Artificial Intelligence (AI) has made its way into many aspects of our lives; from home assistants like Google Home and the Echo Dot to self-driving cars, even down to the algorithms that personalize the ads we see on social media. AI is now making its way into the music industry. Maybe you’ve heard of computer programs that can write their own melodies and jingles, or maybe you’ve used some features in your DAW that use AI in order to take a shortcut on some menial editing. We now have several AI mixing and mastering options available as well. Can’t say much about the future, but at present, the disadvantages of AI mixing and mastering outweigh the benefits.
AI Mixing and Mastering tools such as Alex Audio Butler, Landr, iZotope Neutron 3, and iZotope Ozone 9 Mastering Assistant are making controversial waves in today’s music industry. The advantages of AI mixing and mastering are clear: tools that are easy to use at the fraction of the price of a professional mixer/master. However, as with most things, you get what you pay for. Here we will discuss the differences between the various AI mixing and mastering services out there as well as the disadvantages of AI mixing and mastering.
About the Different AI Mixing and Mastering Services
Instant Online Mastering: Landr, eMastered and AI Mastering
Landr, eMastered, and AI Mastering are all services that will master tracks instantly, and all you have to do is upload the track. It’s fairly inexpensive, ranging from $5-$39 a month, and it’s fast. (Pair that with beautifully designed websites and you’ve got all the millennials’ attention). There are a couple catches with these services: they offer minimal editing options and, frankly, they just don’t sound as good as human mastering. You are stuck with the mastering they give you, there are no fine-tuning options available. When it comes to side-by-side comparisons with human mastering, Landr and its contemporaries just don’t make the cut.
Bottom line: Landr, eMastered, and AI Mastering are great if you are on a tight budget or on a time crunch, but they are definitely not your best options. I would definitely suggest learning how to master your own tracks or send your tracks to a professional instead.
Audio AI Mixing for Videos: Alex Audio Butler
Alex Audio Butler is unique in that it is marketed toward amateur video producers, not audio engineers. Alex Audio Butler automates the levels, compression and ducking of the vocals, music and sound effects of each clip. It has a few more manual controls as Landr, but not quite as many as Ozone or Neutron from iZotope. It’s fairly inexpensive and very easy to use. However, Alex Audio Butler’s feature set really only makes this plug-in useful for video producers.
Bottom line: If you’re an amateur video producer who would rather offload the audio mixing to focus on your video, then this plug seems like a must-have. If you’re an audio engineer, the lack of features and manual control will not be a good fit for you.
AI/Manual Hybrid Plug-ins: iZotope’s Neutron 3 Mixing Assistant and Ozone 9 Mastering Assistant
IZotope’s newest versions of their acclaimed Neutron and Ozone plug-ins now include some AI elements. Neutron 3 features Mixing and Balance Assistant and Ozone 9 now has a Mastering Assistant. Each of these Assistant tools listens to your song in real-time (no offline loading yet) and will balance, mix, or master your song automatically. They each have presets you can choose from and a few ways to customize the outcome. These tools are pretty handy, but they are not meant to be an end-all.
These Mixing and Mastering Assistants do work well as a starting point or if you just want to try out something different. The assistants take away a lot of the heavy lifting, but they still require a trained ear to get the sound just right. Furthermore, I can definitely foresee some instances where trying to get the AI assistant to identify instruments correctly might take more work than it’s worth. However, if you are going to go down the AI road, these tools are definitely the best way to go.
Bottom line: The AI additions to Neutron 3 and Ozone 9 are great tools, but they are not the end-all, be-all. They work great to get you started or to speed up the mixing and mastering process, but they are no replacements for a well-trained ear.
The Disadvantages of AI Mixing and Mastering
In summary, AI mixing and mastering software can save a lot of time and money. This is especially important for producers who are just starting out and have limited resources. However, there are some real disadvantages to AI mixing and mastering that should be considered before jumping on the AI bandwagon. Here are some things to think about when considering AI versus manual mixing and mastering:
The cost: will AI really save you money?
Professional mastering can get expensive. If you send your tracks online to a mastering engineer, you will be paying somewhere around $42-$54 a track, depending on how many songs you want to be mastered (Note that this amount could vary drastically based on several factors). Need them mastered quickly? You’ll be adding on an additional $5-$15 a track. That can add up pretty quickly. If you’re mastering 10 songs a year, that ends up being $420-$540 a year. If you choose to master your tracks through Landr, you’re looking at about $299 a year. In this case, it would definitely cheaper to go with Landr. However, you get what you pay for. It just doesn’t sound quite as polished coming from Landr.
Really, the most cost-efficient method is to learn how to master your songs yourself. You can purchase Ozone 9 standard or another mastering suite plug-in for around $249. If you can learn how to master well, you can out-perform Landr any day. Furthermore, Ozone 9 includes their Mastering Assistant. Mastering Assistant is just as quick as Landr. Ozone’s Mastering Assistant also has more ways to customize your master. With Landr, you’re pretty much stuck with the tracks they give you.
Bottom Line: Learning how to master your tracks yourself will be the most cost-effective way to master your tracks. But remember, that would only be cost-effective! Nothing can beat a professional mixing/mastering engineer. They charge high for a reason, and have the experience to turn a song with potential into a hit.
The quality: AI has a long way to go.
As we’ve discussed, AI services just don’t hold a candle to traditional, professional mastering. With a little bit of training, you can learn to master just as well or even better than services like Landr. YouTube and Linkedin have some great resources for learning how to master. If you are really looking to get the best sound out of your track before you release it to the world, the best way to get that quality is to hire a professional mastering engineer.
Bottom line: There may come a day when these AI mixing and mastering services will rival their human competitors. But for now, these AI systems still have a lot to learn.