The LANDR Music Mastering Tool + Contest

LANDR is a new online service that offers to master your music files in just moments. Whether you use it on finished stereo productions, individual song tracks, samples or full DJ sets, the LANDR algorithms master WAV or MP3 files. But is that really possible, or is it too good to be true? We test the service and invite a professional mastering engineer to pit his results against the automated LANDR results. Hear the results and enter an Ellen Allien remix contest for a chance to win a free year of LANDR and other huge prizes.

The mastering of audio can make fools out of even highly experienced music producers. It’s the somewhat esoteric process of taking a mixed-down stereo file and processing it to make it ready for distribution. That can include making it punchy or more dynamic, more or less bassy, altering the stereo image, adding multi-band compression/limiting and/or EQ and just in general making it sound “better.”

While plenty of artists master their own material, many of them—even, or especially at the highest level—never really learn the skill and prefer to use dedicated mastering engineers who are both highly educated and experienced with the art and science of mastering. A lot of mastering these days takes place entirely in software with high-end plug-in suites, but engineers will also still use outboard processing, often utilizing all-time classic studio gear.

That’s why when MixGenius launched LANDR in May, many people greeted it with eye rolls, chortles or outright derision. The idea that a small company could offer an alternative to the time-honored craft of audio mastering in the form of dynamic algorithms that return a processed file online in a matter of minutes simply seemed too impossible to believe.

There are two clear reasons why not to dismiss LANDR automatically.

  1. Historical precedent. In the last couple of decades, we’ve seen digital processes do things with audio that a previous generation may have never thought possible: treating audio “elastically,” real-time pitch correction, the breaking down of polyphonic audio files into their smaller component parts, etc.
  2. LANDR can be useful as it’s own thing, rather than a literal replacement for traditional mastering. When you may not have the time or the money for a mastering engineer, you can use LANDR on a new track before you play it in a set, on a DJ mix, or to see how it sounds on a single sample or an individual track of a project.

The Lay of the LANDR

Montreal, Canada’s MixGenius sprung up in 2012 from the founder’s 8+ years of research on a doctoral dissertation.  Since launching in May, LANDR has pulled more than 100,000 users, both at the free level and paid subscriptions.

In the near future, MixGenius plans on adding more audio formats to LANDR, but for now it outputs either uncompressed WAV or 192kbps MP3 from  its drag-and-drop web interface. Its membership plan includes:

  • Free – Unlimited 192kbps MP3 files (no WAV masters).
  • Pro – Unlimited 192kbps MP3 and 4 uncompressed WAV master per month for $9/month.
  • Pro Unlimited – Unlimited 192kbps MP3 and unlimited WAV for $19/month.
  • Business – Unlimited 192kbps MP3 and unlimited WAV for multiple artists for $29/month (intended for labels, production houses, managers, etc.).
LANDR step 1: drop in an audio file.

We tried out the LANDR system, and it was extremely easy to use. You simply drag an audio file to the web page (or choose a file from your computer’s directory), and when it’s finished uploading, LANDR begins processing.

After about a minute, a clip of the result starts to play and toggles over to the original for you to compare. If you have a free membership, you don’t have any other options, and you click a finish button for a download link to the track to be emailed to you.

LANDR’s master preview page.

However, if you have any of the paid memberships, you can change the “intensity” of the master to Low, Med or High. Those intensity levels vary the amount of what’s happening in the master, including bumps up in the perceived loudness and the clarification of different parts in different frequency ranges so that they stand out more.

Once you choose the intensity level, you just choose the format you want (MP3 or WAV) and finish. The whole process only took about six minutes per song, including uploading a WAV, getting the master preview, choosing the intensity level and then receiving and downloading the mastered WAV.

Changing the intensity level of LANDR’s processing.

There’s no doubt that for the several of our own remixes that we fed into LANDR, they came back out with more clarity and intensity in the bass and high-end, with less muddiness overall. Individual parts seemed to stand out more, and for what it’s worth, the overall loudness was pumped up (less so for the tracks that were done at the Low or Med intensity levels). Check out these before and after results in the first of two Soundcloud playlists.

That’s all well and good for someone like yours truly, who is definitely not a mastering engineer and whose mixing skills are still a work in progress to say the least. So to further scrutinize LANDR, we decided to take an unmastered track from a third party and then get a professional engineer to master the track and compare that result to LANDR’s output.

Head To Head

We start with the minimal techno track “Casa de bas Bun” by Doubtingthomas, courtesy of Archipel Musique Canada. You can listen to the unmastered version first in this embedded Soundcloud playlist.

We fed the track into LANDR and used its initial results rather than choosing an intensity level. Tasha Anestopoulos, the artist relations manager for Mix Genius, told DJ Tech Tools that LANDR’s algorithms are not static, but adaptive and reactive to each individual audio file that they receive.

They analyze various aspects of the music and then select the signal processing to apply based on the characteristics of the music. The system also tweaks itself over time the more tracks it receives. “The more music that’s fed into it, the more it’s fine-tuned,” Anestopoulos said. “It’s not a static process; it’s a big-data analysis process.”

When the LANDR version of “Casa de bas Bun” came back, it definitely sounded louder and there was more thump to the bass, as well as more snap to the snares, high-hats and the rest of the high end. Listen to the second track in the Soundcloud playlist.

While mastering engineers can certainly cost hundreds of dollars per track or thousands for an album depending on the scope of the project, with the shrinking cost of music studios and production tools, there are also much more affordable options that will still deliver great work while giving you the advantages human interaction with your mastering engineer.

Places like Symphonic Distribution offer mastering for $15 per track. Great Britain’s Label Worx provides all kinds of services for digital labels and is a Mastered for iTunes Approved Mixing & Mastering House. Its mastering prices start at £12.50 per track, with bulk discounts available. If you look at the Pro level of LANDR as costing $2.25 per WAV file, the pro engineers still cost a lot more, however, they’re reasonable while affording you the ability to have a conversation about what you’re looking for and perhaps feedback on the results.

We were able to get Label Worx Director/mastering engineer Matthew Abbott to take a run at mastering “Casa de bas Bun,” and he offered his view on the LANDR version of the song. “First off, mastering is a very subjective thing with no black and white and are many shades of grey,” Abbott said.

“Ultimately it often comes down to personal preference. Our mastered versions are what we feel is right for a particular track and the current styles in the clubs. Also, we completed this master somewhat blind, as we normally encourage more info and feedback before starting a relationship with a new customer. For me, the LANDR version is too bright/harsh on the tops. The bass has been lost somewhat, and in this style of track it is the essence of the track. Also, too much stereo spread has been applied, and it has lost some punch and dynamics.”

You can listen to the Label Worx master (track three in the Soundcloud playlist) and compare it to LANDR’s. Besides any difference in sound you may get with a mastering engineer, Abbott offered some extra details about what you can expect from a mastering service. “Any good service will allow a level of feedback and discussion between the customer and engineer,” Abbott said. “A great master comes from a great mix down, so without that feedback, the producer may never understand why they may not get the sound they want after mastering. We try to learn what our customers like and are striving for and try to work with them to get their unique style on every order.”

Where Do You Land?

In comparing the two results of “Casa de bas Bun,” I don’t completely agree with all of Abbott’s thoughts about the LANDR master, but I do agree that the LANDR master is a bit harsh on the high end and that the Label Worx master is noticeably more even keel and smooth in its outcome. When you lower the intensity of LANDR results, you can roll off some of that extreme high-end boost, but you can’t give the detailed feedback on specific aspects of the track that you could when working with an engineer… at least not yet.

Mix Genius plans to launch quite a few upgrades to LANDR in 2015, including more purpose-built output settings for LANDR, such as settings for club play, online distribution and more. It will probably also pop up on other companies’ websites as a licensed, embeddable widget called LANDR Module  for digital music aggregators, music creation networks and artists services.

There certainly is value to what LANDR does, and it’s the immediacy and accessibility of it that makes a viable alternative to mastering engineers, rather than a replacement for them. Even though Label Worx has a short turn-around time of 48 hours and will deliver on the same day if possible on request, they can’t match the anytime/anywhere and unlimited aspects of LANDR. Anestopoulos mentioned that LANDR has been processing more than 100,000 tracks a month, which is more than all the major mastering houses in the United States. “It will not replace the human ear,” Anestopoulos said. “That is an art form and a skill set that has been cultivated over years and years. LANDR is a tool and a low-cost alternative.”

Contest: Remix Ellen Allien, Master With LANDR, and Win!

Remix Ellen Allien’s “Butterfly”

Anyone can try LANDR at the MP3 level for free right now or even sign up for a pro-level account. But to give you the opportunity to win a free year of LANDR Pro Unlimited, as well as some other insane prizes from Native Instruments, DJ Tech Tools and Mix Genius present the REMIX:REMODEL remix contest.

Berlin’s tech-house legend Ellen Allien has graciously offered the stems to her latest single, “Butterfly,” for you to download and remix. Not only could the winning remixes be rocking dancefloors worldwide during the Bpitch Control label boss’s sets, but the top three will score a one-year LANDR Pro unlimited account.

“Butterfly” leads off the new Freak EP, which is a head-nodding, hip-shaking mini-dose of Allien’s signature intelligent electro style. The winning remixers will receive:

  • Grand Prize – Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S8, direct feedback on your remix and a one-year LANDR Pro Unlimited account.
  • Second Place – Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 and a one-year LANDR Pro Unlimited account.
  • Third Place – A one-year LANDR Pro Unlimited account.

Click here for more info and to download the “Butterfly” stems.

We’d love to hear from you about what you think of the LANDR results, what you think the LANDR service would be good for, and whether or not you’d consider using it. 

Ellen AllienLANDRmasteringMixGeniusmixingProductionremix contest
Comments (45)
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  • Jelani DJ

    I actually thought this was a joke article.

  • Sol Blessed

    does it dither?

  • MJ

    In a pinch, maybe. Learning how mastering works, the ins and outs of properly working on a track you intend to master in the box, will net you far more rewards in the long term. If you understand what an engineer does to master a track you can actually build your track from the ground up with that in mind….a great master will need almost nothing in the end if you can learn comp/EQ/mix yourself. subtle eq, tape saturation, stereo imaging and a maximizer/harmonics is what you’ll be doing in the end of a track most times…and lets face it….we all have our own idea of what we want, why let someone you dont know or have never met take the reigns of your own track? Learn. Control your own creativity and the end product

  • DJ TeeOh "The Official"

    1. Historical precedent….

    1. LANDR can be useful as it’s own thing

    ^^typos, lol. What did I win?

  • Fayek Helmi

    I tried it for a while when i read an article about it on createdigitalmusic and it was okay but after taking the time to learn how to better my mastering through dubspot online free courses (and im just talking about the free courses here) i could master circles around whatever landr does….

    I totally love the idea of creating algorithms for mundane tasks and even for beginners that dont know a single thing it could kindof save their asses when showing off their tracks but eventually everyone should either learn how to master or send it off to a mastering engineer if you want to spend $$.

    m2c

  • calkutta

    Honestly,unless you sent them all the samples in the DAW,-it only sounds “WAY” better because 97% of Digital Sonic Collage Makers do NOT know how to master….so,for them,awesome…and I am glad the algorithm exists….But seriously fella’s,If you have ever made a record,inna actual Recording Studio,you’d see in less than second,that this is just proper EQing and Basic ‘Windows Media Player’-Options done correctly-Not Mastering-,Not by a Long shot-…However,if one is just mixing and working off MP3’s,yes,it does sound better….just know,it can be even better than that if you learned to use ‘Waves’ or other Mastering Software….and be Patient.
    calkutta

  • GreenPenguin

    I recently saw the write up on this here and took it for a spin right away to test out some tracks that I had of my own. Yes ideally it is great to master your own or send out but due to time or cost I thought to see on some of my own tracks for my own vocals and singing and in general some dj tracks/boots that might not have the best sound if this would help.

    And yes – indeed I have found it immensely great. Even a quick easy customer service question I had was immediately answered.

    Having read through the comments, I see they are in the works to offer more options for bitrate output and control which is great. That is often the case with anything new hitting market and growth.

    I actually signed up for the pro month-unlimited and have not been deterred. Generally as long as the file has enough headroom there has been great success…and not all tracks are worthy of the need for it either.

    As a quick fix…or even as a standalone mastering for your own sound/podcast I think it does work great esp for the indie/solo artist dj. I have used on a few of my dj sessions and it has greatly enhanced them with clarity and punch.

    You still have to listen with your ears if it is right for you and your track in the end, but it does open up doors and time to able to have a track…or even it could be used as a reference track.

    Great job LANDR and thanks to all that have made this program to bring to market and much success in the future as you all work to expand and grow the product and it’s programming.

    • Rory Seydel

      Hi my name is Rory, I am the community manager at LANDR/ MixGenius, thanks for the kind words, sounds like you really get the product and how to use it. feel free to get in touch directly rseydel@mixgenius.com

  • tretuna

    Personally I master most of my own things unless it’s a real commercial release, then I’ll get it mastered. I am interested in testing how this compares to my own masters. The video review that is posted below is a good reference though and does show some of my own concerns about the DB level of the output.

    I tend to create my mixes to -10db and then master to the level for a particular format. The thing with mastering to the format is you master differently for an MP3 compared to a WAV for CD/digital release, broadcast release, or vinyl release. I tend to adjust settings for the MP3 to adjust for the compression that will be rendered to it. Does LANDR take this into account for mastering?I think this needs to be a serious option in this service for someone like myself to make it a viable option.

    Perfect example is the venue I work at records and broadcasts a concert series with the local PBS station and we are required to have our levels at -10db for national and -6db for local broadcasts. Which if I wanted to use this service for I’d have to master, then drop it back into my DAW to drop the level for the format. Something that can introduce a few extra fragments and noise levels concerns.

    As Lesterhein said in his comment, this kind of reminds me of hit or miss insta mastering like using presets in a mastering plugin, but being a plugin you can tweak and hear the differences right there. The other side of this being how the LANDR algorithm adjusts itself for the content in the song itself. My wonder here is does it adjust things mid-track? or does it listen to the entire track and make a general decision on the overall? Going back to the plugin preset type of mastering that many people do, they have the option of things like EQing/compressing the verse differently on the master then the chorus. Just as all mixing, mastering is really an objective thing, and that’s one thing you’re paying for when you hire a mastering engineer, his objective ear as well as his technical skill in mastering. I use a certain mastering engineer because I trust his ears and his skill to bring my mix to the level I want it.

    I think this service definitely has a place in the audio world for what it does, and I believe that with time and adjustments to the process it can be viable for many people. I personally hate getting “final” mixed tracks from someone (mostly from Soundcloud) where the levels are all over the place and I can see this as a way for those people, or myself, to process them quickly for use. Being a new service there are definitely things that need to be implemented for people to make their own adjustments on things. The intensity is definitely an ok start, but I would like to see final mix level, variations of the actual mastering process for different formats, adjustments for the multi-band compression (time when I like to compress the low end more then the high or vise versa) and EQing (things like brightness that has been said by others).

    This all being said, I will be testing it out and very possibly using the service for more of a “quick fix” mastering process on some things instead of taking time that I don’t have to put some tracks I use in my DJing through my own intense mastering process.

  • calgarc

    nothing beats real mastering, but this is a great tool, if you want to test out new tracks or quickly master a podcast 😀

    • calkutta

      WORD’

    • playitagain

      I tried it on a few DJ mixes. Wasn’t very happy with the results personally. Far too loud on even the quietest setting.

  • kasatasound

    LANDR – very interesting but the LablWOrx master is better. Just a bit more character

  • Robert Wulfman

    Here’s a bit more in depth look of the different intensity levels:

  • BoomDraw

    Can someone give me a small run-down on the difference between the Low, Med and High settings for LANDR? I’m just starting out in production and mastering still seems like a mystery to me even though ive been trying my best to do it myself. So LANDR seems like a nice start for me even though it could never replace a real mastering engineer. Or would it just be best for me to try it free for myself to hear the results?

    Second question. When submitting a track for mastering what should it be? It should be the final stereo mixdown WAV file, but should i have any dynamic effects added to it before mastering or no?

    • Rory Seydel

      Hey BoomDraw, I work with LANDR: the settings are the amount or intensity of the algorithm that is being added to your track. What’s cool about the free MP3’s is that you can try the different settings and choose which you like best.

      For file type, we recommend a stereo mixdown WAV file with 6dB headroom (Here’s an article for you http://bit.ly/1CG7bmG) with no processing on the master channel.

      • BoomDraw

        Thanks very much, I think I’m going to test it out!

  • Oddie O'Phyle

    Can’t see me using this. More often than not my formats tend to be .WAV 24bit/96Khz and MP3 320K.

    • Rory Seydel

      Hey Oddie, See my last comment to longtimelurker above. We are actually working on new high res uncompressed option as well as a 320MP3, should be out mid December.

  • allstar720

    For the layperson, I wonder how this differs from Platinum Notes, which I already own and use on occasion with bootlegs and such that I want to tighten up in order to play out.

  • lesterhein

    Interesting concept, but if I’m going to shoot for hit or miss ‘insta mastering’ then I’d rather use a T Racks preset. At least that way I can fiddle a little bit and try another preset if I don’t like what I hear.

  • Ian De Vos

    I think I’ll just use it as a reference and do the real thing myself.

    • LongTimeLurker1stTimePoster

      Yeah after I mix down from Ableton Live, Reaper’s built-in audio tools are highly responsive to a person who knows what they want to hear…and it’ll output to 320kbps as well, no sweat. Reaper was totally worth the $ I sent their way, YMMV.

  • Sleepydog

    The mastering by LabelWorx sound much much much better to my ears!

    Good track by the way!

  • deejae snafu

    unless i misunderstand the mp3 encoding i think i would rather take my chances mastering my own material than end up with 192kpbs finished songs….

    • ap0th1k4ry .

      It’s worth mentioning that while these may be 192kbps .mp3’s, this can work QUITE handily for audio tracks for videos being posted to YouTube, since the audio is going to get pretty mangled anyway!!!

      • LongTimeLurker1stTimePoster

        To me it feels kind of like a business bandwidth decision, or one that’s quite a bit more arbitrary, to be capable of providing full WAV outputs but only going the 192 route for mp3s. If there’s a Low-Mid-High slider for the product, it’d be a nice correlative for Low (128) Mid (192) and High (328) mp3 formats.

        Whatever your reasons are, that’s fine, it’s just a turnoff when the concept is “easy mastering” and then I’d have to take my WAV file and convert to mp3 then enter all the information for the ID3 tag, etc. Basically it’s like shooting convenience in the foot, to me. Others probably don’t feel the same, but just for posterity it felt proper to write this out.

        • Rory Seydel

          Hey, Solid questions and good points: We are actually working on a ton of output format options for the site. Including 320MP3’s plus a new high res uncompressed option. ID3 will be coming down the road as well. Thanks for the input, no pun intended.

      • deejae snafu

        Awesome I will have to check it out!

      • calgarc

        i may have to check that out 😀

  • Dj DoIn BaD

    think im gonna give it a shot and enter my first remix contest

  • noelflava

    This is awesome! Instantly made my track sound beefy, louder, and less muddy. Golden for budding and aspiring producers on a budget.

  • poltergeist

    Hey guys, the link at the bottom doesn’t lead anywhere!
    Super interesting article though…

    • Rory Seydel

      Hi poltergeist, it’s live now, sorry about the delay

      • poltergeist

        Cheers man 😀

        • Rory Seydel

          no worries 😛

  • lupzdut

    The link for the stems is not working guys. Great article and… challenge accepted!