Most musicians will cringe when thinking about the idea that the fine-tuning of their work could be taken over by software and automation.
How can a code or algorithm adequately capture the nuances they envision in their work or understand the emotional impact an artistic creation can have on its beholder?
The truth is they can’t. But a computerized tool can get close, and close is sometimes good enough. The automatic editing filters on smartphone photo apps is an example: that picture of you and your sister having a snowball fight in the back yard may not have been the kind of subject matter the great Ansel Adams would have spent time capturing, but thanks to your pic editing suite you can make it look just like his work.
Out of Montreal, Canada, comes MixGenius, a 30-person firm offering a similar but more subtle product for audio. In late March the company emerged with a product called Landr, which allows musicians or audio engineers to master songs or audio files in minutes. The company snagged the Technovation Award at Canadian Music Week this year and is looking to raise growth capital soon.
Mastering is an important and sometimes time-consuming part of making music. It’s the process of taking the many strands of recorded sound, tweaking and optimizing them to be listened to in a mix together, and then creating a final version of the song or music from which high-quality copies can be made. The effort takes a lot of intense listening and sound manipulation by professionals.
According to MixGenius, the long wait-time and expense of mastering can be skipped altogether. Says CEO Pascal Pilon: “The bulk of the invention is figuring out the properties of the sound and understanding what needs to be done to it based on the eurythmics that sound engineers would apply.” The Landr algorithm is based on data, Pilon explains, and the company had to study how many different songs have been mastered, and picked up on patterns based on genre.
The product comes in large part from MixGenius co-founder and CTO, Stuart Mansbridge, who’d worked on automated music production at Queen Mary University in London—a school that had studied the sound mixing space since 2007. Customers upload their music or audio files to the company’s cloud where it is run through the mastering suite, then delivered back to the customer.
“We’re targeting musicians,” Pilon says, equating his company’s offering to auto-focus for cameras. Over 95% of songs that are recorded by amateur musicians never get mastered, he says. “People don’t have the money to do that. Nowadays mastering is an elitist process that only a few can manage to pay for. And it’s way too complicated for most people as well.”
As it stands, the company has about 10,000 users in 115 countries, 5% of which have paid to use the service. Costwise, 192 kilobyte-per-second(kps) Mp3 mastering is free, $9 a month allow for four tracks of .wav files plus unlimited 328 kbs mp3s, $19 allows for the mastering of unlimited .wav files. Separate mixes can be made on Landr optimized for headphones, for streaming or for playing in clubs. Pilon says MixGenius’s run rate should see the company pulling in $100,000 in revenue per month by year’s end.
Pro audio engineer and musician Gary Levitt, of New York-based Young Love Studio, was dubious at first, but came away from his first test of Landr with positive results. “It’s pretty amazing, and scary at the same time,” he said. Levitt ran songs from his own band, Setting Sun, through MixGenius, comparing the program’s mastering results to his own. “It does do a really good job for a computer. Not as good as a human, of course.”
Aside from better-than-expected results, Levitt also gave the nod to the service’s price point. “It’s so inexpensive,” he said. “Normally to master one song would be $25 minimum. But when you hire a human you get revisions, you get custom-tailored output.”
Pilon agrees that pro-artists are unlikely to entrust their final mixes to an automated process, rather will find a customer base among amateurs. “Those individuals will always prefer to sit next to the master engineer and jointly try to be creative at the mastering stage.”
On the horizon is an a la carte offering, as well as a basic music mixing platform that will be launched next year. By September MixGenius expects to emerge with a social sharing platform for music.
Pilon, who headed device testing firm Averna before its sale in 2013, took the reins last year after participating in MixGenius’s seed round alongside early stage investor TandemLaunch. “I gathered a number of tech entrepreneurs from Montreal, along with a well known VC fund here called Real Ventures and we raised a total of $4 million—or $3.5 million, excluding the pre-seed investment that was done by TandemLaunch.”
The company will be looking for capital again within the next 10 months, Pilon says, and has its sights set on attracting $5 million from U.S. venture capital investors.