"We're not replacing engineers," Justin Evans, co-founder and VP of product and innovation at MixGenius, tells Billboard. "We're democratizing the process of mastering in the same way Instagram makes photos look cool. It would take Adobe Photoshop experts 10 hours of tweaking curves and color filters to get those same results. It hasn't replaced people that do photo re-touching -- it's just made it accessible for everyone."
LANDR, he explains, works much like Shazam's song identification software, breaking down songs into genre, style, the quality of the original mix, the processers used, and more qualifiers. "It acts the same way as a human engineer, listening to music and saying, 'Oh, cool, this is more R&B from the '90s or underground R&B than hip-hop, so it should be mastered less aggressively with these parameters."
It was developed by a team of researchers at the Queen Mary University of London's Center for Digital Music (C4DM), which had been working on machine learning and semantic rule-based technology since 2006, and road-tested with Montreal's eclectic, vibrant music scene. Artists on indie label Arbutus Records (Braids, Blue Hawaii, Tonstartssbandht) and ex-Godspeed You! Black Emperor member Roger Tellier-Craig and DJ Tiga (of "Bugatti" fame) all approved LANDR.
Evans also counts the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir as a supporter. "He uses LANDR all the time," he says. Other mastering professionals, like Minneapolis' Dave Gardner (Louis C.K., the Hold Steady, Black Lips), have a more even-handed viewpoint. "It's part of the mass democratization of the msuic industry," he tells Billboard. "There are good and bad things about it. If someone can spend $10 a month and get something better than what they have but not very good, I don't know if that's going to make people appreciate mastering even more, or if it's the nail in the coffin."
At least he and the Evans agree that it's no substitute for a professional audio engineer, one that is rightfully paid for his or her efforts and experience. But for someone who doesn't have access to hundreds or thousands of dollars, LANDR's price range from the free tier to $29/month -- like, say, some of the artists self-releasing on TuneCore (and any musician can submit a track for $9.99, even if they don't distribute through TuneCore) -- seems pretty reasonable, especially if some of those experts could stand to sweat a little.
"A lot of human beings who do what I do who could stand to think of how they do things," concludes Gardner. "If we're not careful we could be replaced by some crafty programming."