Whats the deal with these automated mastering services?

Whats the deal with these automated mastering services?
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#41

I see what you did there!


#42

Haha :joy: Wasn’t on purpose thoug.

Have you played one, I’ve always wanted to try them.


#43

So, as far as the original question about automated mastering services…

Graham (recording revolution) makes the point that in mixing the goal is to get the song sounding it’s absolute best before sending it to mastering. Do whatever you can do to make it sound as good, or better, than professionally done reference mixes.

In this article from several years ago (Mix It To Sound Mastered), he cautions against looking at mastering as having to do with just “making a song sound better.” That is, first priority is getting a great recording – great raw materials to build with; next priority is balancing the raw materials to get the best mix possible.

He makes a great point here:

" One of the dumbest things you can do in audio is to defer responsibility to a later stage, or to someone else entirely. What I mean is this: many people setup to record a band and it sounds OK, but they assume it will sound better once it’s mixed, so they settle for mediocre sounds. Or they have great sounds, but too many to choose from. They defer the responsibility of committing to a tone or performance.

The same is happening for many of you when mixing. You near the end of a mix, but it doesn’t quite sound like the pro tracks that you’re referencing, so you assume it’s because it’s not mastered. You “give up” on your mix and defer the responsibility of making your mix awesome to the mastering engineer. Big mistake."

He goes on to say that one needs to understand that the goals of mixing and mastering are different: mixing is about “balancing the tracks,” whereas mastering is about “balancing the mixes.” That is, as he describes it, the role of mastering is to take (hopefully!) a compilation of great mixes and balance them against each other to sound good as a collection of songs. (That was Cristina’s point above)

His other point is that, as contrasted with mastering, the mix should not be concerned about output volume at all, apart from proper gain-staging. Stay way clear of clipping, concentrate on the mix, and leave output volume to the mastering phase.

So mastering should not be about just making your song sound better: it should be about balancing a compilation of songs against each other, finalizing the output volume, and a bit of polishing of the sound (perhaps mainly – or exclusively? – with EQ, compression, limiting, etc. But very subtle).

So, if that’s accurate, my take is that that’s where a lot of the automated mastering services fall short. Seems to me that people tend to look at them as serving the purpose of just tweaking the mix of a song. I mix a song and load it up to Landr and hope it makes it sound better, which is missing the purpose of mastering.

That said, as far as how well the online services do at making a song sound better (:grin:), this video by White Sea Studio (the “snake oil” guy) does a pretty interesting comparison of the mastering of a song by Landr and some of the other online services, vs. by Ozone vs. also a professional mastering engineer. Good discussion plus you can hear the differences.


#44

Good JCM800 clone, I played v.1, later on I think they added more gain.

@vtr I am not asking for your critique at this stage, nor would I care to receive it TBH.
To me EVH will always be tied in to his schlock Roxxo teh clown band no matter how talented. Had he broke out of that as it appeared to look with him joining MJ, we never know what would’ve happened, maybe a gig with Ozzy? I surely jest. He’s made his money and his chops are undeniable, it’s just all schlock to me. Just as is anything, for example, by Michael Angelo Batio. Now, I do love “Hot for Teacher” as that song/video puts me right into 4th grade every time I hear the song.


#45

Lol… good luck with that, everybody on the internet is a critic. Just the way the world works. You may just have been born 30 years too late :wink:


#46

This is in direct contravention to previous advice of not deferring responsibility to a later stage.

“Output volume” is essentially gain reduction through compression and limiting. As such it affects the sound - not just the loudness - of the overall mix. Therefore you should apply it as part of the mix. If you don’t, there is every chance that your master will sound very different to your mix.

This only applies to albums. I am asked to master single tracks more often than I am asked to master full albums.


#47

I think there’s a few attitudes that are valid, here.

If part of the reason you’re employing a mastering engineer is that you want them to give your mixes a sanity check, on the grounds of them having fresh ears and a very familiar and revealing studio monitoring/ room acoustic that would allow them to pick up on problems that you as mixer didn’t hear, then it makes sense not to unduly tie their hands.

Once a mix has been compressed and limited &/or clipped, further processing is harder without emphasising artefacts of those processes. So if the mastering engineer picks up on one song as needing some EQ, extra compression or whatever, they won’t be able to do as much to fix it.

If you limit the song for volume during the mix, then in the context of the album it turns out that song doesn’t actually need to be as loud relative to the other tracks, then you’ve lopped off some transients unnecessarily.

If you know your mix is great and that it needs no correction, then yeah, compress and limit it for its final volume yourself. At that point you could quite reasonably ask what you’re going to get out of a mastering engineer, and if the cost will be worth it.

And that is a totally valid position. Personally, in the last couple of years I’ve mastered my own work, because I feel like I’ve got to the stage where a cheap master of, say, £300 for an album isn’t going to beat what I can do myself enough to justify the cost, and a higher quality mastering engineer charging £750+ to do the same job can’t be justified on the basis that I won’t see any extra return from that kind of investment.

So, I make the best mix I can including, during the mix, bus EQ & compression, then once the whole project is mixed and I’ve lived with it for a bit the mixes all go in one mastering session where running order, track segues & gaps are decided, then it gets processed for absolute volume and tonal coherence between tracks. And I might well go back, tweak something and re-print a mix if the limiting, say, pushes the snare or vocal too far down into the mix. But actually mixing through a bus compressor does minimise the resulting balance changes from limiting.

I’ve tried automated mastering once or twice and honestly, I’d rather do it manually, with reference to commercial releases I like the sound of.

I like Voxengo Elephant, one instance set to clipping with no stereo link to lop off , at most, a couple of dB of the loudest peaks, and a second instance set to limit which can therefore be pushed a bit harder without those peaks squashing the rest of the mix which, to my ears, is more damaging than the occasional milli-second long hard clip.


#48

Yes, but master bus limiting is not just a case a case of dialling it up until it sounds good. The resultant recording should be measured for loudness and adjusted accordingly.


#49

FWIW, I used a mastering engineer for my recently released album, and I was very happy with the result.

I’ve had other artists work that I mixed mastered by professional MEs but I had never been through the process personally, so it was enlightening to see how it all worked.

For someone who just wants to punch out singles for a constant flow of “content”, I can see the sense in using an automated mastering service, or even just self ‘faux’ mastering. However, for dinosaurs like myself who still love the album format, maybe not so much…

I actually had some very specific goals in going with an outside ME:

I had recorded and mixed my songs over a number of years, so my main concern was to try to achieve some sense of cohesion and consistency across the album. That was something I felt I just didn’t have enough objectivity to achieve on my own, and that is why I decided to go that way.

I also wanted to learn about the deficiencies in my own mixing, and this has probably been the most valuable lesson. I definitely have noted some stuff that I can improve on - my perceptual ‘blind spots’, if you like.

Any concerns I might have had about the ME ‘changing the sound of my mixes’ were unfounded. Of course I know he made changes, but they were subtle, respected the musical intent, and improved the end product overall.

I could be wrong, but I think automated processes or other self-mastering tools have a long way to go before they might achieve that sort of result across a collection of songs.


#50

This is an example of another attitude that’s valid!

Indeed, in the past I’ve used a few mastering engineers. I can’t remember if I’ve written before about what an eye opening experience it was taking my band’s 4-track EP to a quality mastering studio for an attended session. I used these guys for the subsequent two albums we did. And every time I learned something that made me better. But each album was about £700, so it wasn’t cheap.

So where I am now (which is still very much in the “learning to mix” camp, don’t read this as "I’m too good for mastering!") is that 4 years on I can produce mixes that already sound better, with some cursory limiting for volume, than the masters sounded on those albums. Because the mixes for those albums… an unkind person might say they sucked! :sweat_smile: So, mastering had massive benefits because someone else could easily massively improve those sucky mixes, while I looked on and said “What, really? Is THAT MUCH LOW END normal? And you’re pushing the high shelf 4dB, bloody hell that’s opened things out. What’s that you’re doing on the Side channel with that EQ? Oh, the acoustic guitar had this low mid cloudiness I didn’t even know would be a problem. Wait, the vocal has ringing at 3.2k that you’re notching out…?” And even just sitting there listening to the mix on great monitors, suddenly hearing that the mix bus compressor I’d chosen was pumping low end frequencies that I didn’t even know existed… absolutely massive learning experience, that.

But now, after a lot more mixing, as I’ve got more confident, if a mastering guy added 4dB of top end… well, I’d consider that either a total fuckup on my part or his. I’ve considered the top end balance, in both tonality and the overall framing of the mix. And if something has a ringing frequency, or a slightly tubby low mid, it’s because I tried taking it out and it lost more than it fixed. I suppose you could say that things wrong with my mixes now are errors of taste, rather than errors of perception or an ignorance of what I should be paying attention to.

So, I’m not saying a mastering engineer couldn’t still make things better, and I’m still learning every day. If time were critical, or if money were no object, I’d send it off to be mastered. But I think I’m at the point where mastering isn’t going to materially affect how much people enjoy the music, so there’s better things to spend hundreds on. And automated mastering misses half the point of the process, which is a fresh set of ears that can judge the art (not just the frequency curves and dynamic range).

So, in conclusion, Landr can bugger off.:rofl:


#51

Measured for loudness and adjusted accordingly, against what target?


#52

Depends on what medium its for I think. cd, streaming etc… I recently got the L2 from fabfilter, and for example, you can set it for cd at 14lufs, and then you can read on the meter how close you are to that, and adjust your mix or the limiter as needed.


#53

So, who decides the target? What’s the criteria? Don’t get me wrong, I know about, say, Spotify normalising to approx. -14Lufs with a -1dBfs limiter etc… but to my thinking, that doesn’t mean that -14lufs therefore follows as being a “target volume” for your art…


#54

Definitely, at least 30 years but I think a whole century or two too late.


#55

If you are three only one who’s going to listen to it, agreements don’t have to be made. I don’t know why different platforms use different agreements, but it had nothing to do with limmiting your art. Only With your volume knob as far as I can tell.


#56

Against whatever target you deem appropriate. You will need to have this discussion with the mastering engineer anyway so it’s as well you get your act together early on in the process.


#57

You do. Some say the record companies have been historically responsible for what became the loudness war but in my experience the biggest driver is the artist. Certainly if you’re artist/producer/engineer/mixer then there is literally no-one else but you who can make that call anyway.

Well, there you go, you already have some opinion on the matter.

There are no agreements. Each platform is autonomous and operates on its own terms. As far as I know all platforms operate some form of loudness normalisation but in general no-one knows the algorithm each one uses and - officially - no-one knows how much normalisation is applied, although, of course, it’s relatively easy to measure the output of a platform and make reasonable conclusions.


#58

Hey Cirrus :slight_smile:
I’m not sure I understand the reasoning behind how target volumes have anything to do with your art.

Seems to me that the platform determines this, not the artists preferences.

My question is if you’re an independent artist releasing your own music, then who even cares? And why? I can’t see how it makes a difference so long as the loudness is uniform from song to song and that its somewhere within reason. If streaming platforms and radio broadcast stations are going to change them anyway, then how and why is this a concern for the ME outside of the artists own work sounding cohesive on their iTunes and CD EP?

I completely understand the ME roll of re-balancing the frequency spectrum, width, and compression of the master recording for system to system translation. But beyond that certain point in the mastering process, I don’t understand the relevance of the loudness discussion.


#59

This stuff is all completely valid imo. I don’t think there’s any correct or incorrect reason for hiring an ME to whatever it is they do.

I tell artists its very important to understand what an ME is and isn’t capable of doing. I also think its important for someone to clearly articulate WHY they need ME services on a particular project before they pull the trigger. I think a lot of artists master stuff for the sake of mastering (because that’s what you’re supposed to do) it rather than there being an auditory or financial reason to do so. I see guys master projects all the time that legitimately DON’T need mastering work done.


#60

Thats not what I meant. I meant that I don’t know why platform x chooses for loudness lvl a or b, and another platform for c or d. Agreement as in, agreeing on which lvl :slight_smile: