Thanks to a proliferation of affordable, high-quality signal processing plugins, the once inaccessible world of audio mastering is now open to producers of all experience and skill levels. Does the professional mastering engineer really need to watch their back, though? We ask five of the field's leading developers…
"While it's been possible to do in-the-box mastering for years now, there are many more credible resources that help people learn how to do it, so more people are! Mastering no longer means trying to fit tracks into the Billboard Top 40 - it means making music sound good in whatever context. However, it doesn't make mastering any easier. The same things that democratise the activity make it more challenging in some ways."
"As a lover of sound and the art of mastering, I'm still awed by great mastering done by the best mastering engineers. I don't think the disruption that's happening with tools like LANDR will touch that, but many of the millions of made-for-Soundcloud tracks, demos and bedroom productions will be mastered to a quality that never would have been possible before."
"The tools have certainly become democratised. MixBus is only $79 and it has everything you need to get good levels, balance your tracks against each other, sequence them, and export your album in multiple formats. But the knowledge to use those tools at a professional level is just as costly as ever - you still have to hire someone who knows what they're doing, or take the time to develop those skills yourself."
"The mastering process has always involved a lot of mystery and mojo. This is because the art of mastering covers many different aspects, all of which interact with each other.
"The democratisation, we think, comes from having provided something which users can count on - something that they can be assured is correct and leaves just those controls that are required to create the balance and the final level."
"Professional tools are getting more affordable and more people are learning how to use them, so in that sense, the process is definitely being democratised. However, experience and good ears are not easily purchased, so not everyone will get a great result, even with the right tools. But the same goes for all parts of the process, whether it's songwriting, playing, recording, mixing or mastering.
"More musicians and artists are mixing their own albums these days, and I think it's safe to assume that more will try to master their albums as well, regardless of whether the outcome is good or not."