What To Do With The Machine


LANDR, an AI based online mastering service, has caused quite the stir in the worldwide music community. Several rival factions have taken up arms on audio forums worldwide.

The three main reactions are as follows:

  1. It's just a computer, Sonny. My vintage Sontec, golden ears, and elbow grease will always trump this. Get me a sandwich.
  2. Have you seen I, Robot?!? LANDR's gonna take our jobs!!!!
  3. I bet it sounds fine, but I still prefer to send my stuff to my boy Greg Calbi.

I'd like to throw a wrench in, but first, let's talk about chess.

In 1996, IBM's super computer, Deep Blue, took on the best chess player in the world, Garry Kasaprov. After a series of six games, Kasaprov came out on top.

IBM then requested a rematch in 1997, again challenging Kasaprov to another six games. Kasaprov won the first, lost the second, then called a draw on the next three. This tied up the man vs machine matchup at 2 1/2 to 2 1/2.

During game six, Deep Blue flexed a few more transistors and won the clash of the intellectual titans in just 19 moves. This shot heard around the world marked the first time a computer program had beaten a world champion chess player in a match under tournament regulations.

Kasaprov accused IBM of cheating, but he soon cooled his jets. Instead of resting on his wounded ego, the grand master went on to develop a new chess league, one that allowed a third type of player called a Centaur - man and machine working together.

This cyborg combo, a human being fed possible moves by a computer that the human could selectively override, became a popular choice in Kasaprov's tournament. In the 2014 world championships, the number of matches won by a Centaur competitors outnumbered the number of games won by AI competitors.

Team Integrand, the winners of the tournament, was composed of several AI and humans working in tandem. Why does this matter?

man + machine > machine or Man alone

Music makers have been "centauring" for decades now. Autotune, MIDI quantize, beat detective, metronomes - the list goes on. We as humans have used digital technology to help make better music for decades.

We've been fine with these changes as long as the tools have stayed utilities, but now with software like LANDR, the tool is now starting to do what we do.

As mentioned above, mastering engineers have largely chosen to ignore the technology, fear it, or downplay it. I think there's a fourth stance:

LANDR is not my enemy, it's my training partner.

I love mastering. And I think I'm pretty good at it - at helping music maker's art sound amazing. LANDR helps me do that better.

Honesty hour: I've paid for a year of LANDR. $299 big ones. Here's how having LANDR on my tool belt has changed my workflow:

  1. Get tracks and client notes.
  2. Upload all tracks to LANDR on Medium setting.
  3. DON'T LISTEN to LANDR masters, yet.
  4. Master the record myself and get tracks 80-90% of the way there.
  5. Listen to LANDR masters and compare notes with my blind masters.
  6. Make a 3rd integrated, more awesome master with things I learned from LANDR.
  7. High five happy client.
  8. Nap.

It's new, kinda scary, but really fun.

Mastering's a lone wolf craft. It's you, your gear, your tastes, your workflow. I personally love this autonomy, but often it sucks being stuck in your own world all the time.

Even if the feedback is from a "machine" (one that's learning and getting better every day), having outside input is essential to growing as an engineer.

It's why I use my two favorite mastering tools, Perception and Magic A/B, every session.

It's still up to me to deliver a great master, to discern LANDR's processing, compare notes, up my game, and deliver.

I'm going to spend a year working with an AI to do that.

R2-D2 can come, too.

Michael Curtis

A mastering engineer and composer who loves helping you sound awesome.