TonalityTools - Steve Marlowe
Studios / Mastering / Mixing
TonalityTools Studios, LLC Mixing, Mastering and Studio Engineering Song writing and production. We work with musicians around the world!
TonalityTools Studios specializes in Bit Density Bit Density Processing™ for audiophile-grade analog musicality and digital clarity. And, we work hard to always be very affordable and budget-minded for all musicians, producers and industry partners.
“Engineers Steve Marlowe and Jonathan Horwich render the tracks—retrieved from best-condition source material - with extraordinary presence, illuminating the identifying nuances of each participant’s voice, not least the inexorably swinging drummers. ★★★★★”
— Ted Panken, DOWNBEAT Magazine
“Mastered by Steve Marlowe [TonalityTools Studios], who has mastered all the International Phonograph releases. The sound is superb with solid bass and instruments and well defined on the soundstage.”
— The Absolute Sound
“I have been involved in issuing jazz for many years, and in all that time I have never run across better digital sound than that created by Bit Density Processing developed by Steve Marlowe at TonalityTools Studios. The BDP process has been used on many of my most important jazz reissues; all of which earned accolades for their sound quality. Moreover, the application of Bit Density Processing to the recent Mosaic release, ‘Classic Savoy Be-Bop’ is an astounding example of how Bit Density Processing can restore and give new life to even old recordings.”
— Jonathan Horwich, International Phonograph, Inc.
I'd love to hear about your project. Click the 'Contact' button above to get in touch.
Interview with TonalityTools - Steve Marlowe
Q: What do you bring to a song?
A: A lot of studio folks came up the ranks doing live sound for bands or for a church, etc. While that is terrific and needful experience, their typical mix is often, "faders up, EQ and reverb". They don't actually know how to create a totally engaging, immersive mix (or mastering) that has the breadth, dynamic power, space and full-range sonics that the artists' music requires. (Some hope, "Mastering will handle that".) We are given a lot of music and mixes that sound small and quite mono; nothing like what the band and audience hears live. So, we specialize in really fleshing out the power of the bottom end in a track - the visceral and emotional impact possible. And the space around the instruments, their separation, clarity, the vocal presence, and much more. Even softer, gentler music performances require all this! We know what it takes to make a mix sound powerful yet natural...These and many other qualities are what we contribute when artists and producers come to TonalityTools Studios. They want their music to sound better. And that's what we do! We also often have artists bring us mixes and masterings and they want some sort of improvement made. Some more work is still needed. They wanted something more done but, "We ran out of money". "Can you help us?". "Yes we can!" We establish an affordable budget upfront. And then we do everything we can to stick to that budget, no matter what may come up in the course of recording, mixing, producing or mastering for the client. Often we charge no more if the artist has a legitimate new request to make an improvement in a song. We all know that as the production of a song progresses, we hear more "into the song". In the course of producing, one starts to hear the song in a much more mature and refined way. So, we try very hard to charge "by product", not by hour. If suddenly a whole lot more work is requested, sure we may discuss possible costs. But, often a desired improvement can be done fairly easily and quickly. And there is no charge. We are on your team! And we want you to sound your very best. Such high quality standards are a direct reflection of our work and commitment to you as the artist or producer coming to us for help.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: Working with artists and producers and hearing newly written songs. They are like amazing paintings - and each is so special. John Mayer once said that the very hardest thing for him to do is to fully and completely finish a song. It takes quite a lot of work, patience and persistence - so I feel extremely honored when an artist shares with me their original song. I know how much work they have put into completing it. And I enjoy nothing more than helping to bring the song to their audiences with extreme quality.
Q: What's the biggest misconception about what you do?
A: Two things are common misconceptions...First, that we may be too expensive for you to contact for help with your music. We work very hard to establish a budget you can afford, even if you are living out of your station wagon! The second, and even bigger misconception, is that turning out a song is fast and easy. "That mix will only take a couple of hours!" Rubbish. And what about really listening after a mix is done...on multiple audio systems, in cars, etc. Take a break and listen again with fresh ears the next morning. Then make the improvements that are required with integrity. ...Then listen fresh yet again. When a song is truly done to a very high quality standard, who cares if it took 2 days or 2 weeks. When someone hears it and loves it, then it is worth all the time and effort!
Q: What questions do you ask prospective clients?
A: We are small...So we ask about scheduling and we try hard to schedule accurately. Then we work to stay on time. But, sometimes a song takes a bit longer than anyone expected or could possibly predict. If we are working extra on someone's music, please keep in mind that we will do the same for you. Be patient. After all...“If you want something done, ask a busy person.” ―Benjamin Franklin
Q: What advice do you have for a customer looking to hire a provider like you?
A: It's your music. You know much more about it than we do. So we like to talk. Tell us what you hear or want to hear. What are your goals? And allow us to discuss and try possible areas of creativity and improvements. What do you think sounds fantastic? We want you to be 110% happy - blown away, actually!
Q: If you were on a desert island and could take just 5 pieces of gear, what would they be?
A: I have quite a "library" (collection) of world-class instruments for use in the studio - plus amps and studio gear. But, if I really had to land on a desert, I'd want my Stratocaster made by John Page and John English together at the Fender Custom Shop -- it is a Hendrix prototype and they both signed it. And with it, I would take my handmade EL84 tube amp made by Jaguar Amplification in San Diego. Tusq picks and some Analysis Plus cable - as well as a power generator! (I think that totals 5!)
Q: What was your career path? How long have you been doing this?
A: I started playing music when I was 6 years old. And, I was first a "gofer" in the world of studios in the days of analog tape. Yep..."Go for coffee!" ..."Go for McDonald's, we are hungry!" I started in the days of analog tape, so soon it was, "Go tune up that Studer (tape machine)". (Can you tell that I am avoiding saying exactly how "young" I am?! :- )
Q: How would you describe your style?
A: Our "style"?? ...Lot's of fun and creativity! That's our style here at TonalityTools. Keep in mind that "creative" means coming up with fresh, totally new ideas and ways to do things so your music sounds unique and captivates audience interest. That's what gets your music sold and great music reviews that generate even more sales and increasing audiences at your shows!
Q: Which artist would you like to work with and why?
A: You! We would like to work with you. I'd love to hear your music and if we can help, all the better! Feel free to send us some examples of what you are writing and performing. Securely send your music to, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: Can you share one music production tip?
A: I was once working closely with Bruce Swedien, the famous engineer who produced all the Michael Jackson albums. I happened to mention to him that a friend was about to record a large chorus and would he (Bruce) please tell me how he gets those huge choral backgrounds heard on many of Michael's songs?? Mr. Swedien's reply? ..."If you want Bruce Swedien, you hire Bruce Swedien." Then he laughed! But, I realized then and there that while we often read. study and watch videos to learn tips-n-tricks to help us make music sound better, there is nothing like actually working directly with the likes of Bruce and the many other top pros I have been fortunate to personally learn from. So, my "tip" for you is simply this..."Learn by Doing!", and try to directly work with pros and folks who have some experience. Really work right with them. Then you not only hear their words of advice, but you actually DO and TRY the actions and things required to make music sound wonderful with them. Then find your own style and develop your own unique and clever tricks! I always try to help our clients to learn and become better at what they do. And when you come to us to help make your music sound fantastic, I hope to impart some of our experience and tips-n-tricks so you continue to learn and grow as an artist. More importantly, I hope to learn from you! I learn the most terrific stuff even from young artists who may not have much "training". My gosh, the things they know and are creatively trying! After all, "If it sounds good...It is good!".
Q: Tell us about a project you worked on you are especially proud of and why. What was your role?
A: The New York Times named Julius Hemphill's stunning album, "Dogon AD" as one of the "100 Most Essential Jazz Recordings". We are extremely honored to have it on our roster of highly regarded productions.
Q: What are you working on at the moment?
A: A terrific New York artist doing originals. Wow. Can't wait for everyone to hear his work. We will let you know soon!
Q: Is there anyone on SoundBetter you know and would recommend to your clients?
A: Lots of great folks. But, thank you for considering us for your next project!!
Q: Analog or digital and why?
A: Both. And if you want a vinyl release, we will do that too. Let's be real...There is really no avoiding "digital"...It's how musicians can earn something of an income. So, that's where Bit Density Processing™ comes into play. We at TonalityTools really do digital right. Send us a sample song and, at no charge, we will do a sample of Bit Density Processing for you. The whole song. Send the best (highest) native resolution file you can. And preferably without a lot of EQ, compression or "mastering plugins" on the mix. But also send us the working mix ("mastered") that you have been listening to. Send both to email@example.com and we will do a sample Bit Density Processing master. Again, its free. And you can use it and make it available to others however you may wish!
Q: What's your 'promise' to your clients?
A: You either like it or there is no charge.
Q: What questions do customers most commonly ask you? What's your answer?
A: See above!
Q: What type of music do you usually work on?
A: Original songs! ...We love working with artists who are writing their own. And we don't care where or how the tracks were recorded. With Bit Density Processing, we can make anything sound like a million bucks. So, we do a lot of indie music. But!...We also produce quite a number of jazz releases. For example, at the beginning of the year we received a very nice write-up in The New Yorker for "The Year's Most Essential" jazz release - historic Bebop jazz, including a 19 year old Miles Davis! Plus, Kenny Dorham, Fats Navarro, Bud Powell and many, many more jazz greats.
Q: What's your strongest skill?
A: Sticking with it, and not sticking it to people! Look...It takes a lot of hard work to end up with a final music release that really kicks and will sell well. We know that when a song is truly completed to a high quality standard it is then done and will stand the test of time. So, when working on a song, we ask ourselves with complete integrity..."Do we like this?" "Would we want to listen to this song again with no reservations?" "Is this really the best we can do for our partners (clients)?" If not, we stay at it until everyone is honestly happy and pleased with the results. And, quite honestly, if we try everything and do our very best yet you are still not happy with the result, there is no charge. We want nothing but smiles and happy folks who's careers in the music industry we help. Incredible quality always helps. (And it increases sales of your music! :- )
Q: What's your typical work process?
A: What is our typical work process?? That's simple to answer...We work hard! That's the "process"!! All kidding aside, we do work quite hard for each of the artists and producers who come to us. And we are surprisingly affordable because we discuss the budget upfront and make sure it is affordable for everyone who wants our help. Moreover, there is no way to predict just how much work a song or album will take. This makes it hard for musicians and producers. No one can afford endless hours jacking up the bill. At TonalityTools Studios, we don't want our clients stressed and worried about money. So, we make every effort to stick to the budget, even when changes or improvements are requested. We consider ourselves to be your partner, and good friend! Plus, we want you to sound as terrific as possible..."That's what friends are for." :- )
Q: Tell us about your studio setup.
A: A lot of studios lack "firepower"...Meaning their computerization is not particularly powerful. We use the same server workstations employed for many Hollywood blockbusters - the special effects and editing for such requires a huge computers. As a matter of fact, our workstations are built for us in Burbank, California for this very reason. Other facilities typically have to render (commit and save) processed or mixed tracks in order to preserve computer strength and progress with a mix. At our Studios (TonalityTools), we are able to leave processing and plugins "live" during the course of mixing. So we can do small but important adjustments and tweaks as the mix progresses and refines. We are also expert at music editing and are even sent mixes and masterings where the artist(s) hear small "clams" errors - perhaps a note or sung word needs to be nudged into better time or tweaked to sound better before actual release. We specialize in making music sound its very best. It's what we do. And we stay at it till the artists and producers are happy.
Q: What other musicians or music production professionals inspire you?
A: Everyone from RedOne to Charlie Parker! Butch Vig, Rudy Van Gelder, Dr. Dre, Brendan O'Brian, Andy Sneap, Kongos, Green Day, Garbage, Ed Sheeran, Lana Del Rey, Christina Perri, the Steve Gadd Band, Dizzy, Miles, Parker, Jeff Beck, Foo Fighters, St. Vincent, Alice in Chains, Béla Fleck and Victor Wooten - Anyone who is putting out terrific music! We are huge fans and love music of all types.
Q: Describe the most common type of work you do for your clients.
A: We are sent music of all types and styles for our special Bit Density Processing™ mixing and mastering. Even songs that have already been mixed or mastered benefit. And often there are still tweaks and improvements the artists desire and these can be addressed during the Bit Density Processing.