Mastering Engineers | The Finishing Touch

Dec 1, 2010 8:00 AM, By Blair Jackson



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Yes Master Studios' Jim DeMain

Yes Master Studios' Jim DeMain

Periodically, we like to check in with folks in the world of mastering to see what’s happening in that end of the audio business and find out what’s on their minds. The good news? Even with the downturn in the economy and the falling fortunes of the major record labels, there still seems to be a high demand for that “finishing touch” that professional mastering gives to a project.

We recently spoke with four top mastering engineers about a range of issues. First meet our panel for this forum (which was assembled from separate interviews).

Jim DeMain owns and operates Yes Master Studios (Nashville), which has been serving large and small acts from the Music City region and clients all over the world for the past 12 years. Though Yes Master was badly damaged in the devastating Nashville flood in May 2010, DeMain has barely missed a beat, working steadily in a temporary space while his studio is being rebuilt.

Mike Wells of San Francisco’s Mike Wells Mastering is not just one of the Bay Area’s leading mastering engineers, he is also a vital member of the audio community in general—an educator who has run “Audio Outreach” seminars; a member of the Board of Governors of NARAS; and co-chair of the workshops at the recent San Francisco AES show, among other extracurricular activities.

A mastering engineer for three decades, Stephen Marcussen has run his state-of-the-art Marcussen Mastering in Hollywood for the past 10 years, and opened a shiny new facility just recently. Aside from tons of major-label and indie work, Marcussen Mastering also does copious 5.1 surround jobs.

Situated on the third floor of one of Manhattan’s busiest and most respected facilities—Avatar Studios—Kevorkian Mastering, named for engineer Fred Kevorkian, has been attracting a diverse range of clients for the past six years. Previously, Kevorkian worked at Sear Sound and Absolute Audio.

For a while there seemed to be an increase in the D.I.Y. aesthetic, where more people believed they could do a professional mastering job at home. Has that cut into your business and do you find yourself occasionally correcting/repairing poorly done mastering jobs?
Maybe, but for some reason I’m still really busy. I wonder if it’s because there are more independent artists making CDs and EPs. So the percentage of people that want mastering has actually gone up even though the established record companies aren’t putting out as much product. It seems to me that there’s more indie work now than ever before.

Also, I think mastering still seems a little mysterious to a lot of people. Most of the guys who are really in the game have serious playback systems. And they also have a reputation. So I think there will always be a percentage of artists who, even if they make their own record, are open to the idea to have one last guy that’s a professional dot all the “i”s and make sure it’s all right.

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