Updated: Mar 28
The need for audio engineers may be declining in the dawn of AI mastering platforms.
Lisa Wilson | March 13, 2023
"Only the extremely ignorant or the extremely intelligent can resist change"
Mixing and Mastering engineers have always been known as a crucial part of the process for all music; whether its recording, editing, voice overs, sound effects, for podcasts, television, theatre or film. Mixing engineers have the important role of balancing all the levels and quality of a track or recording, while mastering engineers have the role of shaping the music into high quality for distribution with a profound attention to minutiae. They have always been the last ones to see the details of the track before reaching the listeners ears.
In the last few years, AI has become a common phenomenon with many various areas such as creating music, mastering music, digital art, content creation, graphic design and much more. The first computer generated melodies goes as far back as 1951 by Scientist Alan Turing, made by his Mark ll computer. This never really posed any threat back then being as it wasn't so common and not shared, but this has been around for a while, only now the generators are vastly complex and efficient.
Living in 2023, a time way past what "Back To The Future" thought would have flying cars, we have all managed well in adapting to the times, whose to say we won't now? With the AI generators today, just about anyone can create, mix and master music. This can be quite daunting for producers and audio engineers, as many fear work for them will decrease as AI platforms continue to improve. So how can they adapt?
I had the chance to meet and interview with Sound Designer & Audio Engineer, Josh Hendriks, to talk about his role in the music industry, his perspective on diversity in the studio and how AI has already begun changing the course of his career.
Josh Hendriks in the studio.
A glimpse at his Background
Josh is from the Netherlands where he studied professional music on drums, which led him to study his bachelors of audio engineering in Berlin six years ago. He was surrounded by music the majority of his upbringing, as his grandfather owned and ran one of the biggest festivals in the Netherlands, PinkPop Festival.
While living in Berlin, during the time he was in school for audio engineering, he quickly established himself in the music scene, networking and finding clients almost immediately after arriving to the city. Hendriks gathered most of his major clients networking at an annual Universal Studio event, which allowed him to attend more related events in Berlin building an impressive portfolio of artists he worked with.
Mixed & Mastered by Josh Hendriks.
He also notes a lot of his clients came from social media, following artists who presented their demos online. Which fortunately led him to Shanghai one time to produce an artist.
Nowadays, he left the production side of things and works remotely as a sound engineer, doing audio repair and sound design anywhere he goes.
A List of Ways you can work remotely as an Audio Engineer:
Go Digital. There are thousands of plug-ins that work just as well as the analog hardware does and its much cheaper!
Be active on social media. Keep your eye on emerging artists looking for mixing and mastering engineers.
Master your craft. So you know that your work is better than what AI is producing.
Network where ever you go! You might just be talking to your next client without realizing it. Remember your elevator pitch!
Have a clean and updated website. Connect links to your social's, so potential clients can access your portfolio.
Diversity in the studio
Music studio's are known to be male dominated, I asked Josh about his take on seeing more gender diversity in the studio environment, his explanation was the best I've heard.
"I wouldn't mind seeing more female engineers, not like its bothering me that there isn't many but maybe its because they don't have the interest in doing so. Just as you don't see many female mechanics, many just don't have the passion or enthusiasm to do it...Sure, there may be a shortage but it should be inclusive to everyone who wants to get into it"
Statistics show about 5% of audio engineers in the industry are female, while 95% are male. Considering the majorly low percentage of females, its rare that any of them get the chance to meet one another. Because of this massive percentage of males dominating the studio's, it can be intimidating for woman to go for such an education on this career path and feel as though they are being seen and taken seriously as professional audio engineers. Honestly, it shouldn't be about how you present yourself in what gender you are or sex, it should be based on skill in the studio. Everyone should have the opportunity to work in the field they choose no matter what, but we have a long way to go and the numbers are still low, as there is only 2 females in my audio engineering program this year.
For more support and information, check out: SoundGirls, a network for women and non-binary people working in the professional audio industry. https://soundgirls.org/women-in-audio-engineering/
A podcast with two female sound engineers discussing their experiences in the recording studios .
So what does AI in music mean for audio engineers?
There has been much talk and worry around the subject of AI in the music industry. Many artists and sound engineers fear it will be the end of their careers, but lets not get too ahead of ourselves. There is positives and negatives to this paradox. AI music generators can produce music by the click of a preset, and a selection of words or codes in seconds. This is not to say having these generators will change the industry just yet, or significantly reduce the need for original music made by human artists.
It could just be that its merely a tool to enhance quality and efficiency on production and workflow. Honestly, its all about how we adapt to change.
Josh is already experiencing the impact AI is having on the music industry and how his client base is declining.
The platform ChatGPT grew from 1 million users to 100 million in 2 months after the launch in 2022, an AI model which interacts with the users in a conversational way. As the next version is launching soon, perhaps faster and smarter, its only natural to feel a slight loss of hope for any passionate audio engineer just getting started.
"The reality is, AI is the future, and before we know it, jobs in many fields will become obsolete because of the AI uprise. There's a reason why big studios like Abbey Road and Ocean Way are teaching online courses, including famous sound engineers making online teaching videos because their lacking income. Bringing in way less revenue then there was ten years ago."
Youtuber, Damian Keyes Talks about how AI will change the music industry.
The pandemic defiantly made an impact for artists and musicians all over the world. On the other hand, online videos and platforms like Patreon and Youtube helped make it possible for professionals in any field to teach their skills and make a profit during the pandemic, which is still very favorable to subscribers. These platforms have created easy access to artists, teachers, djs, and open more doorways of opportunity to make a living online.
I'm an optimist and I don't know for sure about becoming obsolete as a sound engineer, as mastering engineers are the most important and last step of the audio production process. They have to understand and feel what the artist is trying to portray with their music, including the emotional aspect, depth, and how the music makes us feel. The AI now won't be able to rationalize that and read the music like the human brain can.
Josh is also experiencing a lack in clients in the commercial and video line of work due to the fact they are using AI generators as tools because its cheaper and with the times where AI is trending. Luckily, he is educated in software engineering also, so hes set himself up for his future no matter what comes at him.
Floyd X Meissen suitcase commercial, Josh mixed, mastered & sound designed.
Landr is one of the most popular AI platform for auto mastering, which some say sounds like an "auto turd," while others with less experience might disagree and think it does the job. Let's think of AI mastering like buying a knock off Louis Vuitton bag instead of the real thing.
In reality, a professional mastering engineer will always be the irrefutable option. We have to be realistic here, as this is truly a crucial time to find alternate ways as a sound engineer to stay relevant in this fast paced dynamic future, but AI still has a long way to go. Its all about quality, taste, and staying up to date with new trends and your awareness on social media. In other words, I think there will always be work for skilled audio engineers. No matter who you are and where you are located. I will not give up on my dream to become an audio engineer, and neither should any of you!
March 13, 2023