The Lone Wolf

Photo by Evan Rummel

Photo by Evan Rummel

Let me start with a quote from Teppei Teranishi, a killer leather craftsman and member of Thrice (one of my all-time favorite bands).  Teppei blogged this during the home stretch of self-producing, recording, and mixing a monumental quartet of EPs, The Alchemy Index.

man, we’re almost there. just one song left to do vocals, a couple mixes, and we’re done. we’re trying to find someone to master the record now. mastering is such a weird thing. some guy walks in and runs the songs through some gazillion dollar equipment and sprinkles his magic sonic fairy dust on it and somehow it’s louder and sounds better…i guess. whatever.

These guys aren’t new to the game - this was their fifth studio venture. Nor were they ignorant of recording technology or processes - they could obviously write, record, and mix with confidence.

But for some reason, mastering was still a mystery. A dark art far removed from their music making. My view of mastering wasn’t much different from Teppei’s until I decided to start studying and practicing the craft.

In college I poured my heart and soul into an EP with a group of guys I loved. You’re supposed to have a record mastered before you release it, so that’s what we did. We sent the songs off to a guy I had never met and was incredibly disappointed with what we got back. Our timeline was short, so we didn’t have time to try out another engineer.

It royally pissed me off that I had paid a phantom to make our music sound worse.

Were my expectations too high? Was I actually hoping he’d make my so-so mixes magically come to life? Did our sonic styles simply not match?

There’s problem at the root of this enmity and confusion: a lack of trust and connection. I simply had no idea who this person was who was handling the finishing touches on all of our hard work. Just like Teppei mentioned above, it seems weird to me that by and large most music makers are largely disconnected from the mastering process and therefore their mastering engineer.

It’s time for us to put down the fairy dust and step out of our ivory tower. We should be producer’s and mixer’s loyal sonic mentor, not a distant Oz-like processing machine.

Every professional will have a different way of approaching and working on your music. Thankfully the internet has given you the luxury of choosing from literally thousands of engineers. You can keep things clean with Ian Shepherd or hit some tubes with Brian Lucey.

No one’s approach, including my own, is always right for the sound you’re going after. You have a choice who masters your records. You have a right to tell them how you wants things to sound. We’re real people with real preferences, experiences, and skills.

Some of my favorite producers to work with are the ones that keep me updated on the project before it’s time to master, give me detailed notes on inspiration and vibe, and ask for feedback on what they could do better next time. This humility and openness creates and incredibly dynamic and constructive relationship where we can truly bring clarity to an artist’s message.

I help producers and mixers alike understand what can be achieved from the mastering process as a whole. To foster connection between their music and listeners. Honest communication is where it all starts.

How has the mastering process been confusing for you? How are you connecting with the people involved in your music from start to finish?

Michael Curtis

A mastering engineer and composer who loves helping you sound awesome.