What Is AI Mastering?

What Is AI Mastering? What Is AI Mastering?

Mastering music is the final and most critical step in the production process. Anyone who has ever released successful music will tell you that there is no substitute for the extra polish and professionalism it provides.

However, learning to master your own music properly can be incredibly time-consuming. It often requires years of experience and a deep understanding of audio engineering. On the other hand, for many musicians, hiring a professional mastering engineer is simply not an option due to budget constraints.

This is where the latest advancements in music technology come into the fold.

Online or AI mastering services are more accessible and easier to use than ever before. AI mastering, in particular, offers a cost-effective solution for musicians who want high-quality results without the hefty price tag.

Even though some traditionalists might disagree with the new tech, it has gained significant traction over the past decade. Many artists now rely on these tools to finalize their songs and hold their own on streaming platforms.

In this guide, we're going to explore all there is to know about AI mastering and dispel some of the mysticism surrounding it, so you can get started using it today.

A Short History of AI In Music

While AI-driven music technology may seem like the new, cutting-edge thing, the foundations of computer-assisted music creation have been in development for decades, dating back as early as the 1950s.

The drive to innovate and disrupt traditional creative pathways far predates the advent of what we understand to be AI today. One of the first pioneers that comes to mind is experimental composer John Cage, who created an extraordinary piece, "Music of Changes," by utilizing the ancient Chinese divination text, the I Ching.

Marking passages from this ancient numerical generator, Cage externalized the musical decision-making process , allowing chance operations to shape his composition.

In a similar vein, Brian Eno revolutionized music production a few decades later by employing "Oblique Strategies," a set of cards with prompts designed to break creative blocks and introduce randomness into the decision-making process.

These early innovations laid the groundwork for the ways in which artificial intelligence is now trusted to guide contemporary music-makers. By externalizing decision-making, these early pioneers showed that creativity could be enhanced through methods that go beyond human intuition alone.

Though Cage and Eno's methods weren't based on computers, they used many of the same principles that today's AI music technology relies on. By embracing randomness and external guidance, they showed that innovative tools could reshape the creative process.

Today, AI mastering leverages these foundational ideas, using advanced algorithms to make informed decisions that enhance and polish musical tracks.

What Is AI Mastering?

You can confidently assume that AI mastering is a form of automated mastering, though automated mastering is not necessarily AI. While both terms are often used interchangeably, they represent different approaches to the same goal.

Automated mastering involves a computer algorithm that can automatically apply a series of standard mastering steps to a track. These steps typically include EQ, compression, stereo width adjustments, and level balancing - similar to what a human mastering engineer would do.

However, this doesn't necessarily mean artificial intelligence is involved .

These algorithms are often designed and guided by human engineers who code them to follow specific rules and processes.

How effective an automated mastering algorithm is largely depends on the expertise and skill of the developer who created it. High-quality algorithms are the result of extensive research and development, incorporating feedback from experienced audio professionals.

When you use an automated mastering service, the algorithm will apply processing based on preselected targets , such as genre-specific standards. However, selecting the right target can be a challenge, especially if your music isn't cut and dry.

Beyond that, this approach assumes you have a clear understanding of what you want and need from the mastering process.

Some more advanced systems use AI or machine learning, automatically setting targets and detecting genres, so the users don't have to. They're a bit more user-friendly than traditional algorithmic systems. By learning from vast amounts of data fed to them by engineers, these machine learning algorithms can make more nuanced adjustments. The result is a more polished and genre-appropriate final master.

AI mastering as a whole falls into the category of digital signal processing , which is one of the three main styles of mastering we have access to.

Exploring the Different Types of Audio Mastering

There are essentially three primary mastering options you can choose from: analog, digital, and hybrid mastering. Each type can be beneficial, depending on the sound you're after:

  • Analog Mastering : This is the traditional method of mastering. It uses analog hardware, like compressors, equalizers, and tape machines, to process the final track. Many musicians lust after the warm, rich sound of analog, which often involves transferring to a vinyl pre-master.
  • Digital Mastering: This is a more modern approach, which makes use of digital software and VST plugins to process the audio entirely "in the box." Digital mastering offers a higher level of precision, flexibility, and convenience compared to analog. Not only can mastering engineers make more intricate adjustments but they can also recall settings at the drop of a hat.
  • Hybrid Mastering: Combining the best of both worlds, hybrid mastering uses both analog hardware and digital tools. An engineer might run the track through analog gear for warmth and character, then use digital plugins for final tweaks.

Talk to ten different mastering engineers, and you'll probably notice that they all have different approaches. Some work entirely in the box, relying on software to get the desired results, while others are fully committed to the old-school analog method, using physical hardware and tape machines to get the final sound they want.

Some also prefer the hybrid approach to leverage the strengths of each method.

In AI mastering, the approach is exclusively digital . An AI has to rely on digital signal processing to analyze and enhance any audio it's fed, meaning there aren't any analog hardware compressors or tape machines involved.

While this might limit the tactile, hands-on aspect of analog hardware mastering, you get speed, consistency, and accessibility. Plus, this approach is far more cost-effective.

The Quality of AI Mastering: How Does It Measure Up?

The answer to this question requires some digging, as AI mastering's quality largely hinges on the sophistication of its algorithms. Not all algorithms are created equal, and how effective they are can vary significantly based on their design and implementation.

At eMastered, we pride ourselves on utilizing cutting-edge technology and advanced audio recognition algorithms to deliver superior results.

What sets our AI mastering apart is the expertise behind our technology. Our algorithm was created by Smith Carlson, a Grammy-award-winning mixing and mastering engineer known for his work on Taylor Swift's 1989, and electronic music artist Collin McLoughlin.

The culmination of their experience and knowledge in the field led to one of the highest-quality AI mastering services in the industry.

One unique aspect of eMastered's service is that beyond the automated algorithms, it offers extensive control over your final master, giving you the ability to fine-tune various elements to suit your artistic vision.

Unlike other AI mastering services, we provide adjustable settings for compressor intensity, mastering strength, EQ, volume, stereo width, and more. You can even upload a reference track to guide the mastering process, making sure your final product aligns with your desired sound.

While the argument may be that you don't get the 'human touch' with your master, a simple A/B comparison with a polished, professional master shows just how high of a level a well-designed AI mastering service can perform at, that too at a fraction of the cost.

The Advantages of AI Mastering

So, should you use AI mastering over traditional mastering?

There are many cases where we'd say absolutely!

Here are a few of the key benefits it offers:

  • Consistency: For starters, AI mastering can provide more consistent results. An algorithm doesn't have "off days," meaning each track is mastered to the same high standard. This uniformity is particularly valuable when working on an album.
  • Speed and Efficiency: Our AI mastering algorithm can process tracks in a matter of minutes, which is significantly faster than traditional human mastering. This is great if you need a quick turnaround for your project.
  • Learning Capability: Advanced AI mastering systems use machine learning to continually improve their algorithms. By analyzing vast amounts of data, these systems can adapt and refine their techniques, getting better and better as time goes on.
  • Musical Analysis: Well-designed AI mastering tools can also perform detailed musical analysis of a track based on the data it's been fed, and apply EQ, compression, stereo width, and volume levels as it sees fit, just like a human mastering engineer would do.
  • Cost-Effective: The most obvious benefit is that AI mastering is generally more affordable than hiring a human mastering engineer, making it more accessible to independent artists or those with limited budgets.
  • 24/7 Availability : Unlike human engineers who have working hours, AI mastering services are available around the clock, meaning you can master your tracks anytime, anywhere.

With all of that said, while AI mastering offers plenty of undeniable benefits, we'll be the first to admit that it will likely never fully match the nuanced approach of a skilled human engineer.

Human mastering engineers bring years of experience and artistic intuition to the table. They also have the ability to make subjective decisions based on the unique context of each track - elements that AI, despite its advancements, cannot replicate entirely. At least not yet.

For example, a human engineer can respond to an artist's specific requests in ways an algorithm might not fully grasp.

Of course, when cost, efficiency, or accessibility are primary concerns, AI mastering stands as a more than viable substitute.

Getting Your Song Ready for AI Mastering

While AI mastering can significantly enhance your track and get it ready to compete out there in the real world, it's crucial to remember that the quality of the final master is highly dependent on the quality of the mix you provide .

Making sure your song is ready for AI mastering to achieve the best possible results requires a few essential steps:

  • Balance Your Tracks : Make sure all the elements of your mix are well-balanced in terms of volume. We recommend using professional reference tracks while mixing to keep in line with pro standards.
  • Pan Each Mix Element: Using panning to place each element of your mix in the stereo field can help create a sense of space and clarity.
  • Add Processing: Apply all of the necessary processing such as EQ, compression, reverb, and delay to enhance your mix. Don't be afraid to apply bus processing if it makes sense for your sound, though leave the limiting to the final mastering stage.
  • Check Mono Compatibility: Make sure your mix sounds good in mono. This is important for playback on systems that sum the stereo signal to mono, such as some club sound systems and portable speakers.
  • Leave Headroom: Leave adequate headroom in your mix by keeping the peak levels between -3 dB and -6 dB. This will ensure there's enough space for the mastering process to add the final touches without distortion.
  • Export a High-Quality Premaster File : Export your final mix as a high-quality audio file (e.g., WAV or AIFF) at the highest bit depth and sample rate possible.

AI Mastering with eMastered

All in all, AI mastering offers a powerful and accessible solution for musicians seeking professional-quality results quickly and affordably.

If you want to see what all the hype is about, check out eMastered's ultimate AI mastering platform, which is capable of working with any style and genre. Our advanced machine learning algorithms continually improve with every song they master, ensuring top-tier results for your music.

Try our AI mastering today and see what you think!

Bring your songs to life with professional quality mastering, in seconds!