Along with digital distribution, ticketing and radio, now mastering could be on the list of music-related activities being disrupted in the digital era. Digital services have created new markets and better consumer experiences. In some cases, tasks can be performed for less money.
One of the latest examples is LANDR, an automated mastering service built by audio engineers to closely replicate a traditionally mastered track in a fraction of the time. Its potential has attracted investors such as Pete Tong, Richie Hawtin, Tiga and John Acquaviva, all through their Plus Eight Equity Fund. Warner Music Group, rapper Nas and Real Ventures are among the company's other backers.
The company appears to be off to a good start. LANDR has mastered 1.4 million tracks since May of 2014, according to statistics the company shared with Billboard. It has been able to reach creators through partnerships with digital distributors TuneCore, CD Baby, Label Engine and Horus Music.
By the company's math -- and this is debatable -- its customers have saved $200 million compared to the traditional mastering process. How were those savings calculated? LANDR says its research found the average price for mastering is $150, which multiplied by 1.4 million tracks equals $210 million in savings. Subtracting $10 million spent at LANDR results in total savings of $200 million, or about $140 per track.
Revenue comes from pay-per-track fees and subscription tiers that can provide better quality and a higher number of masters per month. LANDR also has a free tier that gives a customer two low-resolution MP3s per month with the option to pay extra for additional tracks and higher resolution
But the savings could be much less. Creators most likely to use LANDR might not be able to afford even the average rate. On the flip side, creators that spend an above-average amount for mastering may be continuing to pay extra for better quality. This is the dichotomy of LANDR. It makes mastering accessible but doesn't create the best product.
"There are good and bad things about it," mastering professional Dave Gardner (Louis C.K., the Hold Steady, Black Lips) told Billboard in January. 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."
In any case, LANDR's numbers support the basic premise that automation can save time and money while tapping into a market that wasn't being addressed. Now if only the actual creation process could be automated...