Get your music mastered remotely while being very much a part of the process.
Jeff Carroll, mastering engineer, applies finishing touches to recorded music of all genres. Jeff's career began in 1990 in the mastering department of a large independent media manufacturer, where he eventually oversaw production of a five-room mastering suite. A decade later, he became the first full-time engineer for the famed Southern Folklife Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill, updating their audio preservation processes while absorbing knowledge of at-risk media and obsolete formats. Jeff eventually opened Bluefield Mastering in 2001, where he continues to master records on a daily basis.
A life-long musician and songwriter, Jeff has been an advocate of music education and fostering community through involvement with various music-oriented projects and non-profit organizations. He has been a featured panelist at several audio and music industry conferences. He is a voting member of the the Audio Engineering Society and the Recording Academy (the Grammys).
Jeff's unique combination of musical, technical, and communication skills provide clients with unsurpassed quality, service, and creativity in audio mastering. Trusted by musicians, producers, and engineers worldwide, he can assist you in realizing your sonic vision for release as digital media, vinyl, or digital distribution (including Apple Digital Masters /Mastered For iTunes).
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Interview with Jeff Carroll /Bluefield
Q: What's your 'promise' to your clients?
A: That I will give myself completely to mastering your mixes. No one will work harder for you.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: Who doesn't love music? I get to listen and improve upon recordings, so I love my job. But I also love meeting and working with people - artists, engineers, and producers. I like the notes and emails I get from clients saying how much they love what I did with their record. It is a wonderful and rewarding feeling to help others achieve their goals in music. I thrive on it.
Q: What advice do you have for a customer looking to hire a provider like you?
A: Listen to records the provider has worked on. Listen on a variety of systems. Does the music speak to you as a listener? Do you find them enjoyable, and want to hear them again? The provider likely had a hand in making sure those records sound great to you, and that they also sound appropriate in terms of genre, and for the way in which it was recorded. Work with someone who has a proven record of being able to help others make excellent decisions about how to present your music to the world.
Q: Tell us about your studio setup.
A: My processing is predominantly analog, but I am equally comfortable in the digital domain. Much of it is what you would expect to find in any top-notch mastering facility, but this is a very personalized art form and as such I probably have a some very lovely pieces that you wouldn't typically find in a mastering studio. Some of it is modified, some of it is not, and a few pieces were designed more with broadcasting in mind. It is about what works best for the task at hand, and every mix, every engineer, every studio is different. Yes, I am into gear, but I am more about what a piece of gear can do for me. If I have a piece of gear, it is because I love it and can't work without it. And if I really love a unit, I might have more than one.
Q: What was your career path? How long have you been doing this?
A: I loved recorded music first, discovering my parents' records, along with my dad's reel-to-reel deck. Guitar lessons followed as a child and teenager, but soon was just doing my own thing. I started and joined bands, and those gigs took me into both home and professional studios. After college I started working in a large independent manufacturing plant with a decent size mastering department and a large output (in 1990), where I eventually became the head of the mastering department overseeing five mastering rooms and the work of fourteen others. I left that position to work a few years in audio restoration and preservation, while building my own studio. I transitioned out of that position, back into full time mastering, opening my own facility in 2001.
Q: What do you bring to a song?
A: I bring my ears, over thirty years of solid mastering experience, as well as unmatched musical instincts. Mastering is a different mindset, and there isn't a mixing board in my studio. This is dedicated mastering with real analog outboard gear.
Q: What questions do customers most commonly ask you? What's your answer?
A: What types of music do you work on? A: All. Can you get this done by the _________? A: It depends..., but I'll try my best to meet your deadline. Plan ahead. Don't wait.
Q: What's the biggest misconception about what you do?
A: The biggest misconception about what I do is that I can perform miracles. (Sometimes 'miracles' are possible, and sometimes not. The mix usually dictates what I can or can't do.)
Q: Can you share one music production tip?
A: Consider working with an experienced producer & engineer for preproduction, tracking and mixing. Great songs are the beginning of any great production, so time and energy should be spent there. If something isn't right from the start, fix it. Don't wait. Nail the arrangement and performance right at the start, before entering the studio, and your production will benefit from it, and likely cost less. For example, if the drummer is hitting the cymbals too hard, a fix sooner than later, will be the best remedy. The preferred fix would be to get the drummer to hit them more softly, hopefully before going into the studio. If that doesn't happen then next best solution is going to be to deal with it in the studio when recording. If not, you may end up having to deal with the cymbal bashing during mixing. I've got some excellent ways to deal with loud cymbals in mastering, but it probably doesn't sound as good as what you could have done on your end before it came to me. Thankfully, most mixes nowadays are digital and are easily recalled. Don't hesitate to revisit a mix.
Q: What type of music do you usually work on?
A: I've worked on everything, but I've probably worked on more indie rock, Americana, and singer-songwriter records than anything else.
Q: What's your strongest skill?
A: Mastering, by far.
Q: What's your typical work process?
A: An initial conversation with the artist, mixer, and /or producer (client) is a wonderful place to begin. I listen to the mix, tuning into the overall sound and vibe, and let the mix tell me where it needs to go. Mastering that first song, especially when working with someone for the very first time, is a great way to see where a mix can be taken on my end, explore options, and be certain everyone is on the same page concerning the best direction and way to proceed. Once that first song is settled, I move forward with other songs for the same project. I like to spend real time on each song. Often I am considering how a particular song works within the context of an entire album, so things can change slightly as I dig into the other mixes. Mastering is never complete until the client has had the opportunity to fully review the work. If a client needs a revision, I am open to doing whatever necessary to make something the best it can be. I want clients to be thrilled about their master.
Q: What other musicians or music production professionals inspire you?
A: Music spoke to me so powerfully as a child that I could not ignore it. After becoming a musician at age eight, by age ten I had become obsessed with Brian Wilson and his productions. But I was equally excited by the music of Flatt & Scruggs. So I always find inspiration in lots of different genres and other engineers. When I was in my twenties I immersed myself in mastering, learning, absorbing, making the most of my opportunity. I have a lifetime of experience in music making, music production, and recording, but I chose the path of mastering engineer which has allowed me the opportunity to work on music in most every genre imaginable. Sharing and talking shop with my peers is always inspirational as well.
Q: Tell us about a project you worked on you are especially proud of and why. What was your role?
A: I recently mastered a single for a longtime repeat client who wanted something very different. We've had a great working relationship for a few years now. I know what to expect from him, and him from me. He shifted his approach to mixing for a new song, and therefore I did too. It was fun! He was very pleased with the result. He said it exceeded his expectations in every way. Sometimes you have to shake things up. It is a healthy thing to do, you'll learn something, and you'll build confidence in yourself and your work.
Q: What are you working on at the moment?
A: Mastering an album usually happens over a day or two, so the 'moment' is always changing.
Q: Analog or digital and why?
A: With a gun to my head, the answer is analog. All digital audio must be converted to analog before it can be heard. Record making is a series of decisions, and those decisions are made in the analog world. I really prefer to think in terms of 'good vs not good', etc.
Q: What questions do you ask prospective clients?
A: What is your vision for this mix? What records that you love most come to mind when thinking about this mix? What formats are you releasing? When do you need this done?
Q: If you were on a desert island and could take just 5 pieces of gear, what would they be?
A: A rod & reel, a grill, an axe, a hammock, and a solar-powered stereo.
Q: How would you describe your style?
A: Flexible, ambitious, cautious.
Q: Which artist would you like to work with and why?
A: From the time I first heard Ron Sexsmith I wanted to work with him. That dream came true much earlier and more easily than I could have anticipated. McCartney is next on my dream list (but it doesn't seem to be happening as fast).
Q: Describe the most common type of work you do for your clients.
A: Mastering is my specialty. I've been a dedicated professional mastering engineer since 1990. Most often I work from digital mixes, often from stems, but I can playback from analog sources as well. The bulk of my processing is in the analogue domain, however, I do sometimes have digital processors somewhere in the chain. And I master for most all formats.