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Why automatic mastering services yield substandard quality results

Why automatic mastering services yield substandard quality results

Postby EV Sonic Lab » Sun Mar 22, 2015 11:59 am

With many automatic mastering services popping up all over the Internet, the question as to whether mastering engineers may no longer be necessary comes to mind to those who still don't get what mastering really is, or is not:

A wide variety of audio formats

  1. Mastering is not a signal processing service, but that can be up to some degree a big part of the job at hand.
  2. Mastering does not change the mix balance, but it can change its frequency balance.
  3. Mastering is not about making frequency adjustments or compression decisions to be applied to just one single file (or mix), but to an entire collection of songs or album material.
  4. People who need an album mastered, sequenced in a specific order and with tailored fades in a variety of master formats such as CD, online distribution formats (e.g. Mastered For iTunes) pre-master for vinyl, etc, need to use a mastering engineer.

A wide variety of speaker systems to hit everywhere

Even if the goal is to make one single composition achieve the best frequency balance, it is important that a human operator listens in order to make all critical adjustments to the frequency bands across the spectrum.

You can liken audio mastering to web designing, where an expert takes your design and makes critical adjustments to the HTML, ASP, PHP or CSS, files so that your web design is responsive to all computer devices, including mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.

These are many screen targets to hit and the same challenges apply to the function of music mastering; there are thousands of playback systems and music delivery requirements for one's music to translate as best as possible.

One needs to hit many targets just like on web design

And that's why an automatic mastering service can not deliver good results. It simply can not make frequency balance determinations and process signal based on a song per song basis, only apply process based on presets that a user (if one even has any control of the outcome) is given, or like a cookie cutter, one preset fits all by default.

In addition, their algorithms rely on the user submitting good mixes for processing and are ill suited to deal with bad mixing jobs. Just imagine what it will do to a muffled sounding mix with a lead vocal that has excessive sibilance!

You might get back something that sounds subjectively better, but accurate translation on all playback systems will always be highly questionable. You will most likely not be any better off than asking your own mixing engineer to do an EQ adjustment and run the mix through a peak limiter during mix down.

An Automatic Mastering Service On The Web

So, whether you attempt to do the mastering yourself, rely on a mixing engineer who is no mastering expert at all, or use one of these new automatic "mastering" services for a few dollars (or even free), you are taking a big shortcut and possibly reducing the chances of success in the very competitive field of music.

Unless you have great sounding mixes, "automatic mastering services" are only useful to those who don't have a peak limiter on their computers, or need a reference to hear what happens when bad processing decisions are made. In other words, if you want to know how your mix should not sound in the end, drop one off to hear the effects of hyper-compression. In addition, if you are a professional mixing engineer, it might help you get a quick reference and determine if your mix is ready for real mastering.

Thanks for reading!

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