comparing the examples for sound quality.
- This is an apples-to-apples comparison. I paid $9 for four uncompressed 16-bit .wav masters, to compare to my uncompressed 16-bit .wav masters. All files were encoded to mp3 at 320 kbps using LAME at the highest quality setting.
Wideband Network “Reach”
I was asked to give it “the full EDM treatment,” which I interpreted as, “make it loud!”
Here’s a taste of the chorus, unmastered:
Here’s LANDR’s master at the default (medium) intensity:
And here’s my master:
Is it just me, or does the LANDR version sound like it was mastered by an astrophysicist?
To my ears, the biggest problem is the lack of low end. The result is thin and narrow and just “off.”
Keep in mind, LANDR uses the same algorithm for all genres of music. This tonal balance might be perfect for folk or classical, but it doesn’t cut it for EDM, hip hop, or even pop.
On the plus side, I appreciate that LANDR doesn’t win the Loudness War by default. There’s plenty of dynamic range. Unfortunately, the track would be the quietest in any EDM playlist. It’s simply not club-ready.
Let’s turn it up to 11 and try again at “high” intensity (a paid option):
Better? Not to my ears. There’s more of everything I didn’t like in the previous version – the thinness is more pronounced and the lows are even more lacking.
It’s easy to trade low frequency energy for volume. The challenge is achieving both.
Worse, this version is even more compressed (as opposed to peak limited). You can see visually how little dynamic contrast there is, compared to my master at pretty much the same volume.
Broke for Free “Summer Spliffs”
Tom Cascino’s tracks feature a characteristic richness and warmth, with plenty of deep bass. Within days of mastering his album, the lead track was #1 on Hypem:
Here’s the unmastered mix:
LANDR at high intensity:
And my master:
Maybe I’m reading too much into the song title, or maybe it’s the fact that Tom and I both live in California, but to me “Summer Spliffs” captures that feeling of cruising down PCH with the top down in August.
Does that character come across in the LANDR version?
London Exchange “When Doves Cry”
This cover was pulled off an old DAT recording for a rarities and remixes release.
LANDR at high intensity:
In this case, I find the LANDR version to be ridiculously bright, edgy, and essentially unlistenable.
Also note the break at 0:13 where it’s supposed to drop off in volume and build back up. The “quiet” part sounds just as loud, if not louder, than the “loud” part!
This track might have sounded better at the default medium intensity, but I ran out of credits. Regardless, LANDR has no way of knowing that it’s a ballad, and therefore doesn’t require the same RMS level as a club track on the same release.
Speaking of which, try playing the three LANDR high intensity samples one after the other. Would they sit together nicely on the same album? No way!
There are huge tonal and volume differences between masters at the same intensity level, relegating LANDR to one-off singles.
LANDR Mastering Conclusion
To be fair, LANDR is an incredibly ambitious project! It’s amazing that it performs as well as it does.
The algorithm will get better over time, but it can never replace a professional mastering engineer, because it lacks musical understanding.
It can’t know whether occasional high frequency bursts are vocal sibilants that demand de-essing, or cymbal crashes. It can’t tell if the excess energy at 200 Hz is the characteristic warmth of a rich fretless bass, or vocal mud that needs to be cut. It doesn’t even know what genre your track is in. One size fits all.
Most importantly, it can’t tell you to go back and fix your mix!
When I hear a problem best addressed in the mix, I ask the client for changes. That applies to everything from excessive sub bass to thin guitar tone to ultrasonic synth spikes to questionable vocal intonation. Maybe it’s coincidence, but my clients’ mixes tend to get better with every release.
Your mastering engineer can be, as Chris from London Exchange puts it, The Fifth Beatle. We are partners in releasing the best records possible, which often extends into areas beyond mixing, like promotional advice and track sequencing.
I think my job is safe for now.
Have you tried LANDR? What did you think? Let’s talk about it in the comments.
Ugh, I heard about this and assumed there is no way it could work properly… Sadly now there will be 509 more mastering companies who utilize this.
And dozens more “I will master your track for $5” offers on Fiverr.
I hate to say this but that is a great idea!
Ah yes of course this is just like a MC Donalds ‘cheap and bad’ … has absolutely nothing to do with mastering and music. Just fast and cheeeeeap bullshit whahahaha and then the ‘Provides unlimited 192 kbps mp3 masters of your tracks in seconds. “What a funking bullshit !! Everyone knows that this quality is to cry. !!!! ??? Decent mastering costs money. Consider alone that the power consumption of a mastering studio costs lots of money du the analog gear ….. we are not even talking about the engineer who work at your track etc. Think people!!!!, keep it real and the quality up!!!
To be fair, the 192 kbps mp3 is just to audition the master. Most people are happy to pay a little for the uncompressed version, but this way they can try before they buy.
Haven’t been to McDonalds in years. I’m with you on that one! 🙂
I can’t say I’m even a little surprised.
Although I *am* a bit surprised that it wasn’t a complete trainwreck.
Right now, this is going to be the kind of service used by “some kid who wants to make a demo.” But I say in about 10 years, these algorithms will be getting a lot smarter. It’s not a huge leap to say that some sort of intelligent software algorithm will be able to find common trouble spots like sibilance or frequency balance problems.
And with R128 and similar loudness standards being implemented more adequately across platforms, it’s going to get easier for systems to analyze integrated loudness and adjust accordingly.
More than likely, though, this sort of stuff will trickle down into the tools that project studios use. Gosh, why send your tracks out for mastering or learn how to balance your levels and dynamic range when you can buy a $249 iZotope OzoneAutoFix or whatever?
(And Sonny Moore will still drive his tracks too hard)
This is just the first shot in a looooong battle. It’s going to be up to mastering engineers to position their services as something people *need* that they can’t get with a button push.
Spot on as always Eric!
Professional mastering tools will require less and less input as services like LANDR offer higher degrees of control, until they converge and become standard in the render options of our DAWs.
God help us all if there’s a Skrillex preset. 😉
Shrillex? You mean the -3 RMS blast of RAW 0’s and 1’s, dreadful. This new technology might be amazing, but you’re right, you can’t replace us ear people, we mix and master and no software can ever do it as good as human ear.
Thanks much for providing side-by-side comparisons, the samples on the LANDR website wouldn’t play for me. I think even a touch of the “normalize” function in SoundEdit sounds better than LANDR. Worry not, no algorithm will ever be more than a “pimple on the butt” of your mastering ability. The “Reach” demo above is spectacular. You gave the track some focus and a “gut punch” without a scrap of harshness. Outstanding. Also, my daughter once asked me what I thought of Skrillex, my reply was “It sounds like someone got a power drill stuck in something, and they are getting a bit frantic.” God Help Us All, indeed.
Thanks for the kind words Tom!
I have to admit, Skrillex has expanded quite a bit musically since I wrote that comment over two years ago, but you know the sound I was referring to!
A shit sound is a Train crash!! surely??? I’m glad it was crap.. i Genuinely thought it would be a hard one (for a Landr Type Service) to use “an Algorithym ” to follow all types of “nuances” Its hard to figure some interlocked frequencies in a mix, when you know what your listening for !! No way an algorithm can sort out music, Just like Plug ins.. they “work” but don’t sound like much.. unless (i find) using a lot of work/time.. Maybe in time some Genius will crack a relatively good working system , but it will never help, finishing up, good new inventive music..its always evolving..Wheres an Algorithm for that ???
Wow, I must say that it’s interesting. Yet, it’s still “robotic” to my ears. The subtleties and nuances of music, I still enjoy, and yet must realize that competitive level wars are still present. So, thank God for the mastering engineers who understand both to deliver the best of what music needs!
If guitars sounded that bright I would turn off the music in 20 seconds, very fatiguing. There is so much more to mastering than this software, what about the strange phasing problems that occur, mid/side mastering, things that no software can correct? I would say this is basic for people who just want to get their cut on the radio, or a quick fix, but its not professional, not by any means.
True, things like mid/side processing and multiband compression can introduce weirdness, even when used properly. As for the brightness, I just saw an interview today where the head Mix Genius said music today should be mastered for laptops and SoundCloud, not for hi-fi systems. That explains a lot!
But what about the people who actually have better systems?
Apparently LANDR is not designed with those people in mind.
yep, the whole word is hearing music on laptops and phones.
This is the fist time i listened to these comparisons in my studio.
I am quite impressed by the capabilities of Landr. For the quick brightening up of a track its great. And for the speed and the fact you can keep doing it over and over for very little cost is fantastic.
That said. It does brighten up the track as a WHOLE, it still remains flat sounding and lacks some stereo fidelity, which less noticeable on headphones.(Which i use a lot)
As for the 11 max intensity, I don’t think i would need that for a whole track i can kill it myself! But it may be a great application for mastering individual tracks within a track.
ONE Track which may of been mastered on MAXX OVERKILL setting is Twinkle – Tu as Perdu . Which i play in a set at about 14 mins 30 if you wish to listen to the application of overkill to a track.
It is clear, and i don’t want to blow your trumpet Brian, but the trumpets of all sound engineers and producers. You cannot get the human touch from an algorithm on a computer.(yet)
In your mastering its clear that there has been some mindful focus on key elements on the tracks. You have focused on the Low end drums and the rhythm and also the vocal where you can really notice the difference in stereo fidelity and clarity brought about by you i assume.
As you know Brian, i am mastering 3 versions of a song at the moment and I’m interested to know, in your final master what is an acceptable level of clipping?
Im at 4.5 over 6 mins ( down from 11 LOL) and it is starting to sound “ready”. At what point do you say done? I wonder if any writer, producer is fully happy with something.
Thanks for the kind words Jon!
Personally, I don’t think LANDR is acceptable for professional use in any application – even a track within a track (apologies, but I didn’t click through to your link because I’m not in the studio, and because audio quality is hard to judge through SoundCloud’s encoding anyway).
As for clipping, some mastering engineers will clip a little off the top right from the start. I don’t do that, and set a -0.1 dB ceiling in my limiter, with 4x oversampling, so I never get clipping or intersample peaks.
Rather than counting the number of clicks, you might look at average RMS level. It’s closer to how we perceive volume, but not perfect. -12 is pretty dynamic for masters these days, but -8 or even -6 isn’t unheard of.
Thank you Brian,
As ever extremely useful tips. Maybe my music is closer to the Skrillex genre where RED is GOOD! 😉
Take musicians with no money – either for hardware to properly master on, or to pay $$$ for pro masters. Now they have a fighting chance to produce a demo that can pass as commercial quality. Internet music is compressed to death so 192bit just worx for soundcloud and such. If we go commercial release, the uncompressed will go a long way but ideally everyone hopes to get a pro at one stage. Truth is, small artist starting out, no pro, so what can you do. 🙂 As for the sound quality: A/B-ing shows you deficits, yes, but the point is would you have sincerely noticed them WITHOUT A/B-ing, or would the everyday listener buying songs would have figured it? So, this is all about starting out, once you hit big you dont need it anymore I suppose.
I don’t think the examples I presented in the article can pass as commercial quality.
More to the point, I’m not sure these “musicians with no money but have tracks ready for mastering” really exist. They either have gear and a room to record in, or they are paying someone else to record and mix their tracks.
Whatever the situation, $99 to master a track (my rate, obviously prices vary) is far less than what it costs to record and produce said track.
Just wanted to say that these “musicians with no money but tracks ready for mastering” exist absolutely everywhere.
I’m a student, and myself and plenty of my friends produce music totally electronically on software which can be easily obtained online, albeit through slightly morally questionable methods (torrenting). This costs absolutely nothing, and with simply a laptop and a good ear it’s definitely possible to produce a track that could be sent for mastering.
And gear and a room to record in costs so much less than it used to – at $99 a track, that’s the price one of my friends set up a cheap-as-fuck home studio to record a whole 10-track album in. Without landr, these get released quiet/distorted and clipped if we try and master ourselves as we have no knowledge regarding it at all, and the shittest gear available.
Easy for people at the top to deny the benefits of technology that is only useful for those far beneath them.
Thanks for the comment Robbie!
One could argue that software piracy is more than *slightly* morally questionable. 😉
If you figure in the cost of software, your laptop, your interface, maybe even pressing CDs… even for a pure electronic musician, mastering isn’t a disproportionate part of the budget.
I see your point though, that the cost of making music keeps going down, which is a great thing!
Spend the time and money to learn to play a musical instrument very well and STOP pirating anything!
To me, it sounds like the “thin” sound some are mentioning is probably a deep cut in the middle somewhere around 1500 to 2000 Hz. That can sometimes bring more clarity to a mix whilst taking away the warmth and leaving the bright only. It might work great for some tracks and kill others. Overall though, I really think landr could be quite helpful if you mix with it’s mastering approach in mind. Just my 2 cents. 🙂
I’m not sure if you can really compensate for the lack of warmth. My guess is that it will enforce its desired tonal balance, regardless of the starting point.
Either way, if you’re a good enough engineer to second-guess LANDR into a good master, you’d probably be better off mastering it yourself.
Checked the article because I’ve met the guys from Landr and was interested to see the debate… Then just noticed your example of summer spliffs… Our BANKS remix is the #3 spot in that pic you have there…you can see it just cut off.
Summer Spliff kept us out of #1… Must have been that human touch 😉
I’d like to think so! Congratulations on the chart placement!
No. LANDR is useless.
wow…I’m astonished. I mean, I knew it would sound bad, but I didn’t think it would be THIS bad. It sounds phasey, overly filtered, like a much lower quality mp3 than it says it is. Its just straight-up garbage. My guess is landr will disappear once they’ve exhausted their marketing budget.
Well, you’re a mastering engineer too. To the average GarageBand musician, if it’s brighter and louder, it’s better.
I agree with your closing conclusion. Even with the best programs it does not add up to having your sound professionally mastered. Maybe someday that will change with technology just not yet.
It’s true that LANDR is not really an option yet.
BUT i would never pay for ITB mastering. Anyone can be ITB mastering “engineer”, but every full time mastering engineer that i know or have heard about work OTB. Many with custom/self-built equipment.
There is loads and loads of ITB mastering services these days. I do all my ITB mastering of my self, but when i’m doing anything that’s join to be released i will pass it on some mastering house.
Last album was mastered here: https://virtalahde.com/virtalahde-mastering-en/ 60€/track and less for album.
I also like to attend to the session if possible. Sadly not possible too often as budgets don’t allow plane tickets to New York anymore 🙂
LANDR kind of things will be good someday. Sometime ago we still thought that it’s not possible to edit individual notes of chord. Now there is DNA and such. Gotta love technology 🙂
I have no problem with the all-digital aspect of LANDR. Some things, like linear phase EQ and brick wall limiting, can only be done in the digital domain. I also find that client attendance produces lesser outcomes. 🙂
But then again you are not a pro ME.
You are one of the many, many hobbyist ME’s.
None of the “real” ME’s i know make music, none. It’s a funny fact. Mastering is their main and only income. They make living with it as people trust their ears so much. Hobbyist’s are the ones that ALSO do mastering among other services and hobbies.
There is nothing bad about as long as they don’t charge more than “real” ME’s. Many do. They can do it as they sell themselves as ME’s “that know the genre” while most pro ME’s make banging EDM masters. There is really no reason other than price to use non-pro ME.
When mastering album the pauses between songs make world of difference in the outcome. It’s really hard to do that if client is not attending. When mastering demos to SoundCloudBandCamp it’s probably ok. Even on Spotify album release pauses make huge difference on how the album plays out.
This guy is an idiot…
Freeks, your comments are absurd on so many levels. I suspect you’re just trolling me, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.
Of course mastering engineers make music. Bob Ludwig, the best of the best IMHO, played principal trumpet in the Utica Symphony Orchestra. Pick a mastering engineer and Google their bio.
I’ve been mastering full-time since 1999. 90% of my income comes from mastering, but because I find time in my mastering schedule every few weeks to work on my own music, I’m not a “real” ME? My pathetic release schedule speaks for itself. 😉
As for the pauses, that only applies to physical releases, which are becoming an endangered species. The process is simple: I supply the client a single mp3 of the entire release, and if requested, adjust the gaps based on their feedback.
What’s actually really hard to do is to make a good master with the mix engineer in the room! If you knew anything about the biases involved in human hearing, you’d understand what a terrible idea that is. The mix engineer should think the mix is perfect, and therefore should have nothing to say. Instead, their comments mislead and misdirect from the true deficiencies of the mix.
Hearing is built on expectation. We hear what we expect to hear, or in the case of client attendance, what we are told to hear. And then we tell the client what to hear in return.
Worse yet is the idea of mastering an entire album in a single session. I fine-tune over at least a half dozen short sessions. Sure, it makes client attendance impossible, but it results in a better final product.
I grew up in the days of hi-fi and, poor student that I was, trying to get a great sounding system on a budget. That was then, when you had to go out and buy a physical thing, be it vinyl or cd or, god forbid, cassette. mp3 is a lossy format. Streaming sites, like Soundcloud, colour the music anyway, usually not in a pleasing fashion. However, this is where the great majority of humanity are now sourcing their music from. (Neil Young’s Pono is never going to be mass market surely?) Mastering is undoubtedly a black art, and at it’s best, the differences to a mix are staggeringly good! Not everyone is an audiophile though. Even back in the day, most people were content to listen to music on crappy AM radio stations, that often sounded like they were being broadcast from deep space. There will always be a market for craftsmanship and skilled artisans. And there will also be the mass market, which really doesnt care about loudness wars, poor encoding or any of that. These are strange times indeed. 🙂
You are absolutely right that many listeners, perhaps the majority, don’t care one way or the other. SoundCloud and YouTube are good enough for them, and the difference between LANDR and professional mastering may not matter, at least on a conscious level.
While SoundCloud and YouTube provide poor audio quality, Pono provides no benefit over CD. 44.1 KHz is able to capture any audio signal perfectly. At least he’s getting people to focus on sound quality though!
“This is an apples-to-apples comparison”
So okay, I tried LANDR out and it’s definitely not for me, but this is just an absurd claim to make, and one I’ve seen in almost every MEs review of LANDR I read while researching the service. Unless you actually charge ten bucks a pop to master tracks for clients, it’s in no way an “apples-to-apples comparison” just because the samplerate and bit depth match, any less than a race between a tricycle and an F1 would be, just because they both have wheels and a driver.
By “apples to apples,” I was only referring to the file format. I hope that’s clear in context. It wouldn’t be fair to compare a 16-bit .wav to a 192 kbps mp3. I see your point though!
Shinmai, when I listened to the samples I wasn’t really comparing the LANDR result to the professional mastering result (sorry Brian), because there really isn’t any similarity between what LANDR does and a professional mastering. Professional mastering is often rather subtle, but usually worth what it costs. I was comparing the LANDR version to the original unmastered track. I did not hear even $10 worth of improvement. In fact I thought that LANDR made the original tracks sound worse by introducing weird sounding artifacts that made the final product sound “smushed” and “canned”, and “hollow”.
Man oh man…
I am underwhelmed by the understanding showed by the many comments here that music can be automatically processed and still contain the “feel” a human ME add to a mix… I am sick to my stomach when people think this is ok, in any way form or shape. Cookie cutters are for cookies, cars and houses…
For you guys on a tight budget: master your own artwork yourself, it will nevertheless showcase you intentions and serves as a very powerfull guide also for a professional ME if that chance one day arrives. It will show how you hear and feel music.
There are many many articles that shows some general rules for mastering, making it possible for the novice person to make something sounding ok enough to share.
I love the original article, thank you!
Thanks for the comment! Totally agree with the sentiment.
That said, I wouldn’t trust myself to do my own artwork!
I dont’ find this fascinating at all. It sounds like the same EQ curve on every track. I don’t feel there is any kind of “intelligence” behind this. I think this is simple a preset and an adaptive limiter threshold. It sounds like it’s on the radio basically. People that don’t know any better will think that’s “professional”.
As an additional comment, they could even go as far as using audacity for this. It has a command line function to allow batch processing.
Well, it certainly is a “preset” in the broadest sense of the word, just hopefully a little more flexible than most. It could very well be similar to the type of processing an FM radio signal goes through before transmission, to maximize volume and therefore reach. In fact, if it manages to become better than most radio processing, that could provide a new market for the engine. Hmm…
Yeah, LANDR is pretty awful. Thanks for doing the comparisons!
Thanks for reading and listening!
Guys, for real. Seriously.
History repeating itself, over and over.
Remember when ’email’ first appeared. All those letter writers scoffing…
“Oh it’ll never replace a good hand written letter.”
Well, I don’t know anyone who has hand written a letter and used snail mail since. I certainly haven’t. The introduction of the motor car? All those Blacksmiths saying…
“It’ll never catch on. Where do you put the stirrups?”
Mobile phones? No more phone booths. Phone booth manufacturers at the time were just like you guys. It’ll never replace us. We’re good.
Let’s stop kidding ourselves, please. Change is inevitable.
This is WITHOUT QUESTION the beginning of the end.
Right now, the team behind this LandR thing (and a legion of competitors in the making) are reading every single comment that Pro Mastering Engineers like yourselves are making about the tech’s limitations on web pages right across the net, they’re taking down notes, and they’re all crunching out some vastly new and improved code, like any other software developer over time. This is merely the public beta test stage, for god’s sake. And thanks to all your technical comments as such, you are unknowingly contributing to putting yourselves out of a career – without fail.
A self-defeating exercise, if ever there was one. Congratulations.
Frankly speaking, the number of times I’ve had troubled studio clients come back to me with sad faces because the so-called mastering engineer totally wrecked their album, well I lost count years ago. I’ve had similar experiences with my own music, and eventually turned to doing it myself.
It turns out that real musicians LOVE dynamics. Not volume. Funny that.
At least for now, I see this LandR service as an affordable alternative. It’s not perfect, far from it, but it’s already delivering better results than what those ME’s did for my clients’ music. I’ve experimented with some of their raw mixes and was terribly shocked at how good it was compared to those ME’s charging $1500 per album. Or maybe it’s a case that there are no REAL mastering engineers to be found anywhere here in Australia. Who really knows?
Give LandR a few version revisions, with lots of unintentional input from people like yourselves, and you can kiss mastering studios goodbye. I’m not trying to stir people up here. This is sad news to the extreme. I just can’t stand seeing talented people like yourselves in a desperate state of denial.
Thanks for sharing your perspective Shane!
I’m with you mastering engineers wrecking albums. I’ve done plenty of salvage jobs and complete redos. It’s a shame.
And yes, you are absolutely correct that these tools will continue to improve.
Still, there are some things computers just aren’t very good at, like transcribing an orchestral performance. They can’t tell an oboe from a bassoon playing underneath the string section. They can’t determine your emotional state from the tone of your voice.
To my way of thinking, mastering is a similar task. It’s not just carving out an “ideal” tonal balance, because it depends on the instrumentation, which LANDR can’t deduce. It can’t tell that the singer is singing intimately in a breathy voice, and that that track should be softer than the rock anthem.
I’m not sure those are surmountable problems, but maybe if the engine requests more input from the user, those types of hurdles can be overcome.
Sure, it’s coming. Someday!
i have a question. in reference to the algorithm not understanding the difference between instrumments. I use a lot of different instruments, acoustic and electronic and i tweak each one individually in the mix etc then i send it off for mastering when all the levels sound good and the instruments all stand out on their own in the right places.
Is your comment referring to a flat mix?
I’m still not as experienced as i would like to be but i thought that if i fix those sorts of issues in my mix, the master shouldn’t make them worse?
I spend ages on my tracks making sure the quiet claps are audible and small wooden instruments are audible by compressing them individuallly or boosting them, so essentially each single sound in my mixdowns has some sort of setting attached to it and then i send a lot of my smaller instruments through a main compressor to boost their loudness and have it sitting properly in the mix.
I’ve just never properly understood how mastering works on a mixdown. I assumed that if you have all your levels sounding good in a mixdown then you will run into fewer problems.
The examples above are of recorded live sessions it seems where all the cymbals and drums are coming through microphones into the mixing console or whatever gear is being ised so i feel like landr isnt the best for live stuff yet but if you are composing electronic music and your mixdown is sounding good, then it shouldnt be as bad?
Forgive my ignorance. i am new to the intricacies of mastering.
My problem here is that i have really good monitors.
Adam A8X and i just mastered a song on landr (WAV uncompressed) and the master sounds amazing.
But reading these comments is making me doubt my ears because im getting the impression that it shouldn’t sound as good as it does to me right now.
What are your thoughts on this guys?
Music lover and novice
When all is said and done, you have to trust your ears. If you’re happy with the LANDR master, there you go! If your budget allows for professional mastering, give it a shot and see how they compare.
Remember that in mastering, we only have access to the 2-track stereo mixdown. We can’t turn up the guitars in the second verse, for example. LANDR doesn’t analyze individual instruments. Instead, it adjusts the tonal balance of the entire mix, letting the chips fall where they may in regard to specific tracks.
As a practical example, a mastering engineer might be careful not to cut too much in a specific frequency range if it lowers the vocal level too much. LANDR can’t make that distinction.
If the tonal balance of the mix is solid to begin with, that will be less of an issue, because it will require less EQ in mastering.
“Still, there are some things computers just aren’t very good at…” Unfortunately this is more desperate denial speaking. There’s NOTHING that computer’s aren’t “good” at. Computers are merely processing power, an energy resource which is inherently good or bad at nothing. We can harvest that power to do whatever we can conceive using simple or complex instructions, code, algorithms. The limit is a human / developmental one; as long as the processing power is there, the only thing preventing computers from being able to make these intelligible human analyses and decisions you speak of, is the current sophistication of the author’s algorithms. AI is a very real thing threatening to take over and even surpass MANY current “human-required” jobs; we have auto-pilot planes and self-driving cars on the way, where computers are being trusted with peoples lives.
If you seriously think your job of making the right mastering decision to suit someone’s single is somehow unique and protected, especially looking at the current state of the music production industry compared to as little as 15 years ago, and the fact that something like landr already exists and is only being refined… then you are either in a deep denial, or simply saying what you think needs to be said publicly in order to keep the boat afloat as long as possible before you have to hit the button on a plan B. Delaying the inevitable. The robot option already wins on convenience, speed and price, and it’s only so long before its quality level reaches a point where the consumer is inclined to go with it and all its benefits in 90+ percent of the cases, in spite of what the mastering engineers of old are yelling on their blogs and youtube channels.
I give it 5 years. 10 would be surprising.
*consistency. another robot benefit I forgot to mention. As you both mentioned its a risk just finding an “engineer” who wont take your money and fuck your work up; if a prospective client wants to gamble with a few hundred dollars there are casinos for that. If they want a predictable result the current price is 9.99 for a month of unlimited tracks.
Along with intelligence and quality improvements, as the technology matures I forsee an expanded amount of options and settings over just “high/low/medium”, really giving the consumer freedom of personal taste to boot. Its bleak for you bro.
Algorithms will create the music too! Google is already working on it. Will it be preferable to what a human can do? Sure, at some point. We only disagree about how far out that point is.
You say 5-10 years. I’d say 10-20.
But today, do you think LANDR is consistent? Try giving it more than one track and see if they match each other.
Hit me back in 5 years and I’ll give you a warm soft pretzel if LANDR can out-master me on an album job.
By consistent what I mean is, its responding to characteristics in what it hears based on predefined rules. If you put the same file into it twice on the same setting, you’re gonna get the same exact result back both times. The response is mechanical and thus yes over time one can get to know how she thinks, and combined with the immediate turnaround time and cheap/unlimited amount if redos, not only can you come to predict what to expect, but you can begin to manipulate the result if desired by tweaking the input.
To the pretzel: The issue there is we’re not waiting for the day it can out master you; by that point you better be far off into a different field. The breaking point will come much sooner, and that’s when that subjective difference of how much “better” you can out master it, is no longer large or evident enough to enough consumers for them to select you — and your much slower, much more expensive service — often enough for you to remain in business.
That point where even your longterm clients who already trust your work are inclined to submit to the robot behind your back.
That’s when you owe me a pretzel. With the way technology moves no way that’ll take a full decade, let alone 2.
Now, algorithms creating actual music? That’s just silly. Me and Justin Beiber are pretty safe dude.
I think is unfortunate people are going for this. 80% of music mastering is in the ears and 20% in the tools (can be arguable)…..hehe…Non the less, from my perspective Its imperative having actually someone taking care of the music and doing it the right way.
At the end of the day, automated stuff, algorithms and whatever…, you will only get what you paid for.
The thing I do like, is the business model, Subscription service = recurring clients and payments and let it all run on autopilot. Smart biz move…
Well played Brian. Good article, and really it’s not biased or overly opinionated. Personally I do have the cheapest LandR account. Would I ever use it for a final release? Not a chance, under any circumstances. Nothing replaces a good engineer using proper gear. I too am a well trained studio engineer after all, with a lot of years under my belt. But does LandR have it’s place for what it is? For me, yes.
As a person who does all his own recording, composing, field recordings for nature samples, bringing in featured artists and plays multiple instruments……I have a lot on my plate for finishing every song. By the time I’m done with a mix, I really don’t want to hear it for a while. LandR at least offers me the option to do a quick and dirty job for SoundCloud so I can send out prereleases of what I’m up to & working on. It also gives me a general map of things to be fixed in the mix also, usually small things but necessary. And that’s about it. It serves a small, but certainly not insignificant purpose. For this purpose, the cheapest 192k MP3 export account option is fine. Your not selling them after all. It’s an interim until the final product is ready.
Could I do a better job than LandR on my own using something like the Ozone plugin in my own studio for these prereleases? Yes, most certainly. Do I want to, or have the time by the time it’s ready for that? Probably not! And there you have it.
In the end, music is emotional. Therefore, something as important as the final master of a song should not be trusted to a computer algorithm.
Thanks for the kind words and nuanced perspective! I agree completely with your conclusion.
When I master my own stuff, I only compress and limit. If something else is lacking, I go back to the mix. So I’d just as soon do it myself regardless.
As for Ozone, half of the modules do more harm than good, except in extremely rare cases. In my tests, I wasn’t able to get the results I wanted from the compressor, and there are better limiters out there. Fwiw.
😕 i just mastered a track and from what i can hear, it sounds really good. it may just be the specific mix or this specific track sounding good but an unlimited pro plan is costing me less than getting just one of my tracks mastered by a pro. I’ll have to listen to it at a later stage when i can turn up the volume but currently it sounds pretty nice.
Budget is the biggest problem. if i had it my way i would send everything i make to a mastering engineer because they can tweak the songs individually and also feedback on the track is invaluable.
I’ll see how it goes and then go from there
Obviously the biggest benefit of LANDR is cost. Like you said, it’ll never tell you how to improve your mix, but if you don’t have the budget for anything else, it’ll have to do.
You could always use it for works-in-progress, demos, and even singles if money is tight. For an EP or full-length where every track needs to not only sound its best, but match each other, professional mastering is essential.
At some point I imagine LANDR will allow you to submit a batch of songs to master as a set. When that happens, I’ll definitely revisit!
I tried this–I sent it ten different tracks, all in different styles. My personal tastes are extremely hostile to mastering for loudness in general. Not surprisingly, I found the default (medium) setting and the high intensity setting unbearable and useless. I found the low intensity setting really good. Surprisingly good. It scooped the mids some; it tightened the bass more than I would have and it hyped the treble some. These were not changes that suited my taste, but they weren’t terrible or offensive and lots of people might prefer them.
No it’s not as good as good mastering engineer but it’s damn good to my ears on the low intensity setting.
Thinking about this as a new work process, I can imagine sending it mixes, listening to LANDR’s master, adjusting the mix, listening again, till you get it exactly right. That’s on the one had a dumb way to work–why not send it to a good ME and get it done right the first time? On the other hand, it’s really cheap and you don’t have to deal with some snobby mastering engineer. If the target audience is people who tend to do it all themselves, LANDR is a godsend. I could master a track as well as LANDR< I think, but mastering your own stuff is really hard because you get wedded to your mix choices and cant hear your way past them. LANDR would then sort of function as an objective listener with different tastes.
Sure, that’s a good way to use it. You could keep running works-in-progress through LANDR and try to match the tonal balance in your original mix. I typically use major label reference tracks, but I suppose it would be easier to match the tone of the same mix you’re working on.
I actually tested out LANDR recently and found even the high intensity setting to be conservative volume-wise. I imagine the low intensity would tweak the tonal balance without noticeably affecting dynamics in any way.
Not all mastering engineers are snobby, y’know! 😉
For the 2nd track, I like Landr’s master better.
Most importantly, it’s pretty incredible that software like this exists so I think about where it will be in 5-10 yrs. time.
I’m sorry – but yes mastering engineers will be out of a job then, at least in 20 yrs.
In 20 yrs., we won’t need to mix our music we write, it will just do it for us.
Anyone who can’t see that (along with these other trends) is just an angry taxi driver after Uber came along. Only the Uber drivers will be pissed because self-driving cars will take their cumuffins.
It’s impressive, for sure, but not that incredible considering we’ve had spectral matching EQs for a long time. Seems like a natural evolution to me.
While the gap between professional mastering engineer and software algorithm will continue to narrow, I don’t see how mixing could be replaced. That’s like saying a robot arm will paint our paintings for us – it’s an art, not a science.
That said, more and more of it could be automated. Like perhaps it could be reduced to a simple set of sliders, or even a selection of “moods.” In other words, it will become more and more accessible to amateurs.
When I first started to do records with my Logic 2.5 routing audio through my Mac 1/8″ stereo jack, people laughed. Same thing when we recorded on ADAT machines. They were right, that was far from a Studer. When I tried recording guitar right into the board, that was also very funny. It was just before the Pod. And at that time, expensive and pro mastering saved all those albums.
But now, everybody and his sister is making a full album with plugins, from drums to guitar. You have a simulator for every possible instruments or piece of gear existing on the planet.
And upon comments I read, a majority of people don’t see why they would pay for music.
In conclusion: if you want comfort in life, choose another profession. (To late for me though). And of course, we can’t stop “progress”…
I’m with you 100%. I discourage people from going into music on a daily basis!
I have had tried landr to do some simple jobs.. I would teach to a 5 year old. And it really messed it up, it main focus is on louder. I wonder if it even uses dittering!? Now to be honest I be better off putting a limiter and dittering on a postfader inserts Cubase on my master output I am pretty sure that does about the same as landr does if I need something quick and unfinished. Only difference is that it probably sounds a lot better.
Well, to be fair, it’s getting better. It certainly depends on the source material though. There’s definitely EQ, compression, limiting, and dither. But you’re right that for maximum transparency, simply putting a limiter on your master bus will do in a pinch!
Not sure if it should (ever) be used for anything professional, but as a music hobbyist with a 40+hr job I really like this service. I can get my mixdowns from shit to good (not great) in minutes without spending years learning how to properly master and weeks working on one track.
Grant, you’re exactly who LANDR is geared towards! When the choice is LANDR, self-mastering, or no mastering at all, LANDR is generally your best option. They aren’t looking to put mastering engineers out of business – rather, they’re evangelizing the benefits of mastering, and providing a point of entry.
Yeah I had tried this out about a year ago, and wasn’t too impressed frankly. However, gave it another shot recently when a friend brought it up to me again, and I must say, for at least getting a test listen of your works and progress it’s pretty useful. I don’t think they use the same algorithm for everything anymore, if that’s what they were actually doing in the first place, and maybe I will still go with a “true-blue human” for the final product but as of now, placebo effect or not, I definitely feel they’ve upped their game.
The algorithms are constantly changing, so you’re right there. And some tracks just happen to suit their algorithms better than others.
Just tried this out for the first time…was expecting a piece of $%& master to be honest, but am actually really impressed. Would I use for a release? Maybe…need to listen more to get a better feel…but it seems if I could get the tracks to match volume on a collection, it would be a viable option. Especially for outtakes, etc.
I spent $150/track last year for a pro and successful ME and received very poor quality. A lot of it was due to the mix I now know, but for that $$ I would hope an ME would tell me to fix the mix and not just take my hard earned cash. The human element can care and adjust the master for its subtleties, make sure every track is compatible, etc., but it can also just need to pay rent and do @#$% work itself.
Nice to know this exists…as for now I’m still more comfortable with a trustworthy and affordable ME so long as they exist. But I’m keeping an eye on it for sure.
Unfortunately at this point, you can’t get LANDR to match volume or tonal balance. It’s coming though!
Sorry to hear you had a bad experience with a pro ME. You just have to find one you click with! LANDR will never be able to suggest mix tweaks, and those often impact the final product more than mastering ever could.
You are just silly muther fucka. LANDR sonicly just beat your mastered version 100 times. Get propper monitors ore train your ears fore more couple years to pick the juice. And learn respect for new technologies. Peace!!!
Damn, you’re right. You got me.
I’d seriously need to know what the algorythm was before I used it….but then that’s probably secret, so unfortunately i wont.
Someimtes for demos, otherwise unmastered i might give it a blast.
But I’d expect, that automated processes like these require MORE thought at mixing, so that you can ‘play’ it’s system. Unfortunately we don’t know what to ‘play’ it for, so we can’t apply a different approach to mixing or ‘half mastering’ a song first.
Unlike a plugin, there aren’t any options, barely, which would be a start.
If you are using any preset function, you generally on any processor get some selection of different presets for styles. It would be a start! You’d also also get some choice of levels and loudness. And other options like switching desser off, if its there, because maybe its an instrumental track…? Or a slider for the amount of ‘pumping’ compression…….I know simplicity is the key, but the best way for that is to use ‘defaults’, and heck maybe even give these things simple adjectives and hide what they actually do in help or something, just for the simple musicians with no processing tools.
The problem with that though, is if you’ve mixed a track, you likely will know all that already.
And I still think if you’ve mixed it good enough, then you can master it OK. Its all about monitoring and a point of comparison. If you haven’t mixed it well, well then the master will probably make it worse if its automatic…
For a start EQ is very much based on loudness of a track…a loudness curve would be great…preseumably its based on some function of what a flat-eq’d track would be like?
But then when i’ve tried automating my process (various plugins)….well there’s the prescence or sub increase that usually happens in mastering….it is just not going to know if its bringing out ugly stuff.
Trying to second guess the algorithm would be an exercise in frustration, because it reacts to your changes. The goalposts are always shifting.
While having more options could be useful, it kind of defeats the purpose. If you’ve got to try out a bunch of different settings, you might as well just do it yourself. If your ears are that finely tuned, one-click mastering probably isn’t for you.
Mastering your own stuff doesn’t make any sense to me, because the mix should already sound perfect to you. In which case, add a little compression if you’re feeling brave, limit to the desired volume level, dither and you’re done!
Have any of you guys, especially the ones who are getting precious about this considered fundamental questions which are so obvious they aren’t obvious? Why do people buy music at all ? Sure, audiophiles are only going to be happy if a mix is mastered to perfection. What about the vast majority though? They may like a lyric? They may just identify themselves with what an artist is trying to do? They may just like a hook. None of that is audiophile! The diverse range of playback mediums,from laptop speakers and shitty headphones, through to totally random streaming sites, with random volumes and all the rest of it. Heavily compressed radio and tv broadcasts? Many ME’s feel this is somehow an attack on their craft. Why? Some people eat is classy restaurants with famous chefs … some people like to snack out at McD’s or KFC or Pizza Hut. Is the worry that AI is going to get better, as are the algorithms? These mastering services are still a million miles away from top level mastering. Perhaps somewhere down the line they might catch up … perhaps not though. You can’t live life like that. Enjoy what you do, and the thanks you get for your work, and worry about the future when it’s worth worrying about.
I hear where you’re coming from Colin. Production quality isn’t everything!
Still, I want my music to sound the best that it can, even if most listeners can’t appreciate it. With so many demands on our attention online, it’s easy to dismiss a bad recording in the first few seconds, and never get around to appreciating that hook or lyric.
I agree that there’s Good, Fast, Cheap – pick any two. Have you tried your test again recently, since you did this two and half years ago – has LANDR improved at all?
I’m sure its improved, but I haven’t tested it again on material I’m familiar with. They recently announced compatibility with Native Instruments stems format, which should be interesting!
I feel sad for anyone who think an AI can do better job at mastering than a human. At least for now.
Hey Brian, have you thought about doing a rematch? I’m interested to see how Landr has developed since you published this article (2014?).
I’ve actually done some consulting for them since I wrote this article! I haven’t formally compared my masters to recent LANDR masters, but I’ve heard several LANDR masters over the course of my day-to-day work — some good, some not so much.
Until LANDR can master a set of songs, it can’t possibly compete with a pro. I’m sure that’s coming, and that might be the perfect occasion to revisit.
To be honest for an electronic Track that will have a month lifespan tops and make pennies on beatport, there has to be a more economical way of mastering that won’t cost hundreds of dollars. For now I’m sticking to Ozone till I find something worth a while.
I’d argue that it won’t have much of a lifespan if it’s poorly mastered.
Good article. I have been using LANDR for a month or so and there were some things in the masters that I was not satisfied with. Especially the harsh highs. And I suspected, as you have confirmed here, that it has some serious limitations. However, I do find it useful just to check my mixes because it can bring out things I hadn’t heard in the un-mastered mix. Also useful to take a (sort of) mastered mix to listen on different sound systems for reference.
This maybe saves time and cost when bringing the final mix to the mastering engineer.
The problem with that approach is you’re always shooting at a moving target. I suppose if you do one master just to get a fresh perspective, and stop there, it might be useful. But if you keep feeding different results in, you’ll get different results back. LANDR is never “happy” with what you feed it.
This is a fair article and test.
Unfortunately i’m skint and cant afford someone to master. I’ve spent so much on my equipment (solo drumer DJ style). So ive rec 80 tracks and LANDR kinda makes my tracks sound as loud as other folks stuff.
I can also master my samples and put them back into my sampler for live performance.
Its upped my rubbish studio skills massively. I guess i also suffer that def drummer syndrome, i acquired playing ridiculous D&B and jungle live.
In short LANDR has been a god send but i totally agree with this review of it. ive spent every second of 32 years on the art of drumming, but should of paid attention in all the studios i’ve been in.
You can always try just throwing a peak limiter on the master bus. At least that way you can set everything at the same level. But I totally understand where you’re coming from!
Really interesting read (article and comments). Thanks! Currently master my own work and while I’m no pro, I enjoy learning and being in control of the process. I’ll come back to tracks months later and tweak them as I find time away from your work helps with objective listening.
I play acoustic/alternative/punky stuff and really enjoy a raw/live sound. If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far (and there’s so much magic I don’t know), it’s that we all make music for very different reasons and expect very different outcomes.
I remember being really hung up on some old songs as I kept comparing them to commercially produced stuff. Came back to them years later and actually enjoyed them raw. It’s funny, as a musician I care mostly about the emotion and feeling a song conveys–something I lost sight of while “mastering” those tracks, too concerned about making the right frequencies pop, too much verb, etc. Time away gave me an appreciation for what they were–music.
I realized those rough demos of years past wouldn’t be the honest headspillings of a 17 year old kid I was going for if they were perfect and polished. Learned a few things along the way though, so the struggle is worth it!
LANDR is pretty cool software and accessible to many. Personally, I’ll keep working on my own stuff and trust my ears. Just tried their demo for the first time and while decent, it was brighter and louder which didn’t translate how I want. Honestly, even if it did, I’d still rather do it myself and learn something.
I wouldn’t worry about MEs being completely replaced by LANDR or similar software. If we come to that someday, there’ll still be folks who do it themselves because they love it, and it will be unique to their own tastes. Now, if you’re hoping to make a living here, that’s another story and we certainly live in interesting times with streaming and the like. That said, fans/artists who support will support, and those who don’t probably won’t regardless of the medium.
We do what we do because we love to do it. So long as that doesn’t change, neither will that desire for the human touch.
Great to hear from you Ethan!
I’ve always felt the same way about wanting to do it myself, but only after my first two albums were mastered so poorly. I was more or less forced into it.
It’s been 3.5 years since I posted this review, and while LANDR has come a long ways, it still can’t make two tracks match each other. So for now, as long as people care if their releases sound good next to each other on an album or playlist, my job is safe.
And that’s without even considering the other dimension you pointed out — personal taste.
I remember brightening up a rather dark album to get it in the ballpark of “normal,” thinking the artist would be delighted. Brighter is better, right?
His reponse? “It’s not that kind of album.” Ha!
I tried Landr and I found that it tends to bury my vocals, which are in the higher female range. If its algorithms “balance” the EQ, they aren’t taking into account what I need to be prominent. I like the way my regular mastering pro does my songs much much better.
For sure! I can’t imagine how LANDR could possibly pick out and highlight individual elements of a mix.
For “When Doves Cry,” during the synth, drop out section… the unmixed demo sounds a hell of a lot better than BOTH masters. It’s an entirely different sound…
It’s always a challenge to find settings that work across the entire song, when different sections have different tonal balances.
I used Landr on an entire ten track album and was beyond pleased. We shopped around for different options first, but found that the difference in quality between Landr masters and human MEs, while obviously apparent, did not justify the vast price difference. We are beyond happy with the final Landr masters and recieve numerous compliments on how professional the album sounds.
Granted, we are not top 40 musicians (although we are full time musicians) and are on a very limited budget, like many artists likely are.
Also, not all the final masters were acceptable to us the first time. When this was the case, I simply went back to the mix and adjusted it as needed, then remastered. This process helped me end up with a better overall mix as well as.
In response to the “apples to apples” comparison comment: this is a bit misleading considering one of the apples costs 10-100 times that, or more, then the other apple. You man master as many tracks as you want for $20 per month with Landr. For what it is you simply can’t beat that.
This sort of convo reminds me of when digital photography started over taking film photography. All those who made careers off film photography were talking about how digital would never replace film. Needless to say, those who did not adapt to digital aren’t around anymore, except for those who offer expensive niche services to the few folks who still want film photos for whatever reason.
The bottom line is that in this day in age, where most people being born in the last decade or will likely never hear a hi-if recording or a track played on vinyl, but instead will listen to low quality YouTube tracks 99% of the time, and with a market. That favors hype and quantity over quality and attention to detail, products like Landr will replace most engineers.
Glad to hear you’re happy with the results for the price! You’re exactly their target market.
I tried running my upcoming album through LANDR and the volume levels were so all over the place that it wasn’t remotely usable. The LUFS values weren’t even close, though that’s not perfect either. Fact is, there isn’t a good algorithm to match volumes yet, and different platforms use different methods.
As a mastering engineer, I think a healthy portion of the value I offer comes from providing mix feedback and suggestions. Once we dial in the mix, my job is easy.
In my experience, running tweaked mixes through LANDR is an exercise in frustration, because the output isn’t consistent. It’s a moving target. But it can certainly help with coarse tuning of a problematic mix.
All that said, I think the guys at LANDR are doing some amazing things. It’s pretty incredible that it works as well as it does. I’ve been using their distribution, and their articles are really helpful. Although it’s not healthy for my bottom line, I’m rooting for them.
I sent them a Good Mix and a Bad Mix. With the Good Mix they gave me a decent Mastering: I would define it similar to a decent ITB Mastering that anyone with a bit of Audio Experience could easily craft. With the Bad Mix the result was not decent at all, it just seemed the same song with a Louder Volume. This made me think that probably this kind of service has the wrong target: it is clearly for people that makes Music at home, because if i go to a Professional Recording Studio I’m going to Master my music in a Professional Mastering Facility. But, if I do my music at home, it is 99% sure that my Mix won’t be good, and in that case is really important to choose a Mastering Engineer that could solve my Mix Problems and guide me to achieve better results. At that point, I think that would be better to choose a fast and professional mastering service with a human being that would care about my music.
Adapt or die. vinyl… cds … mp3s ….plugins ….mastering …. soundcloud … auto chord progression plugins.. algorithms… 50 000 releases a day.. AI. I don’t want to to be but landr is f##ing good if you follow their premaster advice. Soon AI and algorithms will be making awesome tracks (based on top musicians) with a click of a button.. The music industry is more back in control these days, that is what happens when monsterous monopolies are allowed to flourish. Want your music heard these days – you pay to get things moving.
The saddest part is that musicians crave likes and comments, and these day a huge %age of them are for reverse gorilla marketing using bots.
Believe me, I follow their premaster advice. 😉
You’re right though, it’s tough to get noticed with such an insane amount of content being released every day.
First of all let me say that this is a great article.
I can really appreciate the comparison in sounds with the different tracks above. I have often wondered what human mix professionals thought of LANDR mastering services; now I know.
I only wished there was at least one Hip Hop track thrown in the mix (no pun intended) just for the sake of argument, as some of us have experienced mixing/mastering Hip Hop tracks as well; but I digress.
Not to downplay any of the technology of LANDR, but I feel in a lot of ways they are equal to the old sound selection buttons that were featured on home and car stereo systems. Anyone remember those? As a kid, I thought they were cool looking, but to be honest my ears couldn’t “really” distinguish the technical differences between the rock, classical, blues, or jazz settings. I only knew that one setting had less bass sound than the other, or one sounded muddier than another. I didn’t know why these companies chose to label or adjust the tones of these genres.
Even though I would occasionally press one of those buttons, I always ended up tweaking the treble, mid range, and bass knobs until my ears were satisfied.
So in that respect, I will give LANDR it’s props. While it ‘fixes’ many things. I don’t think it was ever designed to fix all.
I’m willing to bet that if I played the same comparison tracks above to a group of average music consumers of various age differences; some would say that the original versions sounded fine, and others would say that the LANDR versions sounded fine. Why? Taste and preference.
Plus, we live in an age where many listeners don’t know the differences between an .mp3 and an uncompressed .wav, so for them it’s JUST about loud or not-so-loud music.
There was a good point made awhile back that LANDR didn’t have the capability of letting you know that something crucial in the mix needed to be fixed like a human engineer would. However, I think that’is the whole point of LANDR. They know that they face scrutiny from musicians, mix professionals, and engineers. They also know that many people want things fast and cheap. As with anything else in life, some will find that fast and cheap does not always equal good. At the end of the day though, it’s about choices.
Even software plug-in manufacturers incorporate several ‘quick fix’ settings within them, but you still have the option
to tweak and fine tune to your ears content. 😉
Just as there are McDonald’s all over the place and people choose them constantly,…there will always be the need for a pricier ‘gourmet’ burger restaurant with specialty fries. Just imagine though if you ONLY had one or the other.
I think there is place for LANDR and the professional ME both in this world.
I’m just thankful to have options.
Thanks for your comment! You make some great, nuanced points.
I totally remember those audio preset buttons, and they never made any sense to me. I mean, if a particular genre is supposed to have a particular sonic signature, wouldn’t it already be mixed that way?
I’ve mentioned before that I think a large part of my value as a mastering engineer is in suggesting mix tweaks. Some of my clients even hire me for mix consultation before we hit the mastering stage. I’ve seen their mixing abilities flourish through the years to the point where now a handful of sub-1 dB tweaks will put my mastering in the sweet spot.
Guess it’s one of those teach a man to fish sort of dealies.
I call bs honestly. I do mastering and the landr masters are not half bad considering the cost of mastering and complexity of it. A pro would be bias obviously, but what you call unlistenable, on one track, I actually prefer over your master, so to each their own I guess.
LANDR is absolutely a great option for some. Sounds like that includes you! I don’t know who you’re calling BS on, or what it means to “do mastering.” I wrote this article so you could compare and contrast for yourself and come to your own conclusions.
I appreciate the article, do you care to do an update, since this was over 4 years ago, and the algorithm has probably changed?
The algorithm is always changing. In fact, I consulted for LANDR over the course of a couple years, providing feedback on multiple algorithms.
I recently tested album mastering and found that volume levels were all over the place. Not that there’s any really good algorithm for matching volume, but even the LUFS values were way off. That’s as close to a standard as we’ve got at this point in time.
I know the service is constantly improving, so with that in mind, I’d rather hold off on revisiting. That said, their blog is fantastic, and I’ve been using LANDR for distribution for over a year.
Bottom line, it’s unlikely that an automated mastering service will ever provide actionable feedback on your mix, which I feel is one of my strengths as a mastering engineer. I’ve seen a dramatic improvement in my clients’ mixes after working together on a few releases, to the point where consultation is no longer necessary.
LANDR is a good alternative if you are tight on budget, not every musician is blessed with costly hardware, sometimes your passion is more than your pocket, I used to master my own tracks but used to spoil them due to lack of knowledge, mastering engineers are professionals and they are meant for this job, they have the best skills possible to enhance your music with your taste and technical knowledge, if you could afford them, you should not go with LANDR. On the other hand, there are many small musicians like me who are desperate to create a decent mix with proper mastering ( at least descent mastering) and LANDR gives this opportunity to test out your mix, sometimes I have fixed few things on my DAW even after mastering from LANDR, all said it’s still a computer and does not understand in what emotion the song was made and where things need to be low or high. I read someone’s comment here which I also agree and have questions, if my mix is tight, LANDR should give me a good result, not very professional but a descent one. Honestly for now and I think in future as well, LANDR cannot replace the ME as I have been with some good mastering engineers and their knowledge for their job is way high that a LANDR can gain in many years. I always support for professional mastering if you can afford it, if you can’t, just try to get a tight mix and use LANDR for mastering.
Thanks for the thoughtful comment! I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said here. Sadly, the people least likely to be able afford professional mastering are the ones most in need of the mixing advice LANDR can never provide.
Yes exactly you are right, hope worlds bring some mutual way for every musician who is trying to make a difference with their music, thank you so much for so much knowledgeable content and advises, means a lot to me as I learn from these forums and articles only.
Thanks for the kind words Sagar!
Brian I’d choose your interpretations of what the artist probably intended in a heartbeat. Hopefully this whole loudness fad will go full circle, and in years to come the average listener will demand dynamic range. Fingers crossed!
Thanks Troy! I think it already has gone full circle. Check out the mastering and loudness instructions from Spotify.
To be honest with you, for the first track your master is obviously better. For 2nd and 3rd not so much. I don’t think that a wide range of listeners would notice any difference and even to my somewhat trained ears landr masters for the last 2 had even some positives over yours.
Sounds like you’re a good candidate for LANDR! 🙂
so reading the responses over the years and as a multi-year landr premium subscriber. It keeps improving.
It does not replace a mastering engineer… except for tracks that would never be mastered by a mastering engineer.
Which is 90% of the home studio mixes and remixes and alternate takes.
I haven’t messed with the mastering engine in awhile, but I’ve been using them for distribution!
I used Landr a few years ago as a sort of testing device to check my mixes before sending them off for mastering. It was cool but I wasn’t taken enough to go full-throttle with it as my actual mastering service.
This year I decided to give it another try, and quite frankly, I was really happy with the results. I don’t think it should or will replace mastering engineers altogether, if only for the simple fact of personal preference and differences between artists/projects, but for what I’m currently doing it’s been working pretty perfectly. The fact that the turnaround time is mere minutes & you don’t feel too guilty for having to adjust your mix a few times and get things remastered is a bit of a bonus as well
I’d be curious to hear if you’ve tested it for a full album or even an EP. I suspect that one-offs can be hit and miss, but the real test is matching a set of tracks. Especially if you throw in a ballad! I don’t see how that could be automated, but I’m open to being proven wrong.
The album-mastering function is actually the one I’ve been using most, recently, for a set of 4 tracks I’m planning on releasing as an EP later this month. while the tracks are all largely electronic, they’re far from homogenous mixes (one is a “retrowave” mix of the single, another is a skittering fast-paced IDM track and the last is ambient downtempo) and i’ve been very satisfied with what I got back.
The comments you made in the original post re: the engine not really taking into account genres, styles, and things like that and resulting in maybe not enough low-end on certain masters, I definitely believe that might’ve been the case at the time but it sure wasn’t a complaint I’d have with my most recent experiences. Now it’s actually a strong possibility that these will be the masters I release as the actual EP.
Now with all that being said I should point out I don’t think it’s going to steal mastering jobs away from the engineers because people (including myself) are always going to want an analog option (see the fact that people still buy and listen to vinyl over streaming, etc) and it will vary from project to project and artist to artist. for this particular project though, the quality, not to mention added bonus of speed & cost, of landr has just about won me over
That’s great news! As for analog, I really don’t think that’s the superior route, especially with electronic music, where transparency is valued over warmth.
IMHO the biggest reason to hire a professional is to get an experienced set of ears on your mixes and dial them in BEFORE mastering. My clients and I usually go back and forth multiple times on mixes, to the point where I often don’t even have to use EQ beyond cleaning up the sub bass.