I thought we’d take a moment to highlight a particularly interesting release coming up that was mastered here in-house by Scott Hull: the 3 CD, 1 DVD Sting box set 25 Years (due out September 27 on A&M Records). I sat down with Scott and he took me through the process of mastering this ambitious project. Hope you enjoy.
James: Hi Scott. Can you tell our blog readers about the new Sting set?
Scott: It’s an overview of Sting’s solo career — a 25 year span! Considering how production styles changed over that time, it was a very interesting challenge to make it all sound compatible. And really, not only was there a difference in the productions, but there’s just about every genre except metal in there! Rock, jazz, classical, folk… a very wide range.
James: Who is the set for? Diehard fans? New listeners?
Scott: I believe the intent is that it’s for both, which makes for some balancing. The established fans want the music to sound like they remember it, but new fans might benefit from a fresh think. I can tell you that this is not just “louder, brighter” mastering. The set has to communicate the core elements of Sting’s music: the drama, passion, intensity, creativity, whimsy — all of it. Some songs are intended to be big and some are delicate. The box balances that so a listener can put it on and hear the similarity and contrasts of the music through all the permutations of Sting’s career. We took an enormous amount of time to make sure we stayed true to the music while putting it in a new context for today’s listener.
James: When you say “we” who else do you mean?
Scott: That’s the producer, Rob Mathes, and Sting and his team.
James: Rob was very hands-on during the Symphonicities and Live in Berlin projects. Was that the same here?
Scott: Rob was there at every step of the mastering, sometimes attending, sometimes virtually. He was very interested in source selection — in making sure we found the right versions of songs. The complete and final versions.
James: Was there some difficulty in securing sources?
Scott: Some. It’s something that I’m starting to see more and more: a serious problem with the documentation of lots of music created in the 1990s and 2000s. As artists moved to smaller studios and home studios in the 80s and 90s, documentation practices went downhill. So now, years later, we find ourselves looking for masters, in boxes that aren’t comprehensively labeled, and in digital files that have no metadata. Is it a mix master? A flat transfer? The remastered version? The word “master” becomes meaningless when it comes to sorting out the files. In the case of the Sting materials, there was a little difficulty in a couple cases. At those points we had to just listen, compare with our ears to determine what version we had, and come as close to the intended result as possible.
I’m going to get on my soapbox for a minute — and this isn’t related to the Sting set per se. But this metadata problem is a big issue. There’s 20 – 30 years of digital recordings made now that have no metadata associated with it to tell you what it was made on, the sampling rate, or the machine. digital You’ve got 24/96 files that you have to closely scrutinize to find out if that’s the native sample rate or if it’s been upsampled. The metadata is only as accurate as the person entering it.
James: Can you give me any specific examples from the Sting project?
Scott: We received many files from Iron Mountain for Bring On the Night (the 1986 2 CD album) — they scoured the vaults and we found that all they had was the remastered stuff. We had to compare copies of the original and remastered CDs against the files we received to determine what was what. Eventually we found what we needed but it took some sleuthing. And keep in mind that this is a very major artist recording for major labels. You can only imagine what we sometimes go through trying to find the best sources for independent artists or artists who recorded for small labels.
James: Can you mention any surprises for fans on the new set?
Scott: Some songs from Dream of the Blue Turtles were remixed, and even if you loved the original versions these make for a great new experience. And overall, I think the context of the whole set really makes for a surprising listen — you kind of get a new look at some of this music you may have known for years because of how the songs now sit next to each other. I think the fans are going to love it.