Every once in a while, we have the privilege of working with an artist that really makes us think, “wow, she can do anything!” Such was the case when we heard one of Randy Merrill’s recent mastering projects, the self-released “I Think of You” EP by Tajna Tanović.
Bosnia-born Tanović began her impressive career as a youth, on Sarajevo National Radio & Television’s “Kids Cabaret,” and continued on to Germany’s Theater TAS, where she played leading roles for over a decade. 2004 brought Tajna to New York City, where she has continued performing and composing for theater, collaborated on visual art installations, performed in film, and developed her singer-songwriter career. 2011 saw the production of Tajna’s debut recording with our friends John Davis and Aaron Nevezie, at The Bunker Studio in Brooklyn.
Tajna shines on this 5-song EP, her soaring voice tugging at our hearts with vivid words and melodies over tasteful accompaniment. Enhancing this pinnacle listening experience is the musicianship of Davis and Nevezie, who perform many of the instrumental parts in addition to their roles in production, and Dave Burnett, who teases out the nuances of Tanović’s music with skillfully constructed drum parts. Although Tajna has been performing since 1990, this EP is proof that she’s just getting started. We can’t wait to see what she’ll do next!
We’re very proud to say that Vlado Meller and Masterdisk currently have 3 albums in the top 10 of the Billboard Top 200! Michael Bublé’s album Christmas is at No. 2, Susan Boyle’sSomeone To Watch Over Me is at No. 7, and Il Divo’sWicked Game is at No. 10.
Congratulations to Vlado Meller and his team: Mark Santangelo (assistant mastering engineer) and Peter Cho (booking manager).
We’re excited about Camp, the new album from Childish Gambino (aka actor/comedian Donald McKinley Glover — you might know him from the NBC sitcom Community), which was released on Glassnote Records this week.
Personally, I’ve heard about this album for a little while now, since it was mastered here at Masterdisk by Vlado Meller. Peter Cho, Vlado’s booking manager, had heard it a number of times over the course of the mastering process, and he was blown away by the record, and told me so. He flagged it right from the start: this album is going to be a hit.
Check it out for yourself. I’ve got some links below to listen to the album (I’m not sure how long it will be streaming at NPR, but it still is as of today), and to some early critical response as well.
PRESS: Consequence of Sound gives Camp 4.5 out of 5 stars and says “Gambino can really rap. Scratch that; he can really, really rap, plus sing and emote and put on a show better than 90% of his hip-hop counterparts.”
XXL gives Camp an “XL” and has this to say: “Taken on the whole, Camp is full of top-tier lyricism, honesty, uncertainty and triumph. Childish Gambino is on his way to becoming a real hip-hop force, heading in a direction all his own.”
Paste gave Camp a 9.1 and had this to say: “No song seems out of place and every single one will be your favorite the moment you listen to it because of extremely quotable songs. Childish Gambino provided an album that is so raw and still so peaceful that even after a dozen times listening to it, Camp still doesn’t get old.”
Alternative Press gave Camp 4.5 out of 5 stars and said “Childish Gambino is more than just a rapper, and Camp is more than just an album: It’s a stone-cold classic.”
Capitol Records announced that the new Jane’s Addiction album, The Great Escape Artist, debuts today on iTunes! Vlado Meller mastered the album here at Masterdisk, and created an additional, unique, iTunes-optimized version. Here’s a great quote from the Capitol Records press release about The Great Escape Artist:
JANE’S ADDICTION lead guitarist DAVE NAVARRO says, “We are psyched that people will have a chance to hear our whole album before they buy it and we applaud iTunes for standing up for great audio too.”
Here at Masterdisk HQ today Scott Hull has been mastering the all-analog LP version of Info Nympho, a new album by Brooklyn/Philly band and songwriting collective Cuddle Magic.
This is the real deal – the old school way to make an LP.
As you can see from the photos below, Scott first spliced together the master from the original 1/4″ tape in his mastering room. Then, once the master was edited together, Scott took the tape to the cutting room, where he and Alex DeTurk got it ready to go onto lacquer. They then listened closely, familiarizing themselves with the program and taking note of any adjustments they might need to make during the cut.
Alex did the cutting once all of the mastering decisions were made.
While hanging around documenting the process, I’ve happily heard many of the songs, a few times each. It’s a beautiful recording and the LP is going to sound fantastic.
I should mention that Info Nympho is a Kickstarter project — one that successfully raised its funding goal on September 1. Sweet! Check out what they did here. Find more about Cuddle Magic at their website: http://www.cuddle-magic.com/
We have a copy of the gorgeous John Zorn/Dreamers LP “The Gentle Side” to give away here at Masterdisk HQ! This is a 180 gram, picture disc, tip-on sleeve, limited-edition release from the Tzadik label with beautiful artwork by Heung-Heung Chin of Chippy Design.
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.
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.
Great news! Out today: RUSH’s super-classic 1981 album Moving Pictures, in high-resolution stereo and 5.1 surround mixes! It comes in two formats: CD + DVD-Audio or CD + Blu-ray. Mastered by Andy VanDette at Masterdisk.
The nominees for the 53rd Grammy Awards were announced last night in Los Angeles, and we’re thrilled to see our clients up for honors!
Jay-Z’s album The Blueprint 3, which was mastered by Tony Dawsey, is up for Best Rap Album, and two of its songs have been singled out for honors too. “Empire State of Mind” is up for Record of the Year, Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, and Best Rap Song. Another album track, “On to the Next One,” is up for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group and Best Rap Song. We did a brief podcast about Tony’s work on The Blueprint 3 back in June, you can listen to that here.
Laurie Anderson’s track “Flow,” from her album Homeland (mastered by Scott Hull) was nominated for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. Competing with Ms. Anderson for that award is “Orchestral Intro” from Gorillaz’ Plastic Beach album, mastered by Howie Weinberg. Can they both win, please?
Finally, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society is up for the Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album award for Infernal Machines, (mastered by Randy Merrill) which was released on the non-profit-model record label New Amsterdam. We’re thrilled about all of the nominations, but this one is especially satisfying because New Amsterdam is a relatively small operation and it’s great to see independent work recognized. And because it’s a darn good record! We took an in-depth look at the making of “Infernal Machines” back in April. Check it out here.
“I have worked with him a few times and he really cares. All you want is someone who can go the extra mile, and he has an affinity with the music. He’s a perfectionist — I once saw him discard a whole vinyl cut because he could get another half dB out of it — and I really trust him. — Steven Wilson discussing Andy VanDette, Tape Op, Sep/Oct 2009
Porcupine Tree is one of the premiere progressive rock bands working today. They came up in the 90s along with bands like Dream Theater and Spock’s Beard, carrying the prog torch into what could be seen as the third wave of the genre. (For the sake of argument, and I’m sure there will be some, the first wave would be represented by bands like Yes, Genesis and King Crimson; the second by Marillion and IQ; and the fourth by The Mars Volta. And yes, this is a gross oversimplification which leaves out dozens of important bands and sub-movements!)
Two of Porcupine Tree’s biggest albums, In Absentia [Lava/Atlantic 2002] and Deadwing [Lava/Atlantic 2005], were mastered by Masterdisk chief engineer Andy VanDette. I spoke to Andy about his work on on these two very different records.
How did you get the Porcupine Tree gig?
Luckily my friend Andy Karp — who became president of A&R over at Lava/Atlantic — whenever he could throw my name into the ring for mastering he would. A lot of artists have a mastering engineer that they’ve worked with before and that’s where they go. But Andy would get me shootout gigs for certain stuff — I got to do the Simple Plan demo that got them signed. I did a few records on Atlantic that never saw the light of day… and Porcupine Tree came along that way.
What can you tell me about In Absentia?
The thing about In Absentia is that was a record made the way that records used to be made. You had a big major label debut where they recorded in big studios, they hired a quality engineer to record the basic tracks, and then a mix god, Tim Palmer, to mix it all to half inch tape. I heard the first few seconds of “Blackest Eyes” and I thought, “OK, this is going to be a good day! this is going to be a day where I figure out ‘a half dB of what’ instead of “where’s the kitchen sink?”
Was Steven [Wilson, of Porcupine Tree] here?
Yes, Steven was here for the record.
He’s a pretty hands-on guy?
Oh yeah, definitely.
Was there much collaboration or back-and-forth in the session or did you work alone?
I think pretty much they let me work. You know, Steven liked what he was hearing so… we seemed to like the same things, so sometimes you just click that way with clients. I don’t really remember too much back and forth, there was more of that on the next record, Deadwing.
What was working on that record like?
Well, in contrast to In Absentia, Deadwing is an example of how records are made today, where the band doesn’t go into any studio, they record and mix it at home. Steven mentioned they were working this way pretty early on, and so I sent him an email and said ‘Well, if you’re going to do work that way, the hip thing to do is to mix in subgroups. We’ll rent a nice analog summing amp and we’ll put it all together once you get here.” So he ended up sending over his Mac with his Logic [Apple’s suite of recording programs] sessions on them, and then I rented the Dangerous Music summing amp and we put it all together that way.
Of course Murphy’s law says that if you send your Mac to a foreign country a week in advance it’s going to arrive at the END of the first day of the session you booked. So it was evening before I ran through a couple songs and mastered them quick, keeping the same kind of hands-off mastering mentality that I had with the first record. Because the first record… the mixes were so great that I didn’t have to do much.
But when I heard what I had done the next morning in my car I freaked out. I thought “oh my god this is horrible… is my system broken?!” When I got to the studio I checked it out in the other mastering rooms and I found out that nothing was broken; it just plain sucked. I didn’t roll off enough bottom. Once I started listening to the individual parts [in Logic] I thought, “gee that bass is awful thick… what’s going on there?” There were like five layers of kick drums going on [laughs] — too much to get the kind of clarity we needed. Since we had the option to change the mixes in Logic, that’s what we did.
That day we pulled out In Absentia because we knew that people were going to compare the new record to it — and we could use it as a reference, even though the new stuff was recorded so differently. The new one would be its own entity — its own art — but it did have to compare on some kind of level. Once we did that things went much better and all of the changes that we made to the stereo mixes held up through the surround mixes.
How many stems did you output from Logic?
We broke it out to 8 channels, probably 4 stereo stems and stuck that through the analog summing amp.
And what does the summing amp do?
The final squish to stereo is done in the analog domain as opposed to the digital domain.
What’s the effect of using it?
It’s the depth thing. When you close your eyes how deep is the sound stage? I had done comparisons both ways [through the summing amp and not] and switching back and forth I could hear a much deeper sound field than the mixes that had come straight out of the digital domain.
And out of that you went into your…
My standard mastering rig. Because the mix issues were taken care of in Logic, that meant I didn’t have to do as much — there were no contortions anymore because anything that I would have struggled with were ironed out.
Do you know why they decided to record Deadwing like they did, rather than do another record like In Absentia? Was it budget?
I think that they were just so adept at recording themselves. Gavin [Harrison, the group’s drummer] had his own studio — why not do drums in his room where he has them all set up just the way he likes them? And Steven is very adept at recording himself — he had done it all those years before Atlantic. And yeah it was partially budgetary because the budget wasn’t as big for Deadwing as it was for In Absentia. The record companies had started tightening their belts by then and… although In Absentia was a great critical success I don’t think it sold numbers that turned heads at Atlantic records.
Deadwing was the last Porcupine Tree record you did?
Right, and then they did Fear of a Blank Planet [Roadrunner Records, 2007] which Steven mastered himself. And then I submitted for their latest record [The Incident, 2009].
But you didn’t end up mastering it?
No, I didn’t. I did master Steven’s solo record Insurgentes  though.
What was the process of mastering Insurgentes?
It was about wrestling with the loudest sections of the record. Which are only 5% of the record but the 5% that I hold the most dear. The quiet parts were all nicely dynamic but when those really ultra loud sections come out the mixes had a screechy distorted quality that made me want to turn my monitors down, not up. So I worked on warming those sections and treating those sections so that they sounded raucously loud, but not abrasive.
Is that EQ work?
Some EQ work, some cutting different settings together. Sometimes you can make one setting and it works for the whole record. But we can get more forensic than that and use different treatments so that when it goes to the ultra loud section you can’t really notice that I’ve changed settings — or at least you’re not supposed to!
And Steven was happy with it?
I think so.
But you didn’t do the next Porcupine Tree record.
Well, one of the guys in the band was very concerned about compression — he wanted to make sure the new record didn’t have too much compression on it. So the group felt that they needed to be there for the mastering, but they weren’t going to be able to come to the States, so that was that. But Steven let me submit, which was cool. So I listened to a lot of In Absentia because I still say it is the Porcupine Tree record by which all other Porcupine Tree records will be judged… and I made something that was just a little lower [in level].
And what happened?
And pretty quickly I got word back that it was way over-compressed. So then I did one that was hardly compressed at all, but I guess I went too far in the other direction… In the end they were right, they needed to be there at the mastering studio so they could find the exact balance they were looking for.
The two albums you did for Porcupine Tree are big ones as far as fans are concerned. Do you get artists that come to you because you did those records?
Have you been doing much in the prog rock area lately?
Oh sure. The Heart of Cygnus CD that’s on my wall [Over Mountain Under Hill] is a recent one… it was named on Mike Portnoy’s [former drummer with Dream Theater] Top 10 list for 2009. And I’ve been doing some things more recently that aren’t out yet.
Thanks to Larry Crane of Tape Op for getting us the Steven Wilson quote when none of us could find our Sep/Oct 2009 copies of Tape Op! (Murphy’s law again.)