One afternoon as a kid growing up in Southern California, my school took us to see the orchestra. We were seated in the balcony and I was fortunate enough to be in the front row. I quickly found myself so engrossed in the music, I was literally hanging over the balcony. Had it not been for the protective glass, I surely would have fallen to the level below. It was like an awakening. At that moment I knew my life would be one of music.
In the mid 1960′s I found myself working as a mastering engineer with RCA records. It was a good gig, but their philosophy regarding mastering was very ‘A to B’, more mechanical than artistic. I left RCA for one of the first independent mastering studios of its kind, DCT recorders run by Hank Waring. In those days, if you were an independent, you needed to come up with your own sound. Whether it be EQ, extra limiting, whatever, you had to experiment and find your edge over someone else’s cutting. Hank ‘s thing was he could cut it louder than anyone else.
I liked loud, but there is loud, and then there is clean. When The Mastering Lab came along making recordings which were both loud and clean, people quickly started running over to them.
One Summer’s night after work I walked over to The Mastering Lab and knocked on the door. A heavily bearded man by the name of Doug Sax opened up, complete with the single longest hanging-ash I’d ever seen on a cigarette. We began talking, and eventually I asked him if it was possible to get a job there. He said “maybe.”
So every day after work I went over to the mastering lab and hung out. I would be there about three hours a day, just hanging around. After about four to six weeks of this Doug finally said; “I’ll tell you what. I’m gonna play you something and you tell me what you would do.”
As we listened I said; “I would take 2 db off at 40 hertz and put 2db on at 15k.” Doug got out his book, looked up and said “that’s exactly what I did.” (I should probably mention, that song was ‘Won’t get fooled again’ by The Who). This was the thing about The Mastering Lab that made it so fun. Their clientele. It was so high-end. Glyn Johns would fly in from England just to master. George Harrison hung around and played piano in the Bud Wyatt room while his album was mastered. It was a truly amazing time.
Meanwhile up in Toronto, Jack Richardson was starting his own mastering facility named J.A.M.F. With an invitation north and the promise of a Bud Wyatt built room, I decided to move my wife and two young children to Canada in the (season?) of 1974.
After a good start in Canada, the work eventually dried up and I found myself working at Carling O’Keefe brewery in the refrigerator, stacking kegs for eight hours a day and loosing weight. It was an out-of-the-blue phone call from Paul Gross at Phase One that changed things for good. Their disc cutter was in the hospital and Paul asked if I could help them out. At Phase One I was grinding out 16 to 18 sides a day, I was really flying. The studio manager eventually remarked; “I’ve never seen so many lacquers go out of this place at one time.”
Paul Gross’s mastering room eventually moved to North York and became Lacquer Channel. I went in for three months and have been there ever since.
When you know what you’re doing you don’t have to guess. To me great mastering sounds original, clean, and natural. A little bit like the orchestra.