Inda Eaton’s “Go West,” and How To Choose a Mastering Engineer

Photo of Inda Eaton in ConcertInda Eaton is a globe-trotting singer-songwriter-performer-bandleader now based in eastern Long Island. Her music has found favor with fans of rock ‘n’ roll, country, and acoustic music all over the world since she started touring behind her first album “Thin Fine Line” in 1996. Her latest album, “Go West,” was recorded by Cynthia Daniels at Monk Music Studios and mastered by Randy Merrill and is set for release on June 15, 2012. Inda took some time out of her busy pre-release schedule to fill us in on some of the details of her new project.

Hi Inda, thanks for taking some time for The Masterdisk Record. That’s a great video you have on your site on the recording of your new album [below]. I like how you’ve talked about the music as illustrating a feeling of anticipation — of something new coming up “around the bend.”

I try to be in the moment – but I can’t help but think that there’s something greater around the corner…it’s quite possibly an American thing.

You worked with (engineer and studio owner) Cynthia Daniels on “Go West” — how did you choose to work with her on this project?

Cynthia is a good friend and kick ass engineer who had just finished her state-of-the-art John Storyk studio in time to track “Go West.” Cynthia and Eve Nelson (piano/co-producer) had worked together on Chaka Khan’s ClassiKhan album and have a great working relationship. “Go West” has Cynthia’s fingerprints all over it. A great engineer cannot be overlooked: the vibe, the room, the competence. Cynthia has seen it all. We were in great hands. Beyond that – we had a great time.

How long have the songs on “Go West” been around?

“Go West” was written in three writing chunks with the last song being completed on the morning of the first day of tracking. Most of the songs had live “show life” to let them breathe. I taped every live show for the past three years to listen back for the cool stuff that only happens in the moment. I came to the conclusion that we needed to track all the songs live in a live room. There’s no substitute for musicians tracking together, looking at each other, feeling each other out and playing the energy. All of the songs were written with live, seemingly out-of-control performance energy in mind.

Cover art for Inda Eaton's Go West albumThat’s an interesting process — taping all the shows and learning from them. A very methodical way of seeking out something that’s very wild and hard to capture. Are you more methodical or spur-of-the-moment as an artist?

I’m more spur-of-the-moment improv with a great blueprint in the background. I prepare and analyze, but when on the stage – it will be what it will be. I didn’t know this when I was younger. Now I get it – it’s freeing. “Go West” is a direct result of controlled chaos.

How did you choose Randy Merrill to master “Go West?”

When I came back from mixing the tracks at Eve Nelson’s studio in LA – we needed a mastering engineer and didn’t know where to begin. The recommendations were flying around, but they didn’t fit the project. Other than sitting in on some sessions for past projects, I didn’t really know much about mastering and so I ended up charting the history of mastering since 1973 and came up with the coaching tree. I found out that many of the original mastering gurus are still working and the the history traces back to very simple roots. In an ideal world – I wanted someone from the 2nd generation of mastering engineers that I could relate to with a mutual understanding and respect for creating an album – not a collections of songs on a disk. I found Randy Merrill immediately on the Masterdisk website and then his name kept popping up on blogs/chats about mastering. From there we had a discussion about the intention of the music and our shared background of growing up with albums…I knew he was the right one. Randy knocked it out of the park. I truly believe that he is heading toward the path of mastering guru for our generation. I’m glad that I got in the door early.

I wish everybody approached finding a mastering engineer the way you did! Honestly, that’s one of the best stories I’ve heard. So what’s next on your schedule? The album release is set for June 15 — is there a tour? Promotions?

Currently we are about to launch a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to sell pre-orders, house concerts and all kinds of value to get the promotion off the ground. Our next official date is June 15th for the release and concert out here in Amagansett at the Stephen Talkhouse. We were just out west in Wyoming for a sneak preview at the prison, schools, clubs and art council – the response was overwhelming. This summer is all about spreading the word with shows, radio, print, handshakes, hugs and barbeques. The ‘Go West’ release will be as organic as it was created. ‘Studio to Stage’…’Go West’ is all about the live interaction.


Visit Inda on the web at indaeaton.com.
Inda on Facebook: facebook.com/inda.eaton

Ellen Fitton on Working with Arif Mardin and Becoming a Mastering Engineer

One of the benefits of having a music career in New York City is that you get to meet and work with some incredible people. Take mastering engineer Ellen Fitton.

Photo of Arif Mardin by Alan Light
Arif Mardin
When Ellen started out after college, her first stop was Atlantic Records, working as the assistant of the famous producer Arif Mardin. Mardin started out at Atlantic as Neshui Ertegun’s assistant (how’s that for lineage for you?) in 1963. Over the years he produced records for Aretha Franklin, David Bowie, Willie Nelson, The Modern Jazz Quartet, and Queen among many, many others.

Ellen told me a little about her early experiences in the music business with Mardin and how she became a mastering engineer.

James: Hi Ellen, thanks for taking some time out for the blog. So when were you Arif Mardin’s assistant?

Ellen: 1985, at Atlantic Records, which was basically my first big gig. I was there for a couple of years, working for Arif and his engineer Michael O’Reilly. He was responsible for the Rascals and the Bee Gees and then Chaka Kahn. Many great artists from the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

James: What was he like at the point you were working for him?

Ellen: He was the consummate old world gentleman. He must have been in his 50s. He was a balding guy with reading glasses, still with the button down shirt and a tie a lot of the time; but he’s totally hip. And he knows about every artist who’s coming and going and everything that’s happening at the time. You think when people get to a certain age they sort of “age out’ of popular music. But Arif was not only current — he was cutting edge. People like the Stones were coming to him and saying “Would you do this track with us?” because he was able to know what the next thing was going to be. It was great watching him work, and watching him put together a record. I especially enjoyed learning to edit from him.

James: By observing or was it more hands-on?

Photo of Ellen Fitton
Ellen Fitton
Ellen: At that point, by observing. Because we were still cutting tape. Towards the end, yeah, I would cut. But watching him at the reels I learned things like you don’t necessarily want to cut on the kick or downbeat. Cut on the snare — you know, knowing where to cut. It’s not where people would expect. You do it where it will be less noticed. It was really interesting the way he would edit together something… make a song…

James: That’s interesting — intuitively you would think that you would edit on the “1”

Ellen: Yes on the downbeat. That’s where everybody wants to hear the edit. But almost always the editing is somewhere else.

James: What was your role at that time?

Ellen: Second engineer. So I was a tape-op, setting up the mics, recalling mixes — because there was no total recall at that point in time. All the note taking. I remember vividly when I screwed up a punch in on a Chaka Kahn session. And it was weeks before he let me sit behind the remote control of the machine after that. It was one of those things where I was really really tired — like 14, 16 hour days. And then here’s this guy — at that age — who’s tireless. I’m ready to drop and I’m a kid but he had just boundless energy. When you work for someone as long as I had worked with Arif, all I would need to punch in would be a nod of his head. He didn’t want the artist to know necessarily when we were punching in and out — he just wanted them to sing and he would take the bits that he needed. This one day I was really tired and I thought he was going to nod, and cue me in, but he didn’t, and I punched in. And of course… “she’ll never sing that note again!” (Laughs) As it turned out, we ended up getting something better. But he didn’t let me forget that for a while. Which is a lesson learned. It’s part of the process.

James: When and why did you make the transition from recording to mastering engineer?

Ellen: It was not a conscious decision. In the late 80’s as I was transition from an assistant to engineer, the studio business was changing. Studios where closing left and right. After Atlantic was closed down, I was working as an independent engineer on pop projects at various studios. One day a friend mentioned to me that Sony Classical was looking for someone with recording chops who could also read an orchestral score. I had never considered my career going in that direction, but thought I would check it out. I was chosen for the gig and really enjoyed the work. In between recording dates and post production for each release, I would do reissue work for the classical label as well. When the classical recording work began to slow down, I began doing more reissues, classical at first, but then when Sony realized I had pop experience I began doing pop reissues as well. The frontline work just naturally followed, and one day I realized… I was a mastering engineer.


Read more about Ellen Fitton at the Masterdisk site.
To book Ellen for your next project contact Peter Cho at peter@masterdisk.com.

A Visit to Satori Shiraishi’s “Happydom”

Satori Shiraishi may not be well known outside of Japan, but in that country he is a top composer, arranger and producer. Among his accomplishments is producing the band Orange Range (Sony-Japan) which has sold over 10 million CDs. We were lucky to get to work on Satori’s album Happydom through Scott Hull‘s longtime client Atsushi “Sushi” Kosugi, who was the musical director on the project.

Photo of Satori Shiraishi
Satori Shiraishi

Sushi is a Japanese-American record producer based in New York. He runs Beat On Beat Inc., which is a full service production company specializing in recording projects. If you need to get the right musicians for a project — and the best musicians — Sushi is your man.

You could probably best describe Satori’s Happydom as pop-soul with some rock and funk mixed in and a touch of a retro, 70s vibe. There’s a lot of joy in these tracks, as well as passion and commitment. And the music is presented with world-class production values: recording sessions took place at Avatar (NYC) and Henson (LA) among other top studios.

Cover art of Satori Shiraishi's "Happydom"Sushi assembled an incredible group of musicians for the project. He and Satori discussed who they should get before the project began, and they chose some of the finest musicians in the world. These musicians — Omar Hakim, Will Lee, Vinnie Colaiuta, Nathan East, David Sancious and Ray Parker Jr. (among others) — are Satori’s dream team. Happily, Sushi has worked with each of these greats before and considers them friends. He was able to bring them in for the sessions. When the recording and mixing were done, Scott Hull mastered the album and it was released on Coconut Palm Records in Japan.

You can hear samples of Happydom on Amazon. Or, better yet, check out the NY and LA session footage at Beat on Beat to get a sense of how much fun these sessions were.

Satori always has multiple projects happening in Japan, but we were glad to hear that one of them is his next single, called “Lover’s Soul.” Sushi is always involved in a number of projects. A recent highlight was the album Marica Hiraga Sings with the Duke Ellington Orchestra which was mastered by Scott Hull and released in Japan on April 25.

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A Conversation with Composer Mikel Rouse

Photo of Mikel RouseMikel Rouse is a multi-talented, multi-disciplinary artist who’s been a vital part of the Downtown New York scene for 30 years. He’s done so much work, and such varied work, that it’s a challenge to try to squeeze even part of it into an introduction. So here’s a real whirlwind pass through some career highlights: With his ensemble Broken Consort, Mr. Rouse released several albums including A Walk In the Woods (which was listed as one of The New York Times‘s “Ten Best Records of 1985”). He has written three operas, directed and scored films, created a CDROM library of prepared piano samples from John Cage’s Sonatas & Interludes, scored International Cloud Atlas for multiple iPods set to “shuffle” (commissioned by The Merce Cunningham Dance Company, the John Cage Trust and Betty Freeman), toured with a production of Cage’s The Alphabet playing the part of James Joyce, and he has released 29 albums of music.

Boost|False Doors is Mikel’s 30th album — and it’s a double album actually.

Mikel brought Boost|False Doors to Masterdisk’s Matt Agoglia for mastering, and after the project was done Matt brought it to my attention as something “really special.” And he was right — Boost|False Doors is a fascinating collection of music.

A couple of weeks ago Matt brought me into his mastering suite to play me some of the music. We listened to a number of selections (and I have to say it sounded incredible on Matt’s system), and then Matt gave me a copy of the CD to take away and absorb. Because, as Matt told me, the music works as an ALBUM. It’s not just a concatenation of tracks: it’s a thought out experience for the listener; a story with a beginning, middle and end; ups and downs; and a wide spectrum of emotions. These are the kinds of projects Matt likes to work on. His primary interest as a mastering engineer is in the art of the album. And he certainly had a satisfying time working on this one.

Mikel and I had the following discussion via email.

James: Hi Mikel. Good to meet you. Let’s start off with some basic background stuff. Where did you record Boost|False Doors?

Mikel: It was recorded at Center of the Earth. That’s the name of my studio, which during False Doors and Boost was located at 321 West 44th Street in New York.

James: I read in your piece at the Wall Street Journal that it took 960 hours to record Boost|False Doors — that’s over 3 months of 10 hour days! Can you describe a typical day working on this project?

Cover art of Boost False DoorsMikel: For False Doors, it started as a follow up to Corner Loading (Volume 1) which was a solo guitar/vocal record (sort of a country blues approach, hence the title, but with the guitar and vocal often doing intricate counter rhythms). So I recorded the guitar and lead vox live. But then it seemed to want some other stuff, like the prepared piano samples (I produced a John Cage Prepared Piano Sample library in 2000 — so I like to use those samples). Then it seemed to want mellotron. Then, quite a backwards way to work: drums and percussion. So I recorded the drums at 321 [West 44th Street] with Rob Shepperson, my old band-mate from Tirez Tirez. Now, I really exaggerated the tempos cause I thought it was gonna be a solo recording. So this presented a challenge. But it ended up giving the recording a funky loping feeling, similar to those 60s recordings that sometimes laid rhythm tracks after the songwriter had recorded his parts. I like that sound, as it’s odd and could only be done in a studio.

Boost is just the opposite (except for the unique sound of steel guitar with beats) and is a pure sonic electronic sequenced record. It uses all the kinds of sound so current today, but because of the shifting metric combination, it’s much more musical and interesting, well, at least to me. You might also notice that Boost is dedicated to Ron and Russell Mael of the LA band Sparks. They did some groundbreaking pop music in the 70s including a pop/disco record with Georgio Moeroder.

James: What is your composition process like? Is it connected to the recording process or separate from it?

Mikel: It’s both. A lot of stuff starts with a musical sketch or a lyric snippet. False Doors especially came out of songs in progress or songs composed while walking down the street. Then I fleshed them out. Boost on the other hand it a typical (well, not so typical 😉 ) made-in-the-studio recording. Starting with all of the formulaic beats, changing the metric structures and getting some really hard hitting and solid grooves, and then letting those grooves dictate the guitar and vox. I also continued my interest in sampling conversations (seen in Recess) and using dialog I overheard in cafes and bars. That whole diatribe in “The Movie We’re In” is from our local bar Rudy’s [on 9th Avenue].

James: Matt told me that Boost and False Doors were recorded at separate times and were not initially linked. Can you tell me how they ended up together?

Mikel: Thats correct. I saw False Doors as a recording whose theme revolved around accepting things you can’t change. And obviously, it’s a more organic sounding recording. But as the lyric content of Boost started to develop, I could see them, both lyrically and sonically, as bookends. They kind of reference each other in interesting ways. And I’ve loved the fact that the reviews have been very good thus far, but some people focus more on one disc than the other.

James: What were your primary tools used in recording the albums?

Mikel: Gear. Lots of gear. You can see from the photo [in the CD package]. I swear by the Barefoot monitors. The DW Fearn compressor is my go-to compressor for very clean sounds. And I love the combo of the Cranesong EQ with the Manley EQ. I used 414 mics on the drums. Just two as I wanted to go for that Ringo Star “swoosh compression” sound on the cymbal/bass drum attacks. I’m particularly pleased with that effect. U47 mic for the vocals and acoustic guitar. U87 for steel guitar and percussion.

James: A lot of your music is rhythmically complex, but the complexity is not “difficult” sounding or academic. Nor does it sound “organic” — one gets the impression, rather, of multiple radios or TVs playing different programs at the same time. Can you talk a little about rhythm in your work?

Mikel: I love that you notice that. I’ve always been interested in complexity, but through known vernacular music. So i’d hate it if it sound academic. I would make the argument that it is organic, as I use multiple metric combination to achieve a new kind of harmonic resolution. So think if you have a combination of 3 against 5 against 7. It would take 105 beats for all three permutation to come back together. And if you’re skillful (and lucky) you can make that metric conversion feel like a resolution, in the same way that a I IV V cadence has a harmonic resolution. I’ve been using this technique in pop music for 30 years. You don’t have to understand the mechanics (another reason it’s not simply academic noodling) to feel that something is ‘right’ just as ‘Ti’ resolving to ‘Do’ feels right.

James: I think I didn’t express my thought well in the ‘rhythm’ question, but I love your answer. What I meant by ‘not organic’ is that the rhythmic layers sound intellectually designed, rather than a product of chance or intuition or ‘feel’… they’re too consistently orderly and extended for that to be the case. And yet the result is a very natural “feel” anyway. Having worked with rhythm this way for a long time do you do it ‘off the top of your head’? What is your process of working these rhythms out in your songs?

Mikel: It’s become pretty intuitive now. I actually think of music this way. If I hear a tune on the radio, I’m always harmonizing to it in a different meter. I can play guitar and sing in a totally different meter and it feels natural. Like rubbing your head one way and you stomach the other. So I hear the ‘resultant’ combinations in my head and sort of write them down or program them from that.

James: Can you tell me something about your approach to mixing?

Mikel: I’m going for a very understandable sonic signature. I want the mix to sound clear, like a good pop production. That’s no small challenge, as my mixes are usually incredibly dense with metric information. Even with False Doors, which feels organic and acoustic and open, there’s a ton of metric stuff going on. Check out the acoustic guitar counterpoint in “Blow Dried Bodies.” It all locks together and has a nice warm analog feel to it. But listen closer and you see that the guitars are circling each other. It has to sound as normal as two acoustic guitars playing together even though it’s much more complicated than that. It took me a long time to figure out how to make the mixes non-fatiguing.

James: What led you to choose Masterdisk for mastering?

Mikel: I got to know Matt through the 3 years i was over at 321 W 44th St. [Matt’s mastering suite is down the hall from where Boost|False Doors was recorded.] I liked his very wide knowledge of music. I’d always wanted to do something with him, and as Boost was recorded quickly I thought it would be a great opportunity. He did a test of “Hurdle Rate” which I loved so I had him do the record. Then, when I started thinking about combining Boost|False Doors, I thought it would be great to get his take on False Doors. Also, as the two recordings are somewhat different, I thought a similar sonic stamp from Matt would help bring them together.

James: What are you working on next?

Mikel: Working on a score for a new piece starring the actress Olwen Fouere based on James Joyce text. Also working on a new theater piece with Ben Neill and Bob McGrath called The Demo, based on the 1968 demonstration given by Douglas Englebart which accurately predicted the work of personal computing and the internet. Also and always, working on the next record. Number 31.


Read more about Mikel Rouse at his website www.mikelrouse.com

A Conversation about Preservation

Click here to view the Spanish version.

I talked to audio engineer and preservation specialist Marcos Sueiro Bal the other day, and he mentioned that he recently completed a translation of the “bible for the preservation of audio.” It’s called TC-04 or the Guidelines on the Production and Preservation of Digital Audio, and is published by IASA (The International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives) and the Technical Committee AEDOM (the Spanish Association of Musical Documentation).

IASA has been in existence since 1969, and the website has a ton of useful information, from lists of conferences and events related to music and preservation, to grants and publications. The conference in October will be held in New Delhi, India.

MW: Was it difficult to translate?

MSB: It took more than a year to complete, technical terms are difficult to translate, especially from English to Spanish, because I learned all my technical language here in the United States, and most people actually also use the terms in English.

MW: Like what?

MSB: The word “rewind” was difficult. I didn’t know whether we should use “rewind” or the right word in Spanish “rebobinar.” Another word that was difficult to translate was the word for “78,” which in English is called “shellac,” but in Spanish they are commonly called “slate discs” or “discos de pizarra.” The problem is that they aren’t made of slate, but the term is widely used. The technical term is “goma laca,” and so finally we had to stick to the correct word in Spanish.

MW: What was the most impressive thing about working on this translation?

MSB: This is actually a well written book, and also well thought out. Its not the kind of casual conversation that one has at the water cooler.

In addition, we are moving from things such as tape or disk that you can leave on a shelf and forget about, into the digital world, where everything changes so fast. I’m seeing massive failures in CDR, for example, an indication that the digital world is more ephemeral. So how do we document things?

With photos, for example, we used to have 24 photos developed on a roll, and then we would put those into an album. But now the photos are in .jpg format with 6 or 7 digit codes attached, and because the CDR may fail to access them or the technology may change, the photos may be lost to the next generation.

MW: What do the authors say about the changes in technology?

MSB: Well, they say that despite the improvement of technological development, digital experts recognize that no carrier is permanent.

MW: Wow! I guess this means that nothing is safe and we must ensure the backups of our backups.

MSB: The book assumes that change will occur. It’s difficult, but we live in a world where the latest and greatest is always praised. The same applies to physical formats.

MW: “Guidelines” is the kind of book that engineers should not live without?

MSB: The book is essential, in my opinion, to any person engaging in reproduction, conservation or management of historical collections of audio formats.

Marcos will present at the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC)’s 46th annual conference in Rochester, NY, May 16-19 on the topic of “degradation.”

email Molly at molly@masterdisk.com