When I was a kid, my Dad told me that if I wanted a job for life, then I should become a milkman. I was woken each morning to the sound of the electric milk cart clinking up the street; it was as predictable as the sun rising.
It turns out my Dad was wrong, these days a milkman whistling his way from house to house is a rarity as supermarket milk in plastic cartons rendered them almost extinct.
In my early years of recording the drum machine entered the mainstream for those recording both professionally and also the home studio. There were things like the Linn LM1 costing thousands as well as endless derivatives from the likes of Roland, Yamaha, and Alesis that sold in their tens of thousands to the bedroom producer.
The death of the drummer was predicted, machines were taking over the music industry some lamented, and they predicted that within a generation we wouldn't need drummers any longer. The joke at the time was the difference between a drummer and a drum machine was that you only have to punch the information into a drum machine once. Cue cymbal crash!
Those predictions were wrong too - drummers are still an essential part of the recording and live musical landscape.
The latest technological advances are around machine learning or artificial intelligence.
To be honest, I'm not sure what all the fuss is about as we've had artificial intelligence in bands for years... the bass player. Please send any hate mail for that joke to Mike.
But joking apart, we are now seeing brands like iZotope and LANDR exploring what this technology can do for music.
However, it seems even to explore this is dumb, according to one person this week. After putting out the results of our mastering poll, in which we asked people to identify the work of a mix engineer, a mastering engineer and a computer, some people got hot under the collar. So much, so they resorted to name-calling, one person suggested it was "Another dumb poll by a dumb publication that offers little to no real-world experience."
As I tried to engage with said name-caller, it appeared to be the case that even the mention of LANDR (sorry I did it there) was something we should not do, in his words "Every time you post something about LANDR, another hard working mastering engineer looses work" (sic). Who wants tight work anyway?
Really? That sounds terribly like the meme "Every time you talk about (INSERT SUBJECT) a puppy dies."
I'm not going to resort to name calling, but what I do want to consider is the following based on the thinking of our Facebook critic.
Stifling innovation is unwise. There are at least two reasons I can think of.
The first reason is that innovation is at the core of the creative person, it is the very motivation that helps us create great things. Suggesting we stifle innovation because we don't like what can be developed is a worrying path to take.
Furthermore, to write that on Facebook is in itself ironic, surely if you are such a critic of technology, then the consistent approach to an anti-innovation mindset would have been to write the complaint with a typewriter and send it to our office. But hang on, surely the typewriter replaced pens, so to be safe then perhaps use a ballpoint pen instead? Or a quill, on vellum. And send it on a crow. Or to be completely safe get a chisel and write it on a stone tablet - it would be easier to throw through the PTE office window and would make a much better statement.
You see the problem?
A second more worrying suggestion in the complaint is that we should not talk about certain things, that certain topics are out of bounds, as if not talking about them will somehow make the magically go away.
Living in a world where innovation is stifled is bad enough, but a world where free debate is stifled? No thanks!
One person responded with a balanced and sensible answer;
"It certainly sucks to be made vulnerable to the inevitability of automation, but you have to understand that this progress is inevitable.
It seems naive to me to expect PTE not to mention LANDR since it might cost some mastering engineers their jobs. And what about the programmers who make a living from creating LANDR, or the musicians that save time or money? I agree that it sucks to see incredibly talented people put out of work for the sake of automation, but that's the inevitable arrow of progress, and most people choose to adapt.
In either case, LANDR is simply another tool in an ever-growing arsenal of sonic options. It's not even close to replacing the mastering industry.
The fact that you'd prefer to halt progress because it potentially makes you vulnerable shows your unwillingness to see the bigger picture. You'd be better off adapting to change rather than fighting it."
Excellent reply, a rare thing in a social media debate - which can go from "What is the best compressor for bass" to "You seem to think the rise of the Nazi party was a good thing?" In 10 replies.
And social media is an excellent example of how we have to view innovation and progress. I have mixed views about social media because it has the potential to bring out both the very best and worst in people. The technology helps morons to tweet, but on the other hand, alerts me to a cause that needs my help. There is good and bad in every innovation, the first invention being fire, which can keep us warm but also has the potential to burn our house down.
I'm not here to defend LANDR, or Ozone 8, or indeed 'mastering' software. Speech marks intentional.
What I will defend is the gift of innovation that on the whole brings far more benefits than ills.
Every generation is faced with the challenges that it can bring to those who work in professions threatened by it - hoping, or in some cases, demanding we don't talk about it doesn't help.
Which leads me to my second the point and that is I will defend the right to talk about things, however painful a subject to navigate. It's the very freedom I'll defend that enables someone to call Pro Tools Expert and the team of writers "a dumb publication that offers little to no real-world experience." And as I already said, it's the innovation of Facebook that allowed him to write that.
But let's get back to the subject in hand, machine learning or AI mastering, is it a threat to mastering engineers?
I remember the first time I had a project mastered. It was in the mid-1990s at a company called SRT in Cambridge. I think this is the company where Ian Shepherd began his career?
We sat in a room with a pair of B&W speakers that were larger than me and watched and listened as the engineer; I think his name was Nick, took our master to another level, and I don't mean he made it louder! I recall asking him endless questions about the mix, the song order, the space between each track, the dynamic shape of each track. Then he got technical and laid out the tracks with the correct amount of space and prepared it to Red Book Standard for the pressing of the CD.
It was not only the sound but the advice he gave. He listened to the music with an objective set of ears; he used his extensive experience to get the compression and EQ just right on every song. He used his craft to make my art sound even better than I thought it could.
I subsequently got introduced to Denis Blackham via my record label, and he mastered several of my albums with the same care and detail. I always remember taking mixes to him which already sounded terrific and wondered how he had managed to make them sound even better. He was the Gandalf of audio during his career. He subsequently retired.
You see when it comes to mastering, it's not about the technology moron. (name calling used for stylistic effect)
In some ways, LANDR has helped spark an even more significant debate we should have been having the moment someone thought it was a good idea to put a plug-in on a mix and make it sound as loud as possible and then call it mastering.
Mastering is not about the technology; it's about the objectivity of a second set of ears and their experience offers.
Some people like to mix to get their tracks as close to the result as possible, others will leave the final EQ and compression choices to the mastering engineer - and a skilled mastering engineer knows what to do with that mix, to use a cooking analogy, a good mastering engineer knows how long to leave the cake in the oven.
To my view those of us who can afford the skills of top mastering engineers will carry on using them, we know the incalculable value they bring to our work. There are some who will never be able to afford their skill and care; thankfully there's a solution for them too in the form of automated software.
Is one better or worse? Neither, they are just different.
Both have their place, but if I could offer one piece of advice. If you have a project that means a lot to you, perhaps your first album or single - then spend the money and take it to a mastering engineer. I'm not saying this because I think LANDR, OZONE or a 'mastering' plug-in won't do the technical part of the job, but because the human side of mastering and the benefits it brings is something we should all try at least once in our recording career.