Tell us about a project you worked on you are especially proud of and why. What was your role?
Jenn Mundia's new "Heads or Tails" EP is a great one. I mastered it, and mixed one song on it ("Vice--New York/Nashville connection").
What are you working on at the moment?
An exciting project from a Turkish rock band. I've been doing a bit of mixing and mastering for some Turkish artists, and the talent I'm encountering in Istanbul is astonishing.
Is there anyone on SoundBetter you know and would recommend to your clients?
Not yet, but hopefully I'll change this answer in the coming months!
Analog or digital and why?
Old question, and I'm not ideological about it. These days plug-ins sound amazing, so you use whatever the project calls for. I do love the ability to recall settings that's provided by digital. This ability enhances the effectiveness of the most important piece of gear in the studio: the engineer.
What's your 'promise' to your clients?
To stay at it until it sounds right.
What do you like most about your job?
I love the challenge, the variety, and the clients. Every new project is a new puzzle with a different solution to how to get it sounding its best. I'm never able to just "do my habitual thing, like I normally do" and get good results.
What questions do customers most commonly ask you? What's your answer?
"Is there anything you think I should change about my mix?" Sometimes I'll make a suggestion. Often, they're just insecure and I'm able to reassure them that the mix is working very well.
What's the biggest misconception about what you do?
That mastering is a "black art," with secret techniques, that only a select few people understand. Although I do have a couple of signature techniques, and there are a few neat tools available, mastering is really just working hard to balance a mix's equalization for maximum translatability, getting the bass right, working hard to squeeze the most quality we can out of a mix, and getting the volume right. There's no magic. There's dedication and working until it's right.
What questions do you ask prospective clients?
I ask them what albums sound great to them, and I ask them what their highest hopes are for how their music will sound. I ask them what they'd like to get out of mastering.
What advice do you have for a customer looking to hire a provider like you?
E-mail me or call me and talk to me. I love my clients and I love talking to them about their music.
If you were on a desert island and could take just 5 pieces of gear, what would they be?
A U-87 microphone. (The pre-amp has to be good, but it can be any well-made pre.) A dependable Pro-Tools rig. A Martin 000-15 acoustic guitar. A 7-foot Mason and Hamlin piano. And a big, well-tuned room to record them in.
What was your career path? How long have you been doing this?
I've been doing audio since I was a teenager. I got a job at a local studio in my early 20s. But I've done a lot of things in my life. I have a Ph.D. and have been a college professor in political science. I'm trained in advanced statistics. But I always kept coming back to making music. I realized a couple of years ago that I wanted to do serious mastering after yet another so-so experience as an artist with a mastering studio. I realized I could provide a better experience.
How would you describe your style?
My own music is big-production English pop. Think Seal, Tears for Fears, Sting, Trevor Horn productions. But as a mastering engineer, I appreciate every style, and every project I work on.
Which artist would you like to work with and why?
Roland Orzabal from Tears for Fears. Howard Jones. Paddy McAloon. These are my 1980s songwriting heroes. Paddy has the most melancholy and beautiful voice.
In my dreams, I'd study writing for orchestra with John Williams.
Can you share one music production tip?
Short, bright reverbs on vocals sound 80s and project-studio-ish. Don't be afraid of drier vocals, or of reverbs that are quieter, but with really long tails. Better yet, use delay instead (unless its panoramic sound is really not what you're looking for).
What type of music do you usually work on?
Rock, pop, bluegrass, country, singer-songwriter, punk, metal, R&B, hip-hop.
What's your strongest skill?
Depth of musicianship and ease of communication.
What do you bring to a song?
I'm a lifelong musician--and artist and producer--and I understand what you're trying to accomplish. As a recording artist myself, I understand the challenges and frustrations with the recording process. I've obtained suboptimal results from expensive mastering studios myself, and I've thought long and hard about what made those experiences unsatisfying, and how to make sure your experience with Modern Mastering fulfills your expectations.
What's your typical work process?
The artist transfers files to me and I have an initial session in which I first make sure the more technical aspects are checked off: is the bass clear? Is there any harshness that needs to be dealt with? Is there overall balance? Is the loudness appropriate? Does the song sound good alongside the best-sounding material in the marketplace in its genre? Second, I ask myself: Are there things I could do to enhance this and make the experience more impactful? This is the more "artistic" side of mastering. Finally, I ask myself: "Having processed this music, have I genuinely made it better?" If a mastering engineer is self-honest, the answer to this question is not always yes! If it's not better, you go back to the starting line. Sometimes, you conclude that the mix engineer got it right in the beginning, and there's little the mastering process can do to improve it. If it needs nothing, it's my job to DO nothing.
During this process, I check the master not only on my mastering monitors but on other stereo systems. (Earbuds, car stereo.) Incredibly, many mastering engineers don't do this step, but it's indispensable.
Next, I send my "first draft" to the artist and invite the artist or producer to suggest adjustments. I make it clear that artists should not just "trust the mastering engineer to know better than they do." Artists know what they want and will often hear things in the master that I do not, and 9 times out of 10 I agree with their suggestions. The best results come when artists engage fully with the mastering process and collaborate with me. Although I like to work the sessions alone, where I can fluidly audition different processes, I need artist/producer feedback to do my best work.
For the next few days I typically perform one to three rounds of revisions, communicating frequently with the artist/producer and sharing thoughts. Both the artist and I continue to listen to the material as the revision process proceeds. Although I allow unlimited revisions, and never discourage artists from asking for changes, most songs sound right after one or two revisions.
Tell us about your studio setup.
Plenty of analog and digital gear. I'm Pro-Tools based and don't have a single signal chain. I have high-priced gear but I don't believe in "magical" pieces of gear. That's mythology. I believe in working until it sounds right. Even obsessing a bit. The engineer and the attitude he or she brings is the most important piece of gear in any studio.
What other musicians or music production professionals inspire you?
The film composer John Williams. Tears for Fears. The mix engineer Bob Clearmountain. Earth, Wind and Fire. Peter Gabriel. Herbie Hancock. Claude Debussy. So many!
Describe the most common type of work you do for your clients.
Simple audio mastering. Clients send me their stereo mix, and I work to enhance and balance it so that it sounds as impactful as possible and translates well to many different stereo systems. Sometimes they send, or I request, stems to help me do my best work (ask what these are if you don't know). I also provide occasional mixing services. You'll hear some of our mixes on our Soundcloud page.