Mix’s December 2009 “Project Studio,” shares his thoughts about the broader issues in mastering today and describes how he got started. " />


Q&A: ACMastering's Adrian Carr

Dec 1, 2009 2:15 PM, By Matt Gallagher


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I don’t know if it’s possible to talk in general terms, but what kind of audio quality are you hearing? Do you have to go the extra mile more often than not?
I find that I am, definitely, although I get some good sounding stuff. If you’re talking to other mastering engineers, one thing I’m sure that’s going to be a common theme is level. Mix engineers are being pushed by their clients to deliver louder mixes with more limiting [and] more compression on them, and so more often than not I’ll get a very loud mix that’s plus-10, plus-12 on the VU meter in terms of RMS. It’s a challenge for me to see what I can do once I’ve got that really hot level. As a general rule, when the waveform looks like a sausage on the screen that means it’s basically well cooked— there’s no headroom for the mastering.

When I get mixes that are less compressed or less limited, at least I don’t have to work against what’s already there. When I was at AES, though, all the mastering engineers were saying the same thing about getting mixes that are really hot. Sometimes you just have to go back to the engineer and say, “Can you give me a mix that just isn’t slammed to the max?”

The loudness issue has been discussed in the pages of Mix for a few years now. Is it a matter of educating musicians, and perhaps recording and mix engineers, to avoid slamming the volume levels so much?
I try to. They would probably not do it, but their clients are pushing them [to do it]. I’ve got a YouTube channel and I try to educate people, and I have information on my Website.

One thing I’ve noticed today is that people don’t listen to music standing still. Back in the days of vinyl, you had to sit down to listen because if you jumped around too much the needle would never stay on the record! That was a nice thing—it was almost like meditation, and a lot of people got into it. That doesn’t happen anymore because everybody listens to music either in their car or on their iPod. And so the dream of having this great dynamic range, which was what digital was all about, has been completely erased. If you’re listening in the car and there’s too much dynamic range, you don’t hear stuff—it just drops out because of the noise floor. And it’s the same with an iPod: [people are] walking or jogging or doing something with their music, and if it’s too soft, then they can’t hear it.

Do you think the importance of mastering is becoming lost on self-taught indie artists and recordists who are coming up today?
A lot of indie clients say, “Why should I master?” I know a recording engineer up here who said to me, “The band says that they’re paying me to do their recording, so they think that I’m not being very proficient if I say I want to go to a mastering engineer to do the mastering.” The band says, “We’re not paying for mastering; you put a plug-in on that and we’ll be done.” So a lot of musicians don’t understand that [recording, mixing and mastering are] different processes—that one follows the other and one adds to the other. They don’t understand the process and really, the benefits of going to a mastering engineer.

How did you decide to specialize in mastering? What was it that drew you into it from your recording background?
I met Vlado [Meller]. It was a chance meeting on 9th Avenue at this Italian Restaurant we both liked. Vlado was working at Sony [Mastering] and it was only a few blocks from my studio at the Film Center Building. It was really his inspiration and his generosity that got me into mastering, because after meeting Vlado I realized, wow, this is something where I could make a really big impact on the overall picture of sound. It really seemed to speak to me and all my proclivities and everything I had done in my life up to that point, being a composer and looking at the big picture. A year after meeting him, I decided I wanted to do mastering and changed my whole studio around in New York. I started learning everything I could from Vlado and for the last seven years, in my [New York] studio, just did mastering. That’s really how it happened for me.

Did you have to start over again at that point, as far as clientele and getting the word out that you’re doing mastering instead of recording?
Yeah. I was still doing a little bit of classical recording at that point, when people would ask me, but I was definitely getting the news out there that I was doing mastering. It was a complete change-around in the studio, and because it was such a change-around, I really understood how different the tracking room and the mixing room are from a mastering studio.

For me, [being a mastering engineer is] all I want to do. I just want to make great sounding masters, so I’ll take the time to learn about a piece of gear or what this plug-in does and I’ll read every little thing that they say about it, and then I’ll go on YouTube and search for who else is using this, and has the manufacturer made a video detailing this. I’ll really spend time learning about what I have because for me that’s time well spent.

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