Jonathan Wyner: Listen To Teacher

As director of education at iZotope, current president of the Audio Engineering Society, and described by his colleagues as a mastering legend, Jonathan Wyner’s finger remains firmly on the pulse of the audio technology industry. Here he discusses the emerging opportunities to connect with users in exciting, unexplored ways, and how he continues to stay at the bleeding edge of music production and education initiatives.

When Wyner first started out as a mastering engineer — for which he has historically been known best — he found the latest audio technology landing in his lap on a regular basis. Add to that his involvement as a producer and composer, and he had soon discovered his true calling; the music he was listening to from a young age encompassing the use of technology as part of the expression and musical vocabulary that started bubbling up in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

“I’ve mixed records using older technologies like tape, and just admire the engineering and the sound of the tools,” Wyner begins. “But I don’t have any great sense of nostalgia or affection towards that; I don’t feel the need to hold on to the old ways of doing things. I’m always interested in unlocking new possibilities that result in either better ways of doing things or new creative expression.”

Having been on the company’s radar for a number of years, Wyner was hired by iZotope to help formalise one of its core values: education.

For iZotope, the notion of education is really about helping people get insights into their work and learn to do it better. As director of education, this has meant a number of things for Wyner, who has made himself resourcefully available as an educator and subject matter expert in mixing and mastering, restored aspects of the company’s development and product management teams, and helped to produce educational series like ‘Are You Listening’, which focuses on the art of mastering.

He’s also nurtured a network of relationships with various universities and colleges, having taught music production for over 35 years, most recently as a professor at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston.

If we can collaborate with the technology, and if the technology becomes one of our partners in doing the work and driving insights, then that’s really, really exciting.

“My work around education manifests slightly differently depending on what quarter of the year we’re in,” he explains. “In some ways, the holy grail would be to have products that educate people as they’re using them.”

I joke that if this was the case, surely Wyner would be out of a job..?

“In a sense, I’d be happy to be if it means that I don’t have to grade papers or masters anymore!” he responds. “But on the other hand it’s quite the opposite, because when you design a system that’s going to represent best practices for the user, that has to be designed by people who understand what best practices are, and who are well suited to curating the user experience.

“If we can collaborate with the technology, and if the technology becomes one of our partners in doing the work and driving insights, then that’s really, really exciting.”

Tools Of The Trade

iZotope as a company recently began transitioning to a subscription-based model, creating new opportunities to bring educational efforts into the relationship with its users. Rather than simply offering the sale of products, the company is looking to deliver ongoing value, which could be in the form of a new experience or various learning resources, and Wyner encourages me to keep an eye out for some new developments in this space.

“We have something like 900 articles focused on different topics,” Wyner adds. “Some of them are very narrowly focused on things like, ‘how do I deal with masking in a mix?’ while some are more tangentially focused around things like room acoustics, as we don’t necessarily provide tools to help people address that directly, but recognise that it’s something our users struggle with.”

A few years ago, iZotope released an ear training practice tool and interactive web-based learning experience called Pro Audio Essentials, helping users to connect the technical language with their understanding of what they’re hearing and their sense of aesthetics, and get an overall insight into the ecosystem.

Another of these tools from recent years is Tonal Balance Control, which Wyner describes as a new way of helping people get a sense of spectral distribution in finished recordings that have been commercially successful. (Simply head to the Learn section of iZotope’s website and you’ll see just how robust this set of offerings is.) Equally as robust is iZotope’s communication with beta groups and research teams who are conducting user interviews, and helping to drive these initiatives forward.

One of the main trends Wyner sees currently is the convergence of various different workflows:

“Understanding the relationship between the work of a producer, mixing engineer and a mastering engineer etc. is something that’s important to the modern creative, and the products should support that,” he says.

“So we built a technology that allows our mixing suite to communicate with the mastering tools, and allows users with problems that need solving to get some insights like, ‘is this a mixing issue? Is this a mastering issue? Do I need to turn down the bass? Or do I need to remove bass?’ and so we’ve tried to facilitate that convergence.”

In a very recent move, iZotope also announced an alliance with Native Instruments to form a new music and audio creator group, and I’m curious to find out what form this partnership might take.

“We’re really looking forward to learning from the NI team; being able to tap into their way of approaching composition and the workflow, and marrying that to our expertise and signal processing on the production side,” shares Wyner. “There’s been some initial thoughts about ways that we can collaborate. They do some things better than we do, and vice versa, so we’re looking forward to learning from each other and working together, although I don’t have specific programmes to announce yet.”

It looks like we’ll have to wait and see what this exciting new partnership between these two music production heavyweights has in store…