Apple controls the universe, part 665: Mixing and mastering with iTunes

And you thought that whole 99-cents-a-song thing was revolutionary. Well, if you thought iTunes was going to be content merely to put the compact-disc industry out of business, think again. This week, we got a couple emails that suggest DJs and mastering technicians should watch their backs. The New York Times reports today that Ry Cooder outsourced the mastering of his new album to the "sound enhancer" check-box on his iTunes console. (Sending a shiver down indie-rock spines, Dave Fridman suggests in the same article that the new Clap Your Hands record might sound better in iTunes, too.) And that item sent us scrambling back to a post on Riddim Method about a new software app that will beat-match your entire iTunes collection for you.

Here's the relevant bit on the Cooder disc:

Last year, as Mr. Cooder worked on “My Name Is Buddy,” an oddball folk and blues concept album about a red cat that travels through a mythic American landscape, he ran into familiar problems. When he subjected the recording to his usual test — playback in his Toyota, on the factory-installed stereo — the result wasn’t to his liking. “It started to sound processed,” he said. “We were losing the feeling of the thing, and this is not music that can withstand this.”

Then Mr. Cooder noticed something else: When he burned a copy of the album using Apple’s iTunes software, it sounded fine. He didn’t know why until one of his younger engineers told him that the default settings on iTunes apply a “sound enhancer.” (It’s in the preferences menu, under “playback.”) Usually, that feature sweetens the sound of digital music files, but Mr. Cooder so liked its effect on his studio recordings that he used it to master — that is, make the final sound mixes — his album. “We didn’t do anything else to it,” he said.

Meanwhile, DJ C posts on Riddim Method about staring into the belly of a new beat-matching application by Echo Nest, then dares you to distinguish between a live set he built by hand or the set built by Echo Nest's ENDJMixer.

ENDJMixer is a little software app that can read an iTunes library, from which you can choose a playlist that you’d like to have the app DJ for you. In other words, you feed it a bunch of tunes, it analyzes the files and then beat matches and mixes the tunes for you automatically.


Is Ry Cooder on to something? Obviously, we need a Man Vs. Machine test for this iTunes "mastering" concept. What we need is an ace mastering guy who will agree to challenge the iTunes presets, and a couple of bands with mixed but unmastered tracks that we can use for the challenge. OTD has a couple thoughts about some people who might be into this, but if anyone wants to volunteer, hit us in the comments or at

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