Most of the mastering done at Home Normal is done by Ian Hawgood. I am Ian so I'll switch to the first person now otherwise I might go mad! For the record, the picture is not of me, but I wish it were.
What is mastering?
Put quite simply, mastering is the final stage of audio preparation. It is where you get a trusted second set of ears to lightly or heavily adjust your work so that it sounds 'whole', and basically ready to release to the world.
Do you have an ethos to your mastering?
Well yes, actually I do. I studied sound engineering at university, with particular emphasis on analog mastering techniques. At university, mastering was seen as the butt-end of the creative chain as it were, and not really important. I worked with some incredibly well-known producers and bands who basically showed me how to press a button on a Finallizer which would (and I quote), "compress the fuck out of it". That was about as far as it often got in terms of people's attitudes to mastering.
In recent years, thankfully, there has been far more appreciation for the art of mastering, and noting that actually, by using the same 'radio-friendly' settings on a Finalizer (for example), the sound may well be nice and loud to compete with music on the radio, but it lacked frequency, subtlety, and mostly, it sounded complete crap on modern systems and headphones. With the development of high-end gear getting cheaper and cheaper, there has been a movement away from the volume-obsessives who see mastering as a one button job.
The art of true mastering is in helping to elevate the sound of the artist to its natural conclusion, whatever that may be. By understanding the work and taking on board each project individually, respecting its personal identity, we make something which is whole in and of itself.
My personal background means that I quite often like to use analog outboard gear. I just love knob-twiddling and I typically use a variety of reel-to-reels before and after the twiddling stages. It is just something I am used to now, plus there is a quality to such mastering that you just can't quite capture with digital mastering. Saything that, I of course have a digital set-up for most large projects as they are required.
So, my ethos is something along the lines of: listen carefully and absorb, work carefully with the artist, individualism, and if required, get my twiddling on.
Compression is considered the main part of mastering as I noted before. In fact, in most large mastering studios worldwide, you'll find engineers compressing and limiting music so that it is 'ready' for public consumption. This is still something that happens to this day and I have had to bite my tongue in studios when an engineer does this. For commercial work I have even had to go along with this sadly as it is just what so many expect.
The truly talented engineers have gone about it a whole other way by not taking part in these 'volume wars' at all, but by focusing on the overall sound dynamics. By this method, mastering engineers are able to beautifully affect and impact the production quality of work in an age when anyone could wham a compressor on something, or send it to an automated system to get ready. (Note: this is nothing new. Read about Finalizers above.) This is an art in itself and really is essential to work with someone like this if you care about the dynamics of your music.
The only issue with both of these viewpoints is that there is little middle-ground: the former angle doesn't care much about the sound quality, instead focusing on how 'impactful' it can be by its sheer weight in comparative volume; the latter are often somewhat disdainful about any use of compression as they see it as almost sinful in mastering. There seems to be no middle-ground.
'Organic Compression' is a term I have used over the past 15 years which involves and more natural approach to compression. Such compression occurs naturally when working on analog equipment, and has unique characteristics in particular when using reel-to-reel or cassette for mastering. This isn't to say I use this for all projects as again, for commercial work heading the digital and/or simple outboard gear gets more obvious results quickly. But for personal work with artist's who really care about their sound, working with the naturally rounded compression of a Studer A80, for example, or the slightly clearer crisper sounding compression that comes across an Otari 5050, has a subtle but organic affect on the music that digital simply cannot replace. There is nothing fancy or 'hip' about using such gear other than they work so well as organic tools for compression.
Analog vs Digital
There aren't many mastering engineers who work solely using analog gear. The main reason being that it is a pain in the backside to do so. Quite often mastering projects need a quick turnaround and that is just impossible using reels, cassette, and playing around with gear like this. Despite the fact that I am a nut for my gear, the balance is still around 80% computer-based mastering over use of reels due to time and what people actually need.
The idea of analog gear is quite faddy right now, which is of course good in some ways, but also ridiculous in others. Sometimes a project will need a nice clean set-up to get it to sound crystal clear, with great detail for example. People who often think they want analog-based mastering don't actually think about the final sound. The truth is the best engineers will use a mixture of digital and analog according to the work, as this is the way we get the best possible results.
The reason I use reel-to-reels is that they each have a unique character, and the natural compression can bring music together in beautiful ways. Whilst the advances of amazing software and plug-ins are offering superb tape-emulation, by their very nature they'll never be able to fully replace the use of actual reel-to-reels (even if they are great and have much more use than my General Tube 1/4 for example).
So what should you choose? The best thing is to swing me an email (see below) and talk it over. I've mastered entire albums on old four-track cassette machines, all the way up to SSL desks running Pro Tools, with a Studer in the background spinning away, and each time the direction we chose worked wonders. Its good to talk :)
Vinyl vs CD vs Digital
Let's just keep this simple: mastering for vinyl is not the same as mastering for CD or digital. If you would like a vinyl edition as well, this is possible and I charge a standard £75 per project on top of the CD/digital mastering for this. Please do not ask for a CD master and then release it as vinyl without checking in with me otherwise you will have a record that skips and sounds a bit crappy. This is one of the most misunderstood things in the re-emergence of vinyl. By the same token, if you ask for a mastering job for vinyl, its best not to reproduce this for CD as it might just be a bit quiet and not as open as it should be.
Why should I choose you?
Well, there are a bunch of mastering engineers out there who do amazing work and who all have their own ideas and techniques. I don't even master my own work as I need that outside help to give me a unique persepctive. Engineers such as James Plotkin, Taylor Deupree, Mark Kuykendall, and Antony Ryan (to name a few), are all people who have a very clear vision of mastering, and through their different techniques are able to get the very best out of the work they do. I'd recommend any of these guys at the drop of a hat. However, here's a little bit about me:
I have a degree in sound engineering and specialised in analog recording forms, including reel to reel tape splicing, mastering using Studer tape machines, SSL (Solid State Logic) 4000G+ desk and Pro-Tools HD, as well as studio and live recording. Over the years I have worked less on live engineering (unless it’s a Home Normal event sometimes!) and focused on mastering a variety of artists for CD, cassette, vinyl and digital.
To date I have mastered around one thousand albums in my own time, and around a three thousand as a studio-hand for larger projects. These projects have ranged from installation work, through to soundtracks and advertising, so I've got a bit of background. In the last ten years I moved over from more commercial stuff to work I like myself, and in the last year I have finally completed my own mastering suite as I increasingly work from home.
Finally, apart from some wonderful gear I am very lucky to own, I actually own a home built Neumann mixer with very rare PV46 pre-amps and PEV eq's. This is quite simply, the nicest mixer I have ever worked with and that includes Neves and SSL's. I do work on SSL's for work which I can use for mastering as well and this gear, no matter what people might say about modern digital vs analog, blows other stuff away. Plus the reels...well, you know.
Why should I not choose you?
Honestly, I take longer than most people. I typically have the work on repeat in different systems for about a week, taking notes the whole time. This gives me a good idea of what I want to do before I start fiddling with gear. If the project does not require a fully analog set-up then I will spend around a week ot two working on the mastering of a project. This is the first stage, but then I often ask for at least another week to fully check the masters. So on the whole it takes me about three weeks to about a month to master most work. If, however, the project requires putting onto reels, this will typically add almost a month to the project as I test it through different machines until the natural compression is right. This is not a standard approach as it is far too time-consuming but to get the sound right, it is essential.
The other thing to mention is my schedule. Apart from my own work with the labels, producing and teaching, I typically have a few months backlog of mastering projects to do for different artists and labels. If you are ok to wait then let me know, but if it is quite urgent just email me and we can see if a quickish turnaround is a viable option. It often isn't but it can't hurt again to check :) (email address below)
Finally, a lot of the time, it just isn't for all people. I adore the sound of my Neumann mixer (yes, a Neumann mixer...I know, its weird...see below) and various reels for example, but it is a certain sound which doesn't suit everyone. Just something to consider. :)
Here is a list of my favourite mastering toys:
Crane Song Avocet Monitoring System
Adam A7X (first reference)
Yamaha MSP5(second reference)
Avantone Mix Cube Active (third reference)
Yamaha NS10(vinyl + cassette second reference)
Sennheiser HD580 headphones
Sennheiser HD650 headphones
AKG K240 headphones
Home Built Neumann 12 channel PEV-EQ / PV46-Pre Mixer
Manley Massive Passive Custom Stereo Equalizer
Avalon 737 x 2
Empirical Labs Distressor EL8X
TL Audio FatMan
SSL XR625 x2
SSL XR425 x 2
Golden Age Pre-73 x 2
Golden Age Comp-54 x 2
Telefunken M15A reel-to-reel
Studer A807 1/4" reel-to-reel
General Tube 1/4"
Telex Copyette Cassette Duplicator
Regent Coronet Webcor Valve 1/4"
Uher 4000 Report
Goodsell Golden Range x 2
Fostex X-18 Cassette Recorder
Logic Pro 9 (the best version of Logic by far)
Universal Audio UAD-2
Slate Digital FG-X Virtual Mastering Processer / Buss Compressors / Tape Machines
Live Mixing Desks
Allen & Heath PA12 (Small shows / Solo artists)
Allen & Heath GL3300 (Larger venues / Bands)
Typical turnaround for a project is anywhere from a week to a few months depending on schedule and needs. If you would like a CD master as well as a download, please note this will take around a week on top of this for postage from Poland.
For commercial work where I am required to work in-house / studio, my standard fee is £500 per day plus travel costs. I am afraid I do not work half-day fees. I have experience working in different studio set-ups but specialise in SSL running Pro-Tools HD with Studer 1/2". Please let me know the studio set-up upon enquiry as well as project specifics (film, advertising etc.). One day is typically 12 hours of work although I am flexible according to schedule. Please note that I require a contracted schedule for this before I start work.
For both front-end and main I ask for a standard £250 per event plus travel. This includes gear hire (see above) but delivery of A&H GL3300 must be covered by organiser (the PA12 is free as it can be transported easily). When contacting me about live engineering I require a full gear list and note regarding the type of concert/show/work as well as the mixing desk. If the venue does not have any gear I can include gear hire for free, but require refundable insurance on these beforehand. Please note however, that I have standard live gear (lots of 57 and 58 mics for example), and cannot lend my reels or Neumann mixing desk on any occasion (they are old and hate to be moved)! I am based in Japan but am usually in Europe in December, March, July and August in terms of cutting travel costs for organisers.
For mastering work from my own studio I typically €2.00 per minute of audio. This price includes a download of wav (or aiff) and id3 tagged mp3 masters, a CD master and back-up (if required) including worldwide postage. If you would like your project uploaded to Gracenote (for iTunes etc) please provide all relevant release details and artwork. This price is inclusive of any changes to work you need to make - just let me know.
If you require a vinyl edition as well, I charge a flat-rate of €75 extra for the vinyl edition. If you just want vinyl (and not CD), then I charge exactly the same as I do for CD (so €2.00 per minute of audio).
I do charge regular customers a 'friend' price which does not include postage. Please email me about this if you have a series of works to be mastered. Please note that these projects have to be fit into the schedule around the contracted work. I also use this price for netlabel work. I'm a big fan and supporter of the netlabel scene and recognise that these guys are doing it all for free, so want to help out in any way I can.
Payment is to be made before you receive the final work although I do upload work upon request as to how the process is developing. Please also note that changes to masters will not incur extra costs - simply ask for changes and different versions as you like. Please pay through Paypal or bank transfer.
If you have any questions before, during or after the mastering, please do not hesitate to email me here:
Thank you. どうもありがとうございました。