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?
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.”
You've only read 10% of this article, so to continue reading...
Option 1: Login to read this article if you have a Web Subscription or Industry Controlled Circulation account
- To read the full article online (in HTML browser format), please LOG IN at the top of this page.
- Note: Your Web subscription does not include downloadable PDF articles free of charge.
Option 2: Buy a Web sub from our shop
- A Web sub can be bought from our Shop and used immediately, or contact our Subs staff to discuss an upgrade price to add Web access to your existing subscription.
Option 3: Buy and download this SOS article in Adobe PDF format
- Buy this article now and immediately download the PDF file to your computer.
- PDF articles look identical to the printed magazine layouts (but exclude advertisements).
- Note: Some shorter articles don't always have a PDF version.