Q&A: John Greenham (Expanded Interview)

Jul 27, 2010 12:28 PM, By Matt Gallagher


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John Greenham pictured in his mastering room at 1340 Mission with his Magix Sequoia workstation and Barefoot Mastering Stack

John Greenham pictured in his mastering room at 1340 Mission with his Magix Sequoia workstation and Barefoot Mastering Stack

San Francisco–based mastering engineer John Greenham has quietly amassed a wealth of album credits for artists in numerous musical genres. He earned Grammy recognition in 2006 and 2007 for his mastering work with Mexico’s Los Tigres Del Norte (Best Norteño Albums) and mixing work on Peruvian singer Pamela Rodriguez’s Peru Blue, for which she received a 2006 Grammy nomination as Best New Latin Artist. In 2009, Greenham moved his operations from The Annex in Menlo Park, Calif., to San Francisco’s 1340 Mission studio complex.

This month, Greenham begins the newest phase of his career in launching his new business venture based out of 1340 Mission, Essential Mastering, in partnership with engineer Robert Cross.

In this interview—which expands on the John Greenham Q&A from the Sessions section of Mix’s July 2010 issue—Greenham discusses his equipment choices, details his thoughts on the loudness wars, explains his techniques in greater detail and reflects on his career.

Greenham mastered Los Tigres Del Norte’s 2007 album <I>Detalles Y Emociones</i>, which won a Grammy Award for Best Norteño Album.

Greenham mastered Los Tigres Del Norte’s 2007 album Detalles Y Emociones, which won a Grammy Award for Best Norteño Album.

How did you come to join 1340 Mission?
This room became available again last year, and this is my second tour of duty here. I worked here from 2000 to 2003. Paul Stubblebine, whom I’ve known since the Rocket Lab days, built these two mastering rooms with the help of Bob Hodas. We had been working out of Studio C in the Hyde St. Studios complex and decided to go for an upgrade. I’ve always loved working in this particular room—it’s fun and easy to work in. With all the [projects that are] being done in garages and living rooms nowadays, more than ever there is a need for an accurate monitoring environment to finish projects in. I’d say all in all this is the best rig I’ve ever used for mastering.

How does your business fit into the complex?
I’m actually putting together a Website called Essential Mastering [along] with Robert Cross, a young engineer whose work I like. There will be a Website for that and then that will be part of the 1340 [complex]. The stuff’s coming out great and I want more people to know we’re here. I think it’s nice to work in a proper recording facility. A lot of big records have been made in this building. It has a good feeling about it. So far I’ve resisted following the trend of working at home.

What is your take on the loudness wars?
My job is to give people something they can feel excited about and get behind, and that will work both from a commercial as well as from an artistic point of view. For as long as people have been releasing music, whatever the medium, people on the leading edge of commercial record-making have always tried to get as much onto it as they could. When the main release format was vinyl, they wanted the vinyl cut as hot as you could possibly cut it. That’s just the reality of the world we live in. Having said that, I find that every record has a level of loudness that feels comfortable and if you go any further than that it will start sounding stressed. It varies from project to project. Some want to be loud, others don’t. Generally it’s not good to force things beyond a certain point. Getting stuff loud and clean sounding is an art form, really. Once I realized I couldn’t survive in the industry unless I followed the loudness trend, I spent a long time figuring out the best way to do it and after that I just stopped worrying about it, really.

I try to discourage people to just go for loudness. But at the same time, people on the sales end want it to be aggressive. I have two teenage daughters—who, to me, represent the record-buying public—and I see what happens with them: The music has to come out with a certain impact; if not, it’s on to the next song! So part of my job is to not let that happen to the artist if I can and the loudness is one factor in that equation. It’s better than it used to be. The technology has gotten better, I think, over the last 10 years or so. Chuck Prophet summed it up really well when we were talking recently. About level, he said, “We want to be competitive, but responsible.”

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