Automated Mastering via online services

Hi folks!
I have been using cloudbounce.com for the past year for semi-automated mastering. There are various electronic, world music, and yes, an ambient mastering option. For sub-options, there are 10-ish choices for further mastering options. You can see them in the video below.

First: I am extremely happy with cloudbounce! I have used it for a year, successfully, and I am simply trying to find out about alternatives before I renew for another year!

Background:
Despite taking (limited) electronic production classes, I never mastered mastering. I want to spend the majority of my time making music, not editing. Most of the time, I am pumping out tracks for myself, not necessarily building toward an album, though that would be nice one day. Cloudbounce makes my tracks better than I imagine I’d be able to do on my own, if I had the energy/desire to master myself. Also, it let’s me make daily recordings and rapidly get quality results, in a way that I wouldn’t be able to do if I tried to (slowly) try my own mastering. I’m not confident I’d do a better job if I tried my own hand, unless I really dedicated hours/months at it, though I’m willing to be corrected.

Also, I don’t really want to use software for editing music. I don’t use music software on my computer. I play my modular and love it, but If there’s some “mastering” modules I should be aware of (I know streams does compression but my understanding is that alone wouldn’t really be enough?) I’d love to hear it, but I’d likely not be willing to invest $1k+.

In any case, using Cloudbounce I’ve been able to record tons of tracks (sometimes 30+ a month) and get a “good” and sometimes “great” output. Perfect for Disquiet Junto, daily tracks, and all of my other output. Let’s face it: music is a fun hobby but I’m not a professional. Yes, a lot of the automated mastering work is compression but there is more going on. But I couldn’t tell you what. If I make a more professional album, sure, at that point, I can send my unmastered tracks to a professional, or maybe even try my own hand in hand-mastering.

I’ve been using cloudbounce for a year on a promotional deal that was originally $75. The price is now rising to $200 a year! Has anyone used a competitor, or any other options I should be aware of? Any hardware alternative or even a simplified piece of software that works like cloudbounce I should know of? There is a 4 year old thread on here about landr.com but not much info in it and it’s out of date . Yes, I do really appreciate the mastering thread, but as mentioned above, wasn’t able to find a simplified “auto-mastering” type option for the myriad quick tracks I do.

I am as I sit here writing this wary that I will get reply-guys responses, though lines community is usually better than this. If I ever do a professional album, sure, would be great to have real mastering done.

P.S. LOL, yes that video doesn’t really sell itself to experimental, ambient, esoteric music production, does it? I should make a weirdo vibes video for them and DEMAND they put it on their website :slight_smile:

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I couldn’t compete with the prices, but if you went with me I’d guarantee “stellar” results tailored to your precise requirements, every single time, not just “good” or sometimes “great”. :wink:

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At 75€ a year there isn’t much to compare it to, but at 200€ a year, I’d definitely prefer to buy a 500€ mastering software like Isotope Ozone 9 Advanced and use presets, and I don’t know because I don’t have the last version but I think it now has waveform analysis “AI” that does exactly the same thing your website or Landr are doing online.

I think there’s a “wow factor” in the way these websites present the application of whatever settings they apply, it creates a little ceremonial, and it makes you “feel” like there’s an immediate amelioration (especially since they rarely offer A/B comparaisons at a similar volume level) in a way thay dialing a preset on a plugin don’t. But ultimately I think it’s pretty similar in quality, if not better on Isotope because their plugin sounds terrific, and those websites past the bells and wistles are just applying plugin presets except online with nice graphic animations. But at least with presets you can tweak a little if it sounds just “good” or if some part is overcompressed you can automate it quickly.

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I used Landr when it was released so I had a great price for the monthly subscription at that time, after that it increased a lot. I ended up canceling my subscription because I don’t like to be tied by an annual subscription like Adobe, Autodesk, etc and I wasn’t using it enough. The quality of the service was good though. Now they also do promo and distribution so I guess it’s part of the price too.

I bought Ozone 9 on “Black Friday”. Do not rely too much on the “AI ​​assistant” of this software, unless your mixes are perfect in the first place the assistant doesn’t do magic and can make things worse in no time.

Now I would avoid companies with slogans like “sound like a pro” at all costs. Recently I had trouble canceling a so-called “refundable trial” of an online service claiming to be made by “Grammy winners” bla-bla-bla.

Apart from offline solutions like Ozone (I have to make the effort to learn to get the most out of it because it’s a very capable tool) or just a small suite of plugins (they don’t have to be branded as “ultimate mastering tool blabla” , the best deal IMO for an occasional online mastering would be the Soundcloud pro offer which includes unlimited storage but also two or three “Dolby” masters per month. That’s what I’ll use when I’m too lazy to use Ozone.

:+1: Yes, exactly !

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Would you be willing to do a “shootout” with me to test maybe two different pieces trying them with izotype (both an automated preset / “AI” lol test and maybe a more tailored selection of settings) as well as me using cloudbounce testing a default “ambient” mastering and one with some more tailored choices (you can’t alter individual EQ but there are a variety of simple options available)?

I am willing to run tests with cloud bounce for others that want to participate in similar

One further thing I’ll add, I usually do tweaks with cloudbounce, I don’t usually just go with the first mastrrring output. I listen to the first result , then make some selections of the options like increasing stereo width, decreasing mids, reducing brightness, etc etc, so I am doing some minor tweaking to improve results

Yeah I’m not really trying to have that kind of discussion. Seems obvious to me that paying someone to master your recording would be loads better quality. If I made occasional tracks, or was working on an album I’d def go that route.
I’m not. I’m making 30+ tracks a month, most for just me or friends, some as background for indie games I or others make for game jams on itch.io, some for disquiet junto and other online, track-of-the-week/track-of-the-day platforms. I don’t see hiring an engineer as a viable method for this.

One option if you want to learn how to master tracks yourself (and improve your recordings/mixes) would be to hire an engineer to just master a couple of your tracks – if they’re the sort who is willing to give you advice and explain exactly what they did. (Some are unwilling to discuss that, because doing so does add to their efforts, and they also feel like they have to preserve trade secrets.)

Professional mastering isn’t really within my budget on a regular basis, but between reading a few articles and books, and having Obsidian Sound master a couple of my tracks and give me feedback, I learned quite a bit to improve my own knowledge and skills – at least where it comes to my own work.

I’m thinking I might do it again with a different engineer sometime in the future to see if I pick up anything else.

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I’ve once tried soundcloud’s automatic mastering, and it was waaay off to my taste. I assume services like this are targeting more mainstream genres of music, where you might want that overcompression and hyped treble. But that doesn’t work for a “niche” boi like me.

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Personally I think something like this might be fine for casual releases, but part of the goal of mastering is to find a personality that makes sense for the project and to get their ears on it. Listening back to an automated result through the same speakers you mixed on doesn’t seem that helpful to me. Just one persons opinion obv…

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There’s a free 10 days trial of Izotope Ozone if you wish to compare with an online service. It’s probably better if you tweak the presets by yourself. Clearly, the “music genre” and the “signature” presets are not useful if you feed it with a poor mix like I usually do, in that case the result will be disappointing (probably one of the reason the AI assistant can’t do anything for me). But they can serve as a starting point, an example for an audio chain. At least it doesn’t use smoke and mirrors or loudness max to please the ears, which is good I guess.

I have not tried Cloudbounce. These services can be super useful indeed if you’re mastering a lot of stems but nothing a simple offline script can do imo. I used them myself sometimes but now I want to learn how to create a proper master, and first I need to take the time to make a proper mix haha.

I think @LLK resumed the whole thing really well: Most of these services don’t provide gain matched a/b comparison therefore it becomes very hard to judge what they’re really doing beside adding a maximizer and a go-to EQ. Unlike what they’re claiming, I think the algorithm has no idea wether you’re mastering ambient or trap (best scenario, it will analyze the frequency spectrum of a track and/or a rhythmic pattern and will make a basic conclusion out of that), so it reaches for loudness max/war, bass etc to satisfy the ear. Then you can tweak a few params sometimes :confused:

A good mix doesn’t need too much mastering work from what I heard… ah, It’s next on my todo list to learn how to use Ozone and read about mastering, though I don’t own a super great hardware, my monitors aren’t calibrated etc, I think I can do at least as good as a paid online service. With Ozone or with a “mastering” signal chain in Logic X directly or SPL Vitalizer on UAD.

That being said, following @Starthief’s advice, personally if I could ask a mastering engineer directly I would ask Stefan Betke (aka Pole, Scapes mastering) to give me some mastering advices or at least some mixing advices unless he wants to keep his mastering knowledge as a secret :slight_smile:

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I too have tried soundcloud for mastering and to be honest in that case the track sounded better without it. Since I have used Waves vitamin stereo and use one of the ‘mastering’ presets to reasonable effect. Besides when you look at the soundcloud pricing plan it’s cheaper long term to buy a plugin and use presets. Over time however I do want to dive in and learn a bit more about it.

If you use a mastering plugin and tweak some settings and it sounds better to you, it probably does, it’s your music after all.

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Are you using Waves consistently? It looks like it’s priced pretty reasonably. Do you need to use it with other mastering plugins/processing or does it work well-enough solo?

I normally just use it on the master bus and it makes everything sound better with a mastering preset.
You can use multiple instances of it though on your individual tracks as well as on the master bus but with different presets such as ones for drums and beats, bass, vocals and instruments.

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I’ve tried Cloudbounce and Landr and wasn’t really happy with the results. I got a professional to master my upcoming album, “semi-professional” friend mastered the previous and I’ve been super happy with results. For quick projects mastered by myself I’ve used Izotope Ozone Advanced through Splice rent-to-own, paid for one month and then cancelled, and I think it’s great value. I don’t expect to ever pay the software in full, but $20 for a month is pretty comparable with online mastering service and I’ve found results to be better even if you count out the tweakability aspects and just use presets and Mastering Assistant.

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Another option I’m looking into is Brainwork bx_masterdesk. “It is a mastering processor for people who don’t do mastering” according to this actually pretty positive review and is $74 at this time.

One thing I’m not certain of: if i don’t already have a DAW or other music software, can this be operated standalone or through a very minimal host?

I know many will not like this language, but I’m trying to figure out a way to approximate the rapid prototype method of programming, creating lots of little tracks and seeing what sticks, so anything that can help accelerate that process seems worth exploring. Don’t get me wrong, I support folks with their “slow food” approach as well!

sorry to be brutal but…
“let’s have artificial “intelligence” replace labour of love, passion and human craftmanship” its something i really can’t stand. especially if expressed by artists.
maybe i’m a bit too moralist in this but this really upsets me.

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To me the real question is actually why you want to master at all? Since the main drive here is speed, I’m guessing most of what you’re asking from mastering is maximizer + brightening the sound a little, so why not mix all the time to a maximizer / mastering chain on the master bus, so that you’re always at “competitive” level, and just try to make it sound the way you like and not worry about any “mastering” at all ?

To me, if what you want is to not dedicate time to the mastering part, then it means you’ve got no personnal musical interest in it, and you’re just kind of throwing a random preset on your songs all the time, and as you said : sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t. So why do it at all? If it’s about loudness level and having that “compressed” sound that might make you feel your tracks are more “professionnal”, I really would advise to just send your setup to a stereo track in a DAW (any daw, it can be Reaper it’s around 60$ I think, or for your needs you might as well get Live Lite which will be way more than enough) and directly mix to an end of chain “mastering plugin” whichever one you decide to go for, there are so many great ones and we mentionned a lot of them already. They’re all good, and they can all do the same things Landr or Cloudbounce or Soundcloud do, with the added bonus that, having all the parameters at hand, you can sort of demistify what it does.

Because really those “mastering” services don’t make your songs better, they just do these simple things : Compress / EQ (often to add a few dBs in the upper and lower range, and very randomly, there’s no AI that does that well, sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t like any preset) / Distortion to add some harmonics. And sometimes as a bonus they can also fuck up your stereo field to “widen it”. None of this is making your song better, it’s just making it different and loud.

The reason why so many people are answering things here that you might feel don’t really answer your question, is because what you’re describing (sending 30 tracks/month to some opaque online software that raises the volume and twists the EQ with more or less success) is NOT mastering, mastering by definition is not a formula you toss at every mix with a few tweaks here and there based on a shallow understanding of the “genre” of your song. Since you mentionned yourself how it doesn’t always works out great, people tried to tell you that it’s because precisely it’s not mastering.

So really my question is why do you need mastering at all ? Do you know what you expect from the software ? Do you feel like it makes your little musical ideas better ? For me, since all of these things are not meant for commercial use, mastering, which is connected to loudness war and making your songs recognizable and consistant through different kinds of speakers, seems like a really unnecessary step. You might be just as good normalizing all your tracks, or as I said, mixing to a mastering end of chain that’s always the same, this way your volume is consistent, and at least you make it sound the way YOU want.

But really I think you should precise what you expect from mastering apart from having your tracks louder, then we could see how best to advise you.

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So really my question is why do you need mastering at all ? Do you know what you expect from the software ? Do you feel like it makes your little musical ideas better ? For me, since all of these things are not meant for commercial use, mastering, which is connected to loudness war and making your songs recognizable and consistant through different kinds of speakers, seems like a really unnecessary step. You might be just as good normalizing all your tracks, or as I said, mixing to a mastering end of chain that’s always the same, this way your volume is consistent, and at least you make it sound the way YOU want.

Without using mastering my audio has been too murky. Loud parts too loud. Quiet parts too quiet. Overall level too low. Some parts feeling too thin/“modular”-y without warmth. Here’s my current process: modular -> output to reverb pedals (usually) -> Tascam tape machine -> Zoom H5. I then open in Audacity, tweak into and outro, occasionally remove clips. When I stopped here, my sound was sometimes muddy, too same-y (probably from distortion?), and some sections couldn’t punch through.
I’m looking to do a little compression, a little limiting, some EQing. My own attempts to “normalize” just changed overall levels but did not benefit the sound. That’s when I looked for other mastering options. I tried landr.com and was not impressed 4 years ago when I tested it. I tried cloudbounce on a few tracks and was happy. I paid $20 for a month. I got my money’s worth. I saw a thanksgiving sale for a year at $75. I paid and used it for 200+ tracks this year. My year plan expires in a few weeks. I post on lines asking for alternatives to consider (this thread).

Agreed that “mixing to a mastering end of chain that’s always the same” could get me what I want: consistent levels, non-murky/muddy, clearer tone. Yes, I’d love to do more of it myself. These simple solutions that some have posted in this thread, and I have posted above are some worth exploring. I’m not looking for an automated system to add character; well, i guess that’s what my tape machine and reverb is kinda-sorta doing.

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hey @faded, first of all i think there is a big “mistake” in your work chain.
let me explain what i mean by mistake first: a step you have in your signal chain that is not good for the optimization of your sound. that doesn’t mean you can’t use it if you like it, but it must be a very aware choice. what i refer to?
the reverb pedals as end of chain! i see this done regularly especially in the “modular” bubble…this way you don’t add an ambience into which your sounds are placed, you just drop everything into reverb…
i suggest you try to use reverbs on aux sends\returns channels on a proper mixer. this will allow you to differentiate the amount of reverb your single voices are feeding, thus creating a rich and realistic ambience and a more cohesive and deep sound stage.
try this first, if you want, and you’ll see a lot of the “murkyness” go magically away :smiley:

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