Tips from the industry expert: Jonathan Wyner from iZotope 

24 February, 2021

We caught up with Grammy-award nominated Jonathan Wyner, mastering engineer, producer, author, professor and iZotope’s Education Director, to talk about the art of mastering and to look back on his Masterclass at BIMM Institute Berlin and Hamburg.

During his career, Jonathan has worked with artists such as David Bowie, Nirvana and Miles Davis and has recently become the President of the Audio Engineering Society. With his incredible wealth of knowledge and his background as a lecturer at Berklee College, he joined us for an exclusive Masterclass to explore how audio technology has affected the aesthetics of music production and vice versa. By using examples of a variety of technologies, he explored how we interact with this technology in production. Furthermore, he addressed the topic of machine learning and A.I. and how neural networks have been incorporated into iZotope’s technologies and what possibilities this unlocks in the future. Following this, Jonathan encourages students to look at technology and its opportunities that exist.

We got to ask him a few questions following his insightful Masterclass:

What made you become fascinated with mastering and what was the reason that made you want to pursue it as a career?

Mastering is a discipline based on deep listening. Spending my time fully engrossed in a musical journey is one of my favourite things to do. One is forced to pay attention to the overall impact of a composition realized in a recording, and also be vigilant about the fine details in the music and the overall sound. In short, I love the work. Beyond that mastering has traditionally been a part of the workflow where new technologies appear. Whether single-ended noise reduction systems beginning with SoundDroid and NoNoise through iZotope RX, AI fuelled technologies like source separation or immersive audio we tend to live on the leading (and sometimes bleeding edge). I like learning new things and finding new ways to do audio magic!

What do you think someone who wants to pursue a career in mastering should absolutely know about?

All stages of the recording workflow. In order to truly be helpful, you need to understand why a recording sounds as it does and have some empathy for the journey. You need to understand musical arrangement and overall sonic properties in a variety of genres. You need to get into the fine details of the technology so you understand how to deliver the best results on behalf of an artist – and to be sure the master will actually play properly when it’s out in the world.

What is something you found out about mastering later in your career and that you wish you would have known earlier when you started your career in mastering?

Interesting question. Probably to not be so insecure. IT took many years of practice and client feedback before I felt I had solid footing in my mastering work. I wish I had known that it’s part of the journey and that by persevering I would arrive at a time when it felt more instinctive, I would feel my own sense of competence. It took repeated accolades and nice comments from artists for me to begin to feel comfortable in my own skin. That may be a natural part of the journey for anyone who starts out as an artist…. it’s part of the artists’ ethos, I think.

You have just launched a new video series on the topic of mastering – what is your goal with this series and what do you want people to know about the art of mastering?

My goals are to make mastering more approachable and relatable. I recognize that without being able to spend years working in the discipline, it’s easy to see it as some sort of black box, mystical process. My experience with my students is that everyone who learns about mastering comes away with better listening skills, better mixing skills, better understanding of the tools we use and ultimately can prepare for mastering better even if collaborating with someone else. It’s no surprise that so many talks are called “Demystifying Mastering”. We chose ‘Are You Listening?’ since – that says it all!

What do you think is the one misconception people might have about mastering?

Ooof, only one? The easy one is that mastering makes everything LOUD and bright. The second is that it makes mixes sound good. The third is that mastering engineers are perfect.

Why is the art of mastering so much more than just making a track louder?

I think you answer the question by asking it. If it was just about turning up the level or changing tone for loudness any automated system could be doing the work already. At the heart of it, it is about interpreting a musical/artistic creation and attempting to improve it.

Do you have tips for producers and artists who cannot afford to pay for professional mastering – what are some basic tips they should keep in mind when mastering their own music?

So many – watch ‘Are You Listening?’ for starters. Don’t try to do too much. Don’t try to fix your mix in mastering – remix if necessary. Ask friends for feedback.

In what ways do you think audio technology is changing music and vice versa?

The technology is developing so quickly. The development of programs such as Differentiable DSP allow us to create new sounds we never could have before and unlock creativity in new ways. Listen to a composer like Holly Herndon who incorporates AI trained choruses in her work, and you’ll hear something new. We have an increasingly diverse set of distribution methods that means less overall conformity regarding the delivery of audio. Source Separation means we can realistically change a recording AFTER it’s ‘finished’. So many implications and often we don’t realize how they are showing up in the aesthetics of our audio until some creative person makes use of the technology. There are so many historical examples of this changing taking place from tape to MIDI to buffer memory to AI.

What are you looking forward to the most this year in terms of music, the industry, mastering etc.?

Being surprised. There is always some boundary that gets pushed resulting in something new and beautiful being created. I look forward to working with artists who bring me something totally unexpected and wonderful and challenging.

I’m also really excited to work on helping foster the idea of equity and access in the industry. We’re doing a lot of work in this area at iZotope and I’m also fortunate enough to be able to work on this in my capacity as President of the AES. I believe it’s important for the future of our audio/musical communities.

To give a more in-depth look into mastering, iZotope together with Jonathan have created an educational video series that offers a step-by-step guide to mastering and familiarising yourself with this topic. This series is a must-watch for everyone who wants to get started on their journey to pursue mastering as a career!

Are you interested in music technology or the art of mixing and mastering? Then you might also want to have a look at iZotope’s award-winning audio software and plug-ins that are made by and used by experts from a variety of fields within the music industry. You want to make use of iZotope’s technology yourself and incorporate the software into your own music production? Then we have some good news for you: All BIMM Germany students can receive a 50% discount on all iZotope products! All you need to do to receive this discount is email norawarmedinger@bimm-institute.de.

Just like BIMM Institute Berlin, iZotope is also located in the House of Music and we are looking forward to future collaborations and projects with iZotope!

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The British and Irish Modern Music Institute