What's your 'promise' to your clients?
You are going to get what you want.
What questions do you ask prospective clients?
What do you like about these mixes? What do you dislike about these mixes?
How would you describe your style?
Old-school with EQ, post-new-school with compression.
What do you bring to a song?
I bring a second set of ears, but not a neutral set of ears. A Biased set of ears. Hear me out.
That may sound like a bad quality for a mastering engineer to have, but I think it is vital. I am biased towards all the records that I have heard that sound amazing. If you want me to "create" a sound for your album, you are coming to the wrong guy. That's not what mastering is for. I can take what's already happening in the music and mix and help it along even further, but I can't create it for you. If you want me to make super hyped sounding masters with some tonal imbalance or gimmicky technique like distorting your kicks deliberately, you are coming to the wrong guy. That's not what mastering is for. Talk to your mix engineer/producer. The aesthetic and energy should all be done before the final mix is approved. Mastering takes your track in all of it's current expression and ensure that it communicates with the listener unhindered and, if practicable, enhanced.
I also bring many thousands of hours of critical listening and mastering experience to a song. I want you to listen back to this song tomorrow, ten months, twenty years from now and feel proud of what you made because I helped it sound RIGHT. Good sound is timeless. Good sound is not a fad, good sound is not a gimmick.
But hear me when I say this: I will absolutely make your music sound the way you want. There are many acceptable tonalities and dynamic ranges, but there is a big difference between what is genre-appropriate and what is just plain bad taste. What I bring is knowing where those boundaries are. Right is a spectrum, but that spectrum has limits.
What's your typical work process?
I take a hybrid approach to my workflow that encompasses the best of digital and analog workflows. The analog pieces I have are deliberately broad-stroke tools, so I begin with them. The unit that I begin with is a wonderfully open and detailed inductor based equalizer designed by a very clever and very (rightly) opinionated Ted Fletcher called the P9 Definitive Equalizer. I use it to balance a song tonally, then pass the signal along to whatever compressor suits the material best, if a compressor is even required. At this point I listen for specific problems. Most of these problems are best treated in the digital domain where I have many specialized and very precise tools to choose from. Counter-intuitively, this digital processing is placed before the analog chain even though I typically do it after I make some decisions with the analog chain.
After this I listen closely through the song several times on headphones and my reference monitors, and then I print the song. I move on to the next tracks and do them one at a time.
In digital, it is easy to put off making decisions on songs until the very end, but this only trains your brain to not be decisive. By being in the practice of printing the tracks as I finish them, I have become very good at making the right decision the first or second pass through the song.
After all the tracks are done, there is the sundry details of sequencing, creating a DDP, etc.
I never send a track off to a client without sleeping on it, spending another hour or two listening with fresh ears and being ready to do anything required to perfect the track. All my notes and settings are taken down by hand in a notebook. The physical writing process in indelible ink makes my brain process the decisions differently than simply snapping photos or just marking recall sheets (which I also do).
What's the biggest misconception about what you do?
That making the track loud is the most important job. In reality, loudness is really quite easy if you know what you're doing. The real test of a mastering engineer's skill is how they handle the midrange frequencies. My job security is not loudness. In fact, if we all were willing to accept masters that were a bit quieter, I think we would be even more blown away by all the talented mastering engineers out there who have their hands tied by a tiny dynamic range and a tonal balance that is held hostage by the limiter at the end of the chain.
Can you share one music production tip?
Your instruments, mics, and room are your best assets. Tinkering with plugins is fun, but the real magic happens between the artist and the tracking medium. The song, in theory, should be almost finished after the instruments and vocalists have been tracked.
Of course electronic music blurs all these lines, but the principles can apply with some thought.
Tell us about a project you worked on you are especially proud of and why. What was your role?
All of the Ocean City Defender stuff. That guy has such a good ear and such a great style. He always invites me to be part of the mixing process by sending me progress mixes and asking my opinions. I do the same with the masters back. There is a level of trust that makes the process so much more enjoyable and when the record is done, I really feel like my contribution is valuable and valued.
I'll make sure I always have one of his tracks in my example list.
Analog or digital and why?
Both. They are not mutually exclusive and they both have strengths and weaknesses that anyone with a reasonable mind would take full advantage of.
What do you like most about your job?
So many bands and songwriters are so excited when they write a new song and get the arrangement just right. By the time all the long nights are done in the studio recording, re-recording, editing, mixing, remixing, the inspiration can be wearing pretty thin. On several occasions I have delivered the masters and rekindled that excitement because now the project is DONE. I love that. It moves me because I know what it feels like.
One client said "we have been working on this record for three years and it's the worst thing we've ever done. We just want to master it and get it over with so we can move on." When I was done the same guy said "you took the track I was most bummed on and now it's my favourite track! Now I think this is the BEST record we've ever put out!"
What advice do you have for a customer looking to hire a provider like you?
Send a test master to several engineers with something wrong in the mix. Something not obvious yet deliberate that you know about. For example: take that de-esser off the vocals. Maybe bump that kick drum up a bit too high. When you get the masters back, see what each engineer did with the problem. If they didn't do anything, move along. If you can easily tell what they did, move along (unless you really like it!). If you think that maybe you sent the wrong mix because that problem doesn't seem to be there anymore, you have found the right engineer. (Keep in mind that some problems are impossible to fix transparently)
What's your strongest skill?
Cohesion. When I am done with an album it sounds like a RECORD. It does not sound like a compilation or mixtape. It sounds like one complete work of art that can be enjoyed most in one sitting. It is probably one of the most consistent compliments I get on my work.
What other musicians or music production professionals inspire you?
As far as mastering engineers go, Ted Jensen nails the sound more often than almost everyone else. When you listen to his records, there is no fear involved. The man makes decisions and they are the right ones. When I listen to many major label productions I hear cowardice in the mastering. There is a fear of sensitive frequencies that engineers have that make for conservative decisions. The result is lifeless audio that has the appearance of balanced sound, but are played too safe (and boring) in key areas. I've never heard a record done by Ted Jensen that exhibits this kind of timidity.