Exciting News: Matt Agoglia Is Promoted to Senior Engineer at Masterdisk

It’s only a few days into 2011 but it’s already shaping up to be an eventful year at Masterdisk HQ in New York City. Scott Hull, mastering engineer and the owner of Masterdisk, announced this week that mastering engineer Howie Weinberg has left his longtime post at the studio to strike out on his own in California, “where the climate suits his clothes” (as the old blues tune says). Scott, and the rest of the Masterdisk staff, wishes Howie the best of luck in the future.

In his place, Scott has promoted engineer Matt Agoglia to the position of Senior Engineer. Matt served as Howie’s right-hand man for three years at Masterdisk while building his own mastering clientele. Matt is taking over Howie’s mastering suite, and will continue mastering records using the same gear that he and Howie have been using for years. This classic mastering suite has been used for mastering iconic albums by The White Stripes, The Clash, Wilco, Nirvana, U2, Public Enemy, Pixies, Sonic Youth and many more.

Matt Agoglia in His Studio
Matt Agoglia in his mastering suite.

About the departure, and the promotion, Scott said, “Of course we’re sorry to see Howie go, but this is part of how the mastering business has always worked. No one stays at any one place forever. Young engineers work with senior guys, and learn the finer points of the craft. When spots open up, the younger engineers step up to move the torch forward. I started my career as Bob Ludwig’s assistant. And when Bob left Masterdisk for Maine I was promoted to Chief Engineer in his old room. Matt’s a very good engineer, and his clients have been very happy with his projects over the past few years. I have total faith that as more people get to know his mastering style, he’ll be very successful here.”

Recent records Matt has worked on include Gorillaz’ Plastic Beach, Spoon’s Transference, Wavves’ King of the Beach, and Rogue Wave’s Permalight.

The Mastering Panel at SXSW

I thought I’d tell you a little bit about the Mastering Panel I participated in at the South by Southwest festival in Austin in March. It was a great opportunity to hear some opinions on mastering from some experienced engineers. The other panel members were Bob Ludwig, Adam Ayan, and John Merchant.

I’m glad to say that it wasn’t the now-typical rant about why you shouldn’t make your mixes really loud. Rather, it was a more creative look at what a mastering engineer thinks is important about the music — what really matters when you are tying to get noticed.

Mastering Panel with Scott Hull at SXSW 2010
The Mastering Panel at SXSW 2010: (L to R) Adam Ayan, Bob Ludwig, Scott Hull and John Merchant

Bob Ludwig started the discussion with a brief history of the art of mastering, some photos and descriptions of equipment and philosophy from 30 years of experience.

Next, Adam Ayan discussed some of the mistakes artists make when preparing their music for release. He played several examples showing how an intuitive mastering engineer can extract more depth, emotion and value from a mix with a “just right” (as opposed to cookie cutter) approach.

I reinforced what Adam said, explaining that a first-class mastering engineer gets to know the producer and the artist, and is an integral part of the music creation process. An “e-mastering” approach will never achieve this. I asked the bands in the audience if their music has deeper meaning than just being “loud enough”. Of course it does! It’s important to look carefully at what’s lost when the primary focus is on competitive levels.

Then I played a few samples demonstrating that mastering can have a significant impact even on low-bit rate files. I played some 128K mp3 files of a tune with and without mastering. It was clear to me (and hopefully to the audience too) that even at these low bit-rates you still get more out of your music when it’s well mastered. For example, good tonal and instrument balances will translate regardless of the delivery format.

John Merchant, a well know mix engineer, kept us all laughing while showing us some very badly mastered examples to make the point — very graphically — that too much “mastering” is like too much hot sauce. The example he used was from Metalica’s “Death Magnetic” album. The CD version was played side-by-side with the much less compressed Guitar Hero version — showing just how ugly “loud” can get.

Unfortunately, the panel was very short considering all the opinions we could have unleashed! A lively Q & A was expected too, but time ran out before we could get to it. Hopefully we’ll get to do a panel like this again — it was a lot of fun. And I would have liked to have heard what questions independent artists might have about mastering. –Scott Hull

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Masterdisk at SXSW

South by SouthwestIf you plan to be at South by Southwest in Austin tomorrow (Wednesday the 17th), boy do we have a panel for you!

Mastering Tutorial
Wednesday, March 17 at 02:00 PM
Room 16B in the Austin Convention Center

World famous mastering engineer Bob Ludwig is hosting. The three other engineers contributing are our own chief engineer Scott Hull, Adam Ayan (Gateway Mastering) and John Merchant (RedDoor). The four of them are going to “offer suggestions to improve your recording using your own tools.”

Want to know why mastering matters?
The difference between in-the-box mastering and discrete-analog mastering?
Why pro mastering is expensive?

Or how about this one, Scott’s topic: Why does mastering matter for MP3 digital delivery?

It’s gonna be great. For more info, and to sign up, visit the Mastering Tutorial‘s page on the South by Southwest website. Also, I’ll be blogging and tweeting updates from the Masterdisk crew over the next few days, so follow us on Twitter, join us on Facebook, or just drop by the blog here. — jB

La Bamba in Hawaii: Tony Dawsey’s First Big Break

On a recent Friday evening gathering at Masterdisk, Tony Dawsey and I were having some pizza and talking about his first hit record, La Bamba, the soundtrack to the 1987 Ritchie Valens biopic. Tony told me a great story about that record and I made a mental note to follow up with him and get it down to share here once we got the blog launched. So I did, and here we are! But before I tell you about La Bamba let’s rewind a little.

Tony Dawsey
Tony Dawsey

It was 1980 when Tony started working at Masterdisk — in the mail room. He was a student at FIT, studying photography, and Masterdisk was just a job to help him through school. But it turned out Tony wasn’t in the mail room for long. First it became his job to make 15 ips analog tape copies of master tapes for use in cassette manufacturing. Then he started learning how to master records, and eventually he got to handle some of the “COD” customers — that is, folks who would come in off the street looking to get their record mastered. They weren’t asking for any engineers in particular, so the more senior engineers would let Tony take the gig.

Eventually he would sub for some of the engineers when they weren’t available, which is how the La Bamba job came about. Producer Mitchell Froom wanted Bob Ludwig, who was Vice President and Chief Engineer at Masterdisk at the time, to master Crowded House’s single “Don’t Dream it’s Over” but Bob couldn’t do it, and Tony got the job. And Mitchell liked how Tony’s work sounded. Later on, when Froom was producing La Bamba, he asked for Tony.

La Bamba Soundtrack Cover
The La Bamba Soundtrack

Around the time of the soundtrack’s release, Tony had some other important things going on: he was getting married. Before the wedding the first single off the album, “La Bamba”, was getting big in New York, but hadn’t necessarily spread. But when Tony and his wife got to Hawaii on their honeymoon, they found that “La Bamba” had made it pretty far indeed. “We got to Hawaii and it was blasting out of cars…. you’d just hear it everywhere,” Tony said. I asked him how it felt to have just made his first big record — and to find out about it on his honeymoon. Tony said, “It was amazing, it was really something. I felt very blessed.”

Back in New York, Tony said that things weren’t immediately that different for him, despite the fact that the record was huge, “except that when people found out I did the record they would say, ‘oh, that was you?’ — and it would be a feather in my cap.” La Bamba was the number-one album on the Billboard Top 200 for two weeks in September 1987.

Despite its success, La Bamba wasn’t the record that made Tony’s career take off. “I think it really started later with a few other records,” he said, “one of which was the Kris Kross album.” While the backwards-dressing teen rap stars aren’t exactly household names anymore, their 1992 album Totally Krossed Out (Ruffhouse/Columbia Records) went 4 times multi-platinum and made the number-one spot on the Billboard Top 200 twice.  But that’s the beginning of a different story…

(Consequently, the Crowded House single was a hit too. It was released in February 1986 and reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100.)

(Billboard chart positions and sales figures from Wikipedia.)

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