All about producing and mastering audio for disc, the web and beyond

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Automated mastering

For the last couple of years we've been hearing about automated mastering coming into the marketplace.  It seems like a direct path from sophisticated meters, to software presets to 'smart software'.  As tools evolve there's the potential for good use, and abuse.

So

This in response:
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We tried (insert name of online automated mastering service here) and had some clients do the same.  Based on the result thus far, no one I know is taking it seriously.  It's not the fault of the processing but rather the lack of good context within which to make mastering decisions.  Sadly this condition exists in many a basement 'mastering' environment too.  Bad acoustics and lack of practice can yield results as bad as automated mastering.  (In fact I would assert it may be worse when a person is involved)

Don't blame the tools.

We need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Many companies are creating tools for analyzing audio that can help guide us to good solutions more quickly than we can on our own.  That's part of the same evolution that brings us automated mastering.  

In my view, it's a question of how the answers and decisions are arrived at.

I think the biggest problem we face is in marketing.  If a company makes great software tools (and they may well indeed) and then claims that the software can make you sound like Bob Clearmountain (and they never can), we have a problem.  Marketing departments are eager to help customers understand how they can help contribute to a meaningful difference in the work of all people involved in creative acts of music making.  The majority of customers out there don't have a good grasp on the process of mastering (or mixing or production) and so they don't understand nuance, subtlety and they way great records are made....and messages that include these ideas are often lost on the great unwashed masses.

So....how do we address the problem?  In my view, by educating the customer/artist/producer/etc....and by educating ourselves.  That seems like the best way to build a bridge to understanding that we are all collaborating toward the same goal.  Making great music and/or recordings to help us achieve our various goals.

It is for this reason that I have become involved with Berklee and most recently with iZotope.

My two cents -

Jonathan
M Works Mastering - Chief Engineer
iZotope - DIrector of Education
Berklee College of Music - Associate Professor

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