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LANDR, CloudBounce & The Future Of Mastering

Master Plans
Published September 2016
By Sam Inglis

Isabel Garvey is Managing Director of Abbey Road Studios.Isabel Garvey is Managing Director of Abbey Road Studios.

Are cloud-based mastering services a threat to traditional mastering engineers, or just a cheap alternative for producers who can’t afford the real thing? It depends who you ask...

Why would the world’s most famous studio promote something that threatens to undermine part of its core business? It’s a question that Isabel Garvey, Managing Director of Abbey Road Studios, is getting used to answering. “Some people seem surprised that a facility with lots of traditional mastering engineers, technology and expertise would launch an incubator programme which welcomes technology businesses that potentially disrupt the studio model. ‘Why would you do that?’ they ask me all the time. The short answer is: because it is fascinating, and the possibilities are really very exciting. The last thing we would want is to be fighting an inevitable change. We want to be a part of this revolution, not have the revolution happen to us!”

The disruptive technology in question here is automated mastering. Online, cloud-based services are springing up which purport to take raw mixes and deliver polished masters without any direct human involvement. Perhaps the best-known of these is LANDR, which has been making waves for a year or two now, while Abbey Road have gone into partnership with rival service CloudBounce. Does the rise of automated mastering threaten the jobs of established mastering engineers, including the distinguished team at Abbey Road itself? Which aspects of the mastering process, if any, can successfully be handed over to automated processors?

Mastering For The Masses

To try to answer these and other questions, I spoke to Isabel and to several mastering engineers at Abbey Road and other studios, and also to Anssi Uimonen of CloudBounce, and Justin Evans, co-founder of LANDR. All of them agree that the usefulness of cloud-based mastering tools — and their potential to displace human beings — depends to a great extent on your expectations of the mastering process. “Of course, there are many things a mastering engineer will do that we will never be able to do,” admits Justin Evans. “The critical insights a mastering engineer can give in a conversation with a musician... that is something that even the best AI in the world wouldn’t try.”

Abbey Road engineer Sean Magee shares this perspective. “There’s no way these services can ever be true competition. Someone who can afford to pay to have a human do their mastering, whether it’s online or by coming to Abbey Road in person, will pay to do that, because there are things we do that they can’t do. If you’re taking your music to that kind of level, the chances are you’re going to want a better service than these automatic tools can offer you.”

Sean Magee has been an Abbey Road mastering engineer for almost 20 years, and won a Grammy for his work on the Beatles remasters in 2009.Sean Magee has been an Abbey...

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Published September 2016

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