If you’re involved in music creation/production, promoting your own music, have your music on iTunes, Apple Music, SoundCloud and other streaming platforms, and maintain a social media presence, you’ve probably been seeing a fair amount of ads in your news feed for LANDR, an online music mastering service. LANDR is a subscription service that bills itself as “Professional Audio Mastering (at a fraction of the cost of studio mastering)” where you can “Master tracks. Instantly.”
I had planned to take a test drive just to see what the results would be – which I did, with a new partially-unfinished song – and write a review here in the blog, but thanks to Mr. Ian Shepherd and his video, now I don’t have to! He’s already done that and I think his review and recommendations are totally spot on. If you’ve been considering using LANDR, please watch and, most importantly, listen to the video below:
Granted, the video is from a year ago and several commenters have said that LANDR has updated and improved their algorithm and software, but I think his initial reservations and concerns do hold true, plus I’ll add a few of my own here.
- Mastering recorded music is an art form in and of itself… And for that you need human ears and a certain sensibility, sensitivity that is never going to be replaced by a computer program or algorithm, no matter how sophisticated or customizable that program becomes (A.I. notwithstanding… but even then it’s artificial intelligence). Particularly, as Ian says in the video, when it comes to mastering songs in relation to the other songs that will comprise an entire album. That’s huge and that can’t be done by a computer.
- The old adage “You get what you pay for” applies here… Meaning you should never skimp on presenting your music in its best possible light. While you will get instant results with LANDR, those will not necessarily be the best in the long run. For that you need a true music mastering professional, especially if they are a musician themselves. Words and phrases like “instant” and “at a fraction of the cost” may sound enticing but resist the instant gratification factor and the need to try to cut costs. Your music deserves to be great for the long haul… right? Always, always, always buy the best quality you can afford; this applies equally as well to your instruments and recording software/studio time as much as mastering.
- The point of using any technology is to enhance what you’re trying to express creatively, not be subservient to it… Yeah, I’ve been saying this one since the Yamaha DX7 keyboard came out… i.e., back in the 80’s, but it applies here. Technology should always be used judiciously to create/achieve certain effects, not applied arbitrarily or as an end in itself (autotune immediately comes to mind). That involves creative decision-making… by a human bein’ with a soul and a heartbeat (and a great set of ears). Ideally, if we use a certain technology, we should humanize it. One size fits all doesn’t cut it, nor do customizable templates. I agree with Ian here as well – the very rudimentary home mastering I did on my song I felt was better than the best automated mastered version of it on LANDR, but then I am biased because I’ve lived with my ears for 58 years, I’m kind of attached to ’em, and I tend to trust ’em. And yes, it really is all about the sound.
- You can’t automate “art”… and audio mastering is an art. Meaning it’s inexact, imprecise, and subjective. And as such it’s “perfect” (there’s a reason the Navajo leave a flaw or two in their woven rugs).
- Not everything needs to be loud… a.k.a. the loudness wars and the battle for the listener’s attention (see Donald Trump)…
Now, having said all this, where LANDR can be useful:
Because you do get instant results, it can be helpful in generating ideas for your mix that you might not have considered. You may hear something that can be highlighted that will make your mix better. Also, you can pinpoint any flaws in the mix, anything that stands out like the proverbial sore thumb (e.g…. cymbals!), and also identify any instruments/vocals that may have been recorded too hot where you’re getting some distortion that may not have been immediately apparent in the mix.
Because of the speed and convenience of it, you could record something at a live show, do the quick and dirty online mastering on it, and make it immediately available to fans or for listening and critiquing at your next band rehearsal. I could also see situations where you have a possible last-minute gig come up and need to shoot something over to a venue quickly. It happens.
Really though, every benefit I can think of with LANDR has to do with speed and convenience, not the actual sound. I think LANDR can be a useful tool in getting your music eventually where you want it to go and I think they do provide a good service, but let’s be clear: it is not true professional audio mastering. I personally would never use it on a finished album. For that you need a true mastering professional with a great set of ears.