The mastering assistant in Ozone 8 is creating a lot of interest and Dan Gonzalez, Product Manager at iZotope has taken the time to explain why iZotope created the Mastering Assistant and what it can and can't do. Over to you Dan...
What is Master Assistant?
Master Assistant is an intelligent assistant in Ozone 8 that helps you achieve a starting point for mastering your music. Not only does Master Assistant provide you with a way to get going, it can also educate you on some of the decisions that are made at the beginning of the process.
The steps engineers go through to ensure that music is prepared to distribute to the world is often described as a “dark art” that requires years and years of experience to execute. Ozone 8’s Master Assistant aims to demystify some of the aspects of mastering like achieving loudness without compromising the fidelity of your music, or balancing your entire track so that the low end is punchy and controlled.
Unlike auto-mastering services, Master Assistant shows you the changes it’s made to your audio and even informs you about the steps it goes through to make those changes. Once finished, you can see the parameters and educate yourself by dissecting each module’s settings or bypassing each module to hear the differences.
What does it do?
Master Assistant starts by presenting a simple question: “What are you going for?”
This question affects settings in the Maximizer (Ozone’s Limiter) specifically. Mastering engineers usually start each project by setting up their limiter first. This helps them understand what processing needs to be done to the track to frame it for the delivery format. Master Assistant does the same thing with three different choices:
Streaming: This prepares your music for an average loudness for streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music.
CD: This sets your music up for CD mastering. This gives you a few different intensity options that dictate how often the Limiter reacts to your audio.
Reference: If you have a reference track loaded into Ozone 8’s brand new Track Referencing feature, you can select that from the Master Assistant panel. Master Assistant will learn the EQ curve of your reference track as well as your reference track’s loudness. Pick any track you like as long as it’s one of the following supported file formats:
After you select your target destination and start playing audio, Master Assistant will inform you of the steps it’s taking to set up your track for mastering.
Equalisation is set first by suggesting some initial moves based on your music’s style or applying the EQ curve that it has learned from a reference track you provided. Once that’s done, Master Assistant analyses the dynamic range (crest factor) of your music and implements the Dynamics module to frame your low end. If the dynamic range of your music is not problematic, then it bypasses the Dynamics module altogether. Thirdly, the Maximizer’s ceiling and threshold are set to hit the Streaming, CD, or Reference target you selected when you started Master Assistant. Lastly, dynamic EQ nodes are placed in areas of the frequency spectrum that have potential to cause distortion when your audio meets the Maximizer.
Note that when it comes to using Master Assistant, you want to make sure it is listening to the most energetic part of your track. Given the current limitations of existing as a plug-in within a host, Ozone can only perceive the audio passing through it at any given time. Master Assistant can’t listen to your entire track of audio—it would take way too long and keep you from getting through your creative process swiftly.
Why does it do those things?
Think of Master Assistant like an audio engineer sitting in the room with to you. The results of the discussions you would have with this engineer is what Master Assistant sets out to accomplish. The initial EQ moves, Dynamics, and Maximizer settings, all set your music up for success, without taking your creativity out of the equation.
Every move that Master Assistant decides to touch can be modified by you after it’s finishing processing. The process isn’t black-boxed like auto-mastering solutions so you can retain full creative control over your mastering decisions.
What isn't Master Assistant trying to do?
Often times, there is a line between corrective and creative processing. Creative processing is stylised, your own take on the sonic direction of your music. Think stylised saturation from the Exciter or harmonic distortion from the new 7.5 IPS feature in Ozone 8’s Vintage Tape module.
Alternatively, corrective processing addresses problems that could incur major downstream effects to your loudness or the tonal balance of the audio; for example, having an out of control low end that ducks your limiter, or an extremely harsh high end that’s fatiguing and hard to listen to for long periods of time. It’s important to deal with these issues up front so that you’re not constantly fighting an uphill battle throughout the whole process.
Master Assistant steers clear of making creative decisions for you. Its goal is to provide you with a louder and cleaner starting point for your music. After that, you still have the rest of Ozone to get creative.
Looking into the Future
With any first iteration, there’s always room to grow, iterate and enhance. We don’t know what the future of Master Assistant will be, but we know it will continue to educate and help music creatives at all levels of proficiency. At iZotope, our mission is to enable and inspire our users to be creative, and we feel that Master Assistant in Ozone 8 has delivered on that promise.