Mixonline Exclusive Interview: Bob Ludwig

Dec 9, 2008 2:02 PM


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I did the early Band records; that’s one of my favorite groups ever. I remember when I first heard that music, I was knocked out by it, and all these years later it still knocks me out. And then I got to work with Jimi Hendrix for a day; I cut some reference discs for him on Electric Ladyland. Through my career there have been artists whose whole catalog I’ve done, or most of it, like Bruce Springsteen—he’s a superstar in so many ways; besides being the consummate poet, he’s a great songwriter, obviously a great musician, performer, and he’s a great person! It’s always great to be able to have contact with someone like that, even for a short while. I’ve done most of John Mellencamp’s catalog, all of Bryan Adams, most of Nirvana by now. And the Foo Fighters. And Beck’s one of my favorite artists, too. Lots of favorites!

Sorry, that was a hard question! How important is it to bring a musical perspective to mastering?
It’s inconceivable to me to be in the music industry without being a musician. Everybody at Gateway Mastering [Ludwig’s Portland, Maine facility] is a musician. There are some mastering guys who have good reputations who aren’t, and through the years they have learned how to relate to musicians. But for me mastering is all about the music, the creative part. All the technical part, you just have to know that 110 percent. Being technically proficient has to be a given. All of the gear, it’s just got to be so under your fingers that it doesn’t show up as an issue as much as the creative part of it, trying to see what aesthetic is going to make this record be as good as it possibly can.

We’re the last shot that an artist and producer have to make the music that they worked so long and hard on sound better. It’s a responsibility I take very seriously. I think when you’re mastering, if you’re any good at it, you try to stay in your right brain, the creative part of your brain, and the more gear you have that takes you away from that, the less creative you can be.

You can’t discount the gear; you do have to know it. One little thing to leave with the readers—especially kids in school and even kids when they get out of school—they get inundated with all of these different plug ins. They think, “Gosh, this is new, this plug-in is the latest thing; should I check it out, should I buy it?” If you want to try to get into mastering, you really need to just choose a few plug-ins and get to know them really, really well. The great ones like the Sony/Sonnox Oxfords, Universal Audio, Massenburg EQ, the Waves stuff, McDSP, get to know the really high-end plug-ins. And learn them—learn to know the difference between a Massenburg and an Oxford EQ, or between that and a Waves EQ; FIR vs. IIR EQs. Get to know what the different flavors of these EQs are, and do the same with a limited amount of compressors, and other effects. Learn them so you’re not so distracted by this plethora of plug-ins that’s always facing you, and if you’ve got really good equipment, you can make good sounding records, and you can master good sounding records.


Don’t miss Bob’s blog about mastering Guns 'N Roses’ Chinese Democracy, a project that demonstrates how dynamics can triumph over sheer loudness.

Sarah Jones is the editor of Mix.

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