2014-07-02

Co.Labs

Why The Music Industry's Next Big Disruption Is In The Recording Studio

Everyone knows the way we listen to music will never be the same, but they never suspected this.




If you thought the Internet was finished disrupting the music industry, hang tight. With music consumption and distribution having been fully upended, the other side of the equation is ripe for change: Production. Accessible music creation software has been around for years, but a new wave of cloud-powered tools aims to revolutionize things even further.

LANDR is a new service that's likely to rattle some cages by providing recording mastering online and automatically. Traditionally, mastering is a skilled task performed by a recording engineer, but LANDR uses a sophisticated learning algorithm in order to eliminate the manual, human-powered work.

First, a song gets recorded, then mixed. Finally, it’s mastered as the final step in the recording process. Mastering involves finely adjusting the audio for things most people won’t be able to audibly detect without guidance. The mastering process also involves properly preparing the audio for a vinyl format versus a digital one.

“Our system does many different tasks, including the standard mastering processes like equalization, limiting, excitation, compression, tape emulation, and more,” says Justin Evans, VP of products and innovations at MixGenius. “Which processors are used and how they are applied depends on the analysis of the incoming content.”

LANDR is attempting to crunch big data in order to provide unique tweaks and improvements to songs automatically. The system isn’t applying generic presets or any other blanket method to cover multiple songs. Instead, the service is using techniques similar to what Pandora and Shazam use to automatically analyze music.

“The algorithms were built by analyzing thousands of tracks, and by doing significant research and analysis of engineers' self-perceived behavior of what they are doing vs. the actual spectral and frequency changes that happened,” Evans explains.

The mastering aspect is just the latest, but it isn’t the only part of the recording studio being dramatically changed by the Internet. There are quite a few different services trying to alleviating the need for musicians to be in the same physical space for instance.

With Gobbler, different producers or engineers can easily sync tracks in different locations. Gobbler offers a Dropbox-like service targeted at musicians which can plug into their digital audio workstations (DAWs). It also offers an online backup done automatically to save the individual tracking recordings.

Splice is a similar service in that it automatically backs up an engineer’s latest updates. The app’s other big features is that it brings direct collaboration by showing a change log and allowing commenting. It’s similar to the functionality of GitHub, but designed for the pro audio space.

Wavestack is yet another service providing the syncing of individual tracks across the web. It offers playback right on the site and the ability to mute or solo the different instruments as a way of playing around with different arraignments.

Besides software solutions, there’s also hardware that’s making it possible for musicians to feel like they’re in the studio together even if they aren’t. The most interesting hardware might just be Google Glass.

Sound engineer Young Guru joined the Google Glass explorer program late last year and began advocating that the headset had a definite place among recording artists. The thought was that since Glass allows for hands-free, first-person video chats, the same level of in-studio collaboration could be simulated among recording artists.

Glass has the potential to solve some of the issues around getting everyone together in a studio, even if it wasn't designed for that. Professionals like Guru, who has produced the majority of Jay Z’s albums, are at the forefront of transforming what a recording studio looks like.

The recording studio will never fully disappear, just like physical media or live concerts won’t ever go away. But make no mistake: The recording studio will never be the same.

[Image: Flickr user Vancouver Film School]




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28 Comments

  • audioperv

    The recording studio will never fully disappear ... Oh that sounds rather prophetic. Comparing virtual tools, synthesizers and mixers with analog hardware is one thing .. Yet the cloud phenomena of making music and not having to depend on a studio is near rubbish .. The same sentiments and hopes were hoisted when Reason became a favorite ... when ableton became accessible .. when any software becomes readily usable .. The Studio or the concept of a studio has nothing to do with such technological marvels ... The studio is a space. Real or Virtual .. and the music remains to be separate from the INDUSTRY ( r.i.p )

  • heminggould

    Assuming you paid professionals to play all instruments and man the recording/mixing software station. And assuming it cost $1,500 to create/mix a sweet track for you. Then, you could pay the same studio to master the track for $75 or so. Mastering is an inconsequential part of the overall cost; and of no importance if the track produced is awful to begin with. Mastering, thus, is the very last thing that is in need of automation.

  • Jason Arvanites

    Probably great news for home studio users like me. I'll most likely never hit the big time, but will be glad to achieve better sounding music for my own purposes. The analogy I always fall back on is that of cooking. I might make great meals, and don't think I'll ever open a restaurant. But if there's a way to make my meals better in an easier way and for less money, sign me up.

  • Max Mack Main

    The mixing board is just as much as an instrument as the guitar, bass and drums. Long live real producers, real engineers, and real studios!

  • Bob Tucker

    This is disco trying to become software. Forever and a day genius and halfwit have been trying to find a silver bullet to musical success and fame. I say disco because in the seventies labels tried to find a magic calculator that would insure a hit and take the risk out of the music business. All business has risk and technology changes. How do think it felt when guys like myself worked hard in analog studios for decades to create careers working with major artists as well as start ups. Then almost over night EVERY Kid on the block had hacked software that made our clients yon and make comments like "this is nothing new, anybody can do that" before that, no one was seen at the transport without serious credentials. The truth is nothing has changed the music, you either innovate, adapt, or just plain do better work than the other guy or you lose market share. If you can't master a record hire someone who does. The game of production is the same! Just the tools have gotten better.

  • russbishop

    Anybody who thinks that you can't make a commercially viable recording, ready for replication on CD utilizing a powerful computer and the right software is delusional. With high sample rates and bit depths, recording, processing and automated mixing and mastering can and does make it a reality for anybody with the ears and the knowledge to use it. And if any of the tools mentioned above can make that process easier, all the more better. Studios in LA, NY, Nashville, Chicago, Miami, Seattle are closing left and right. The days of spending thousands of dollars to make a great record are over. I highly recommend Cubase and WaveLab.

  • You are right. However, show me an example of true automatic mixing that sounds professional and ready for broadcast. Or, automatic mastering.

  • I've been in the music industry for 35 years, produced thousands of tracks that have sold millions using everything from the most expensive studios to the latest software and can honestly say that this article is amongst the most laughingly stupid and idiotic I have ever read. It sounds like a 9 year old wrote it and an adult spell checked it.

  • Jeff Lester

    You cannot ever replace the emotion and love poured into a song with a machine. I am a programmer, and a musician of 30 years. I would never leave the final product of my creation to a computer... ever...

  • I don't know if these services will really disrupt the industry, because the industry is already disrupted . The advent of the home/project studio has already basically decimated the big studio system. From an industry standpoint, whether a songwriter in their basement mixes and masters their own stuff with Pro Tools or an algorithmic online service makes no odds.

    The market for a LANDR is not going to be someone who was considering taking their stuff to Bernie Grundmann or Bob Ludwig., it's going to be the guy who wasn't sure he would do it himself, or have his buddy do it for $20.

    The big studios are hurting, although they're currently surviving at least partially on the resurgence in popularity (some would say borderline fetishism) with vintage analog gear, which is basically the antithetical market for an online service.

  • Where it MIGHT disrupt things will be on the lower end, with software developers who make the plugins that people use for home-mastering. iZotope, FabFilter, Waves, Slate, UA, etc - why spend hundreds on software you have to learn to use when you can ship a track to LANDR for $10?

    That probably hurts the indie artist as much as it helps, as in the end it'll reduce the availability of cheap manufacturers of DSP software, reducing the available options to an indie artist.

  • Soundtrap is interesting being the first attempt at a browser based DAW. Its only fully functional on the chrome browser on mac or windows still, but once we get native webmidi on chromeos as well as support for more advanced usb audio devices the missing pieces will be in place to enable chromeos to seriously disrupt music production.