MASTERING - AN AURAL ALCHEMY … (MAYBE)
We’d had all of our releases mastered by the labels we were on - and we were always pleased with how much better they sounded, without really knowing what “mastering” actually meant. But when Robin and I went to our first proper “attended” mastering session with the legendary Rashad Becker at D&M in Berlin (for Meet Next Life back in 2003) he said to us “ok, so I can master this by the numbers and get it to sound good on record and CD - or I can take a ‘creative’ approach and make bigger changes to really make it sound amazing”...
Well, that’s what he did. He worked and worked on each track: fixing the EQ, balancing the levels with compression… and then started working separately on the centre and sides of the stereo - it was really hard to get a handle on what he was actually doing at this point. But then when he started A/B-ing from the original mix to the master, it totally blew our ears and minds! It sounded bigger, fuller, wider, taller, hearty, sparkly, majestic, delicate…. just incredible!
From an aesthetic and artistic perspective, he had made each track and the whole album sound bigger and better than the sum of its parts.
I was so impressed and fascinated that, over the following years, I was reading about mastering and tried experimenting with some tools and techniques on Isan material, a testament to what I feel is my naturally inquisitive, pro-active and hands-on approach to creativity.
A BIT OF HISTORY
Some years later in 2008, I had moved to live in a tiny village in the middle of the Swedish forest - making some music and doing some part-time training to be a glass-blower’s assistant. We were surrounded by nothing but lakes and forest for miles and miles and miles. And in the winter there was real, proper snow. There wasn’t much chance to go anywhere or do anything - and so there was lots of time to kill.
Then one day my friend Simon (Scott, from Slowdive) was trying to get a new album by Hannu Karjalainen mastered for his label Keshhh, but he didn’t have the money to get it done by his preferred mastering engineer. So he asked me if I would do it for a few quid, and with not much else to do in the Swedish forest I jumped at the chance. Hannu and Simon were both really happy with the results, and so I had my first mastering job released!
More friends, namely Jon Tye at Lo Recordings and Ben Eshmade of the Arctic Circle, asked me to master their music and before I knew it I was being asked to work on other projects.
And it’s grown from there, simply by referrals and later by people seeing my name on the back of records they liked. I’ve now done more than 1500 projects (from singles to albums) and am working regularly with many record labels and management companies. I’ve been really lucky and get to work with lots of lovely people and loads of amazing music - it started off as being mostly alternative electronic, but now I also work on everything from live jazz recordings, through from folk to metal to pop and back again! And through this adventure in mastering, I have found myself exposed to and immersed in more music that I really love than I would ever have found on my own.
WHAT I DO - AND WHAT I CAN DO FOR YOU
With regard to my mastering style, I aspire to take the same “creative” approach that resonated with me so much. The advantage of working remotely means there is plenty of scope for me to send masters back to artists with what I think is the best approach, then get feedback and tweak and refine from there if required. I think most of the artists I have worked with appreciate my approach to their sound, sometimes doing less, sometimes doing more - but always working until the artist is happy with the the final product. I see it as an organic process in which the musicians are as much as part of the creative process as the mastering engineer.
As a musician I’d like to think I have an intimate understanding of expectations from the other side of the desk. I’m able to draw upon my own creative intuition to help shape the music in its very final stages and put it in the best possible light. I enjoy all the records I work on and have a real vested interest in bringing out their sonic splendour.
After moving from Sweden to Denmark, and settling near the sea here in Fredericia, I have converted one of the rooms in the house into my studio. I have a setup that I can trust - and mastering chain and workflow that I have been refining since 2009.
As a professional mastering engineer, it’s important to have a good monitoring system that I can trust and will ensure that masters will translate on all systems from iPhone to high-end hi-fi. I also believe that the spirit and desire to bring the best out from any piece of music plays as important role as the gear and techniques that are used in the process.
My musical work as half of ISAN has been in the analogue world - so I have an analogue sensibility which I bring to my work through a carefully selected set of mastering tools.
I am a self-confessed geek for all kinds of music tech, computer tech, hi-fi tech -- I am always reading and researching. I love the concepts, the technology, the process, the workflows - it’s rewarding to me to be able to work in this mystical art of mastering.
WHY I DO THIS
It’s so rewarding to have people tell me the masters sound amazing to them - it really means I have understood their music and their intention, and that they are excited to send it out into the world.
I know myself that after a long mixing process and listening to tracks many, many times, to get masters back that sound amazing, and to feel excited about the music - it's a very special feeling. To be able to do that for other people is genuinely a great pleasure.