Tony Maserati

Oct 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Blair Jackson



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You do a lot of work on “singles” or featured tracks. How has the definition of what that is changed sonically? One used to sort of mix for the radio, but I don't know if that's still the case.

Of course that's still the case! I came up in the days of dance remixes so, in the same way they mixed a song to be “club-specific,” I learned to be “radio-specific.” I've always taken that idea with me wherever I was going, genre-wise. I often think about exactly where my mixes will be played, and it's very genre-specific. The Lizz Wright record I did was both AC radio and an audiophile kind of thing, so I spent a lot less time listening to it on my computer speakers and a lot more time listening on my audiophile system. Whereas the Jason Mraz [We Sing, We Dance, We Play Things] is kind of going across the spectrum — playing on some audiophile stuff, iPods — so I spent more time on my computer speakers.

Would you listen to a mix on iPod earbuds, the way people used to go to their cars and listen to mixes?

I don't, no. I do still go out to my car, though. In the studio I have five sets of speakers. I have my Tannoy DMT 1200s. I have ProAc Studio 100s. I have my little Craig Sound computer speakers — these tiny little things with no sub or anything — and my Dynaudio M1s and Snell audiophile towers.

What does mixing on computer speakers tell you as you're doing it?

Mixing on computer speakers and monitoring with a [Waves] L2 on the mix gives me energy indicators.

Because it gives you a picture of what's jumping out and being emphasized and what isn't?

That's right. I want to make sure that, energy-wise, that vocal is dominant and compelling, and the other parts that are supposed to be hooks — I call them characters — are popping through, whether it's a bass part or whatever. Even on my little speakers, that's got to come through. I did a record in the earlier part of the year with a new artist on Linda Perry's label named Reni Lane — great artist, great production. I monitored a bunch on the computer speakers because so far she's an Internet baby — she's part of that new generation of artists that are YouTube-y, viral babies. Their audience is going to be hearing it on ear buds and computer speakers; kids in a dorm room with whatever makeshift sound system they've put together.

How do you stay ahead of the curve — stay fresh, current and not fall into clichéd approaches to things?

I don't really think about it that way. Each record I do is a custom thing. Each record is for an artist at a point in their careers and in popular culture, so I do what feels right for that artist at that moment.

But I will certainly listen and make notes about what my colleagues are doing, the same way I did when I was a young, aspiring engineer and made notes of what Roger Nichols [Steely Dan] was doing, or Bob Clearmountain was doing. Or Neil Dorfsman. Or Bruce Swedien. I have pages and pages of ideas they gave me. I can't tell you exactly what they did, but what I got out of it made me do something in a certain way, or made me use a piece of equipment because it produced a sound that I thought was similar to what they did. Of course, if I'd actually asked them what they did, I probably would have learned they did something completely different. [Laughs]

These days, I'll listen fairly closely to the mixers I share space with on an album — if I'm doing four tracks and Spike [Stent] is doing another four and Dave Pensado is doing another three or four, I'll listen to what they're doing. I love their work! I find Spike's work really energetic and very pop-y compared to mine. The way I work with space is different than both of them. So occasionally, I'll say, “Let me see what I can do to make my chorus have some of that pop-y edge,” or, “Let's try a long reverb at the end of the verse,” for instance. I'm sure if I asked, they'd tell me. But why call and ask? It's more fun to listen to their work and try to come up with some approximation. Because more than likely, it's going to lead me to something that is new and different and mine.

Do you think young mixers coming up are missing something by only mixing in the box and using plug-ins rather than learning on a conventional console and using traditional analog boxes?

I don't know. That's a hard question. A good portion of the young guys I talk to — either work with or work on their tracks — are very curious and very interested to know how I use this or that piece of gear. They may not get the chance to use certain pieces, whether it's a big console or some piece of vintage analog gear because of price or availability. Strangely, there are also all these young guys coming up who are building their own stuff. This guy Zack Hancock, who works at Downtown Studios in Manhattan, is always on eBay or Gearslutz finding amplifiers that used to be in who-knows-what, and turning it into some sort of summing box or some sort of processor. It's amazing! My second, Mack Burkhart, does the same thing — he's always hunting down gear and coming up with these weird, esoteric things. He'll ask me, “What do you know about this kind of tube?” I'll bark, “What the hell are you talking about? I don't know about a damn tube! I know you put the tube in and it works and it sounds good.” [Laughs] If somebody really has to know something about that kind of stuff I'll send them to Dan Zellman, a New York-based guy who seems to have stored all the tech-y knowledge of the past 50 years, or maybe John Klett — same kind of cat. Those guys are inundated with e-mails from 20-somethings asking them about tubes and capacitors. I love those kind of guys. But I do music; I don't do circuits.

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