For every musician who’s ever wanted their SoundCloud track to sound like it was produced by Timbaland, LANDR, a startup applying big data analytics to music mastering, has raised $6.2 million to build just the tool.
Warner Music Group led the Series A round, joined by previous investors Real Ventures and YUL Ventures. Rapper and record producer Nas, Plus Eight Private Equity (a fund started by DJs Richie Hawtin, Tiga, John Acquaviva and Pete Tong), and HDGL also participated.
For those who aren’t familiar with the process of recording an album, mastering is the final step in music production that happens after you record all of the parts and mix them together.
“Mastering is basically creating room dynamics to give the impression that you’re listening to the actual band playing in front of you,” says LANDR CEO Pascal Pilon. “When you randomly record the instruments in a song and put them back together in the mixing stage, you totally lose that perception of the landscape.”
Professional recording artists hire a mastering engineer to adjust the dynamics, bass levels, and compression of a song after it’s mixed, which can cost thousands of dollars per track.
“In a live show, everyone goes to great lengths make the music sound as good as possible,” says John Acquaviva, DJ and LANDR investor. “Internet streaming is clearly the weakest link.”
LANDR is out to change this with an artificially intelligent mastering engine that ranges from $6 to $39 per month, depending on the level of quality desired.
“We’ve analyzed tens of thousands of files and songs that have been made across the last 50 years to understand the types of decisions that mastering engineers have performed, and to be able to recreate those decisions on the fly,” says Pilon.
Even though mastering is the most technical stage of music production, there is still a creative component. An acoustic cover, for instance, would be mastered much differently than an EDM track.
That’s why LANDR isn’t claiming to outperform a human engineer — at least not yet. The company has brought on 50 audio and mastering professionals to refine its technology, but for the time being many of LANDR’s 250,000 users are amateur artists who wouldn’t otherwise pay to hire a mastering engineer.
“Most musicians and producers craft their songs using GarageBand or some software, but in the end, because they don’t want to spend the money to get it mastered, they never do that post production step,” says Pilon. “So that music stays somewhat out of focus, and unfinished.”
That being said, LANDR is increasingly being used by professional recording artists who want a quick and dirty master to listen to at different stages of the mixing process before spending the time and money on a final version, according to Pilon.
Today, LANDR is launching Ionian 1.0, the latest iteration of its mastering engine, but Pilon says that his ultimate goal is to partner with music streaming platforms like Spotify or Soundcloud to ensure that all online audio is held to a mastering standard.
“We want to be a standard across the market, because we think we can really make any creator sound good,” says Pilon. “We’re starting with music and soon we’re going to tackle video as well.”