Business Interviews Digital

Q&A: Justin Evans, MixGenius

By | Published on Wednesday 10 December 2014


This interview from the recent M For Montreal conference appeared in the December 2014 edition of the CMU Trends Report. Buy our reports from the CMU Shop or get every edition by signing up for CMU Premium

Most debate on the digital music revolution centres on consumer-facing platforms – download stores, streaming services and direct-to-fan channels – which make it simpler for fans to access music, and much easier for artists to get their tracks out into the wider world (even if the challenge of then finding an audience remains).

But digital developments are also revolutionising the music making process, and are making it easier for artists to create recorded content as well as distribute it. Justin Evans’ company MixGenius, and its first product Landr, are doing just that, helping artists with the all important mastering process.

“MixGenius is about ten years of research from Queen Mary University in London using machine learning and big data for doing sound engineering tasks”, Evans says. “There’s a big body of intellectual property there that we moved with an incubator to Montreal to develop into cool products, and Landr is the first. It’s an online mastering studio that benchmarks extremely well with professional mastering studios at a fraction of the cost; so we make it accessible for people to get really professional sound at a very low cost”.

Explaining how that first product works, Evans goes on: “You take your stereo output from your recording, and drag and drop it onto our website, which uploads it to our cloud server. Our server then analyses it, understands what the appropriate mastering is for the track, and applies a bunch of processors. Which processors depends on the frequency of the music, and some genre and style elements. The system automatically does what a human mastering engineer would do”.

The aim is to enable artists – DIY artists especially – to apply the kind of mastering to their tracks that would previously come with a not insignificant price tag attached.

“Right now, for most people, who just want to do MP3 output, it’s free”, Evans adds. “Part of the reason for that is it’s machine leaning, the system is learning from all the content being uploaded. We’ve processed half a million tracks in five months, and are starting to get enough data to really make the system awesome. You can then pay a subscription – nine to nineteen bucks – for uncompressed files”.

Although clearly most liberating for unsigned artists, Evans says: “One of the most exciting things for me was when Bob Weir from Grateful Dead and his TRI Studios found us, and loved us, and they are now using Landr to prepare tracks for streaming services. And we have other established artists using the service too. Though for me, as a musician too, I’m also excited about all the kids out there making new music – kids in Brazil making crazy EDM from a genre I’ve never heard of – and using Landr to make their tracks better”.

Although MixGenius’s first product is winning fans amongst established artists and producers, Evans admits that there was some suspicion about and resistance to the product when he first started talking about it at industry events. “It’s always a scary thing when a technology starts doing something only human beings have done before. One of our own staff members admitted to me recently that he was super sceptical about Landr when he first heard about it, but then he tried it, realised how awesome it was, and that it actually makes his life a lot easier”.

Evans also reckons that, as with the digital distribution domain, recent and future advances in music making technologies are significant. “I think that we are just starting to see the tip of the iceberg”, he says. “And giving more people the capacity of creativity is a great thing. Particularly inspiring are projects like those being pursued by Pauline Oliveros’s Deep Listening Institute, making musical tools for people with disabilities. But even wider than that, anything that unlocks more people’s musicality is a great thing”.

But what does Evans think about those who argue that, with more music available than ever before – partly due to digital distribution, and increasingly due to new music making tools – that means there is just more mediocre music to trawl through to find the good stuff.

“I don’t agree with that. My life is filled with great music. If there’s more music out there, you can listen to more, and you’ll like more. Yes, there’s a lot of content to navigate, to find what you like, but there are more channels to access tracks through too. Try each channel, and find the ones that work for you”.

Whether good or bad, music technology of all kinds continues to morph and progress at an unprecedented rate. “Whereas new technologies, disruptive technologies, would come along once a decade in the past, it feels like thinks move on every few months today”, Evans says.

But the technology makers have a duty to help the music community, and the world at large, keep on top of these developments, Evans says. “I think it’s our responsibility as technologists to make the tools accessible, simple to use and easy for everyone. Nothing disruptive is meaningful if only technologists can understand it. And I think there is both an ethical and commercial imperative here. More than anything as a product designer, you want to make something that works, because if it works, and if it works for lots of people, the longer it will last”.

This report from the recent M For Montreal conference appeared in the December 2014 edition of the CMU Trends Report. Buy our reports from the CMU Shop or get every edition by signing up for CMU Premium