Cloud Computing | Mastering

May 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Barbara Schultz



Education Guide

Mix is gearing up to present its longstanding annual Audio Education Guide in its November 2014 issue. Want to have your school listed in the directory, or do you need to update your current directory listing? Add an image, program description, or a logo to your listing! Get your school in the Mix Education Guide 2014.

Mastering is possibly the most solitary job in the music-production chain. An engineer with a pair of golden ears and a collection of singular equipment works alone in a pristine room, turning mixes of all sorts into dynamic, polished records. However, mastering pros, like recording engineers and mixers, are in a service business; pleasing clients remains their ultimate goal, and collaboration is a crucial part of their process.

We talked to three mastering professionals—all Grammy winners and all at the top of their craft—about the ways they collaborate fruitfully with clients, whether or not they ever meet those clients in person, share the same time zone or even speak the same language.

Gateway Mastering’s Adam Ayan FTPs a couple tracks to remote clients for their once-over.

Gateway Mastering’s Adam Ayan FTPs a couple tracks to remote clients for their once-over.

When we phoned Gateway Mastering’s Adam Ayan, he was in the thick of a week when four of five days were booked with attended sessions. “But that’s not typical at all,” Ayan says. “It’s usually the opposite. I would say that 90 percent of the time I’m working unattended.”

This is not too surprising, as Gateway is situated in Portland, Maine—not exactly a music-recording hub. When founder and mastering legend Bob Ludwig opened Gateway in the mid-’90s, most of his projects arrived via FedEx. Now, Ayan makes a point of FTP’ing one or two tracks of an album to his remote clients before he gets too far into a project. “If I’m working with a new client, especially in these days of tighter budgets, I’ll call, and say, ‘Are you available the morning of the session if I send you the very first track I cut that day?’ to try to get on the same page right away,” he says. “I’ll say, ‘Listen to it and see if that’s the direction you want to go.’ In that rare case when somebody wants to take the whole thing in a radically different direction, I want to respect their musical vision and get them there, but you definitely don’t want to find that out at the end of the project and have to start over; it’s all billable hours. I never want to be in a position where a client feels like their artistic vision hasn’t been met, but they have to live with it because they’re on a budget.

“Everybody’s so wired in these days,” Ayan continues. “In a way, it’s so easy to have lines of communication, but the communication itself is different. What might in the past have been a 5-minute phone call is now only a 6-word email, and you need to sift through those things and make a point of getting enough information. This is a collaborative process, and even when—or maybe especially when—you’re working with remote clients, people skills can be just as important as technical skills.”

Stephen Marcussen sees more foot-traffic coming in, allowing back-and-forth talks with the artist.

Stephen Marcussen sees more foot-traffic coming in, allowing back-and-forth talks with the artist.

Stephen Marcussen’s studio in Hollywood sees a lot more client foot-traffic. “It’s a surprising amount of people who show up,” he says. “And as the field broadens, there are a lot more people making music outside of the traditional record-company model and they’re far more engaged in their work. We have more artists attending now, which is great. You’re right at the source, and it doesn’t get any better than that: I make suggestions, they make suggestions. The dismantling of the traditional label model has made my work more engaging on a human level because I see more people.”

However, Marcussen also has a substantial base of clients who send work from Europe, Australia and the Far East; note the Japanese-language icon on his Website. He says that despite the miracle of FTP and the Web in general, true collaboration with foreign clients is often challenging because of the time difference. He carefully plans his schedule to make sure he can connect: “We see both sides of the dateline,” he says. “I’ll communicate with Australia late in the day and Europe early in the day. If they’re in Europe, they’re largely sleeping while we’re working. They’ll wake up, download the project we did, and then email or phone if they want me to make a change. But if there’s a hiccup on their end, with whoever the client contracts with for their Web access, that can shift a project by another day.”

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