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Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Mastering Master

On Friday I finished up the new SNEW record that I've been producing with a mastering session with Eddy Schreyer at Oasis Mastering in Burbank. Eddy's been my good friend of many years, but he's also long been the mastering engineer of choice for stars like Prince, Van Halen, Eric Clapton, Kenye West, Christina Aguilera, Black Eyed Peas, Bob Dylan and many many more. Since I only do a music project every year or so these days, it's easy to forget just how great he is at what he does.

I've learned a lot about mastering from Eddy over the years, and much of it has made it into "The Audio Mastering Handbook," but as I've always said, just knowing how to do something doesn't make up for the ears and experience of an elite mastering engineer. All it takes is a session like I just had to realize how important a mastering master like Eddy really is to a project. Mastering tools today are very powerful and in the wrong hands can destroy a project instead of making it better. In the hands of one of the elite mastering engineers like Eddy (there are only 5 or 6 of them), the project will end up sounding better than you ever thought it.

One of the cool things about Eddy is that his method of working is still evolving along with the equipment he uses. It's pretty easy for anyone to fall into a pattern that works and just stay with it, but Eddy's getting better and better and I think he's doing some of the best work of his career. Here's an example of his evolution:

1) He now uses an all digital signal path. Part of both the mystique and ability of the professional mastering engineer used to be the high quality analog and digital outboard gear they had available. Even if a project originally resided in the digital domain, the expensive outboard gear was a key ingredient in the final result, since you couldn't get the same quality any other way. Oasis still has a wide variety of high-quality outboard gear, but it's rarely used these days. Eddy's entire signal path now lies in the DAW, with the excellent UAD plug-ins the ones most used.

2) It's always been pretty normal for a brickwall limiter to sit last in the signal chain to protect from any digital overs, but Eddy has eliminated it completely from his signal path while still getting as much level as ever by using multiple compressors. This results in a competitively loud record that still breathes dynamically and doesn't feel squashed. Getting this much level without the help of a limiter is a feat that only a rare few mastering engineers can accomplish.

3) It sounds so analog. Another reason that the pros used their analog gear whenever they could is because digital just didn't sound that good, but Eddy manages to make it sound so analog even with a signal path that's all "in-the-box."

4) This point isn't so much about evolution as much as an observation on how a "mastering master" works. As said before, the variety of ever-so-powerful tools on the market make it pretty easy for someone without the skill and experience to really mangle a song in the worst possible way. A pro like Eddy makes a lot of relatively small moves that make a huge difference in the end. It's amazing how .5 or 1dB here or there and a dB of compression here and there can make such a difference. In the case of the SNEW record, suddenly parts that were buried were now defined, vocals and guitar solos that seemed just a bit low came to the front, the low end between the kick and bass guitar evened out, and everything got punchier. These mixes were great before (thank you Ed Cherney) but Eddy just took them to another level.

I'm sure that you want to hear examples, and if it wasn't for an embargo, I'd play you some before and after. That being said, there'll be some examples when the record is released, as well as an interview with Eddy and Gene Grimaldi (he just mastered the Lady GaGa hits) in some future posts. And if you like hard rock, I'm sure you'll be hearing a lot of the SNEW record very soon. It's a killer.


ilterocktive said...

It is so good to hear these from you. I hope this Analog vs. Digital debate will end soon, and we engineers concentrate on sounds rather than gear.
Thanks a lot for the post. Your blog is my favorite.

ilterocktive said...

... and YES!
I'd LOVE to hear examples!

3:3:2 Studio said...

Nice piece...

I found point number 2) really interesting!


Dennis Moody said...

Eddy is the best! He's done many projects for me and I am always amazed at the outcome! Can't wait to get more stuff to him in the future!


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