Tony Dawsey on Bass

Tony Dawsey on Bass - Tony discusses his approach to mastering
Tony Dawsey on Bass

Q: People come to you for your bass.

A: Yeah, I’m a bass head. It’s the first thing I deal with. Do I want to enhance it? Do I need to take something off? Because it’s got to sound good. As tight and punchy as possible. It’s totally key to get the bass right. You need that clarity down there.

Q: Has that always been your approach?

A: Yeah, I’d say so. I was working on a lot of different kinds of stuff in the late 80s and 90s. Indie rock, hard rock, all kinds of stuff. Now a lot of people come to me and say “I want that bass that you get in that record” and they name a particular hip-hop record I mastered. Back then they would say, “I don’t want it to sound disco.” OK, I say. But really, it’s in the mix. I enhance what you’ve already done. That’s the role of mastering. I always say, it’s the icing on the cake.

Q: Any tips for mixers when it comes to getting the bass right?

A: Make sure your speakers aren’t lying to you or your mix isn’t going to be right. Your monitors should be as flat as possible, and you should be very familiar with the way they sound. Also, make sure your listening environment is treated. You can’t just put sheetrock up and expect to be able to hear what’s in your mix.

Q: What about people that mix mainly with headphones?

A: Hm, well…

Q: It sounds like you don’t recommend that.

A: Sure you can do it. People work in all different kinds of ways. But if you mix a lot with headphones, make sure they’re GOOD headphones — and you’ll still need good speakers and and a treated monitoring environment to check your mixes.


That’s it for this time — we’ll have further interviews with Tony in the coming weeks on a variety of mastering and music subjects. Stay tuned…

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Ask the Engineer with Scott Hull: What Happened To My Vocal?


Today we’ve got a question from a reader about how her track was affected by mastering (at another facility). Scott Hull answers.

Q: I had a song mastered and the vocals seemed to sound harsher, with a loss of ambience. Can this occur from the mastering? — Sherri

A: Sherri, thanks for your email.

The effects of mastering can be very profound, both positively and sometimes negatively. An “average” engineer might have been taught or learned to brighten the midrange and high-end even if the music doesn’t need it. As a veteran of thousands of mastering sessions, I can tell you that the hardest thing to learn was when not to “master”.

I can help you get the sound you are looking for. I will give you a free song / mix evaluation ($99 value) — for free! Just for sending us your great question.

You don’t have to compromise. The right engineer can make a world of difference.

All the best,
Scott Hull

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Masterdisk Presents: First You Get the Sugar

Masterdisk Presents First You Get the Sugar Graphic

First You Get the Sugar is an exciting young band from Montreal who are building an impressive career through sheer hard work, talent and positive energy. Their first, self-titled album was mastered here at Masterdisk by Andy VanDette last year, and it’s a powerful, polished statement of power-pop and classic rock intent. Not “classic rock” so much in terms of the genre, but “classic” in terms of offering those key elements we all look for in great rock: excitement, hooks, and maybe a touch of danger. The band made a big impression on us here at the studio not only through their music, but by their friendliness and positive attitude. Since that first album, First You Get the Sugar recorded three songs at the Converse Rubber Tracks studio in Brooklyn and brought them to Andy for mastering — all in a whirlwind three-day period. One of those songs is attached below. I hooked up with the band’s drummer, Daniel Moscovitch, on Facebook to discuss the band’s career so far. If you’re in Toronto for NXNE you can catch the band tonight at the Wrongbar.

Dan, thanks for taking some time for the Masterdisk blog. OK, let’s go through some basic dates… when did the band form & how did you meet?

Photo of First You Get the SugarAdam [Kagan] and Mick [Mendelsohn] formed the band in 2007. I answered a Craigslist ad, and it turned out that it was posted by their temporary lead guitarist at the time who I was actually good friends with, so I went to see them play at a club here in Montreal. By the end of the next week, I still had some of the hooks stuck in my head, so I went in for a meeting and right away we all knew it was a great fit. We spent the next year or so honing our sound and looking for a permanent lead guitarist, and that is where Alex [Silver] came in. He was actually a fan of ours, who we hung out with. We brought him in for an audition in January ’09, and we’ve been family ever since.

When did you make your first recordings?

Right after Alex joined us we knew it was time to make an album. One of my closest friends and long-time musical colleague of mine, Adam Stotland, came on as co-producer. He had just finished building a studio in his house, so the timing was perfect, and in April 09 we settled into his studio and hit the ground running.

What was the studio setup?

It was very simple. Good mics, through a very transparent Allen & Heath board into Samplitude. Most of the guitars were amped with a Fender Concert 4×10 cranked for natural breakup, and we also experimented a lot with a sweet vintage Leslie cab. We did a lot of layering, and luckily had all the time we needed to develop parts and build the songs from the ground up.

How long did you take to record?

Recording went through until about January 2010. At that point, we spent a lot of time making sure every second of every song was arranged the way we wanted it, and were looking for someone to do the mix. We finally decided on Glen Robinson, who splits his time between Montreal and NYC. He’s a truly amazing engineer with a custom gear list that is basically staggering. Fully customized old-school Neve comps and EQ’s, UA limiters, basically a dream setup. We had done zero mixing on our own before Glen got his hands on our work, so when we got the first ‘balances,’ our minds were blown by how much life Glen was able to breathe into the recording with his skill and gear.

With the mix in hand, I consulted a heavyweight producer in L.A. who I had become friends with over the internet. He was the one who recommended Andy VanDette for the mastering of the album. This was a no-brainer, and in August 2010 our debut album entered Masterdisk for 5 hours, and left ready for the world.

What kind of pre-production did you do, if any?

For our first album, pre-production was really centered around arrangement. We worked at our rehearsal space to get everything tightened up so we could be super-efficient when we were recording later. We did that for the Rubber Tracks recording as well, and it was even more important because of the way we recorded there compared to our first album. I have a nice little project setup at home with an M-Audio Profire 2626 and we laid down the tunes with a drum machine and recorded all the parts one by one into Ableton Live on my computer. It was very bare-bones. From a personal standpoint, it was that pre-production process at my house in 2009 that really gave me the bug to want to learn all I can about mixing, mastering and production in general.

How did you guys hook up with Converse?

When we released our album, we did all we could to publicize it. Converse Music Blog heard our album and decided to do a writeup on it and an interview with Mick from the band. When it was published, and I went to read it, I noticed on their site all the ads for their brand new recording program at Rubber Tracks in Brooklyn. I clicked the links and ended up signing us up an a whim. I specifically remember saying to the guys that I signed us up for this thing that would be amazing, but it’s probably a massive long-shot. Which it was, because a TON of artists signed up for it. When the email came in saying we were accepted, we just could not believe it. We’re always working on new stuff, so we had great material ready to go, And not only that, they were bringing in CNN and MTV to follow us through our 2-day session at the studio. [Check out the Converse video story at CNN/Money.]

What was the recording experience like there?

As far as approaches to recording goes, this experience at Rubber Tracks was a complete 180 degree turn from how we recorded our debut album. Our album took about a year-and-a-half to track, mix and master. At rubber tracks we had 2 days to record and mix 3 full songs. An ambitious endeavor to say the least! We put most of the music down live off the floor on the first day, and got all the vocals, guitar solos, and mixing finished on day two. This studio that Converse has is as world-class as it gets. Brand new API console, Fairchilds, Neves and all the goodies anyone could ever dream of. Tons of incredible instruments to choose from thanks to Guitar Center. Our engineer was Grammy-winning Geoff Sanoff, a real heavy hitter, and he is someone we would want to work with again any day. He really understood what we were going for and has the coolest and calmest demeanor, absolutely necessary for the pressure cooker we had been thrown into. Aaron Bastinelli is Rubber Tracks’ in-house engineer and a genius in his own right, and he acted as Mr. Sanoff’s right hand the entire time. Between him and Mr. Sanoff, we were in insanely capable hands, and we could really just focus on performance and leave the production to the masters. We left Rubber Tracks and came straight across town the next day to have Andy VanDette perform the mastering duties. Recording, mixing and mastering in the span of 3 days was a thrill of a lifetime. Definitely unforgettable.

Back to your first album — did you do the promotion yourselves or did you have help?

PR is a tough game. We hired the best publicist available for the budget we had at the time, and she turned out to do an amazing job. I’d recommend this approach to anyone. The press contacts that I have made over the years are great, but we’d have never come close to the same reach without some professional 3rd party help. The expense paid for itself and then some, to say the least. Of course, there’s never a guarantee of success when a publicist is brought in, so we were lucky that we had great songs that were recorded mixed and of course mastered to a level of world-class sound. All of this can be daunting to a band doing this for the first time, but if you dig really hard then affordable solutions are always waiting. My mantra for finding the right people to work with was this: irrespective of budget, start at the top and work your way down until you find someone that fits your budget. That way you’l get the best people to work with possible without selling yourself short. You’ll always be surprised by the amazing people that will come to your aid if you have the balls to ask.

Have all of the Converse tunes been released now?

So far, we’ve released two out of the three songs we recorded at Rubber Tracks as digital singles (on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, etc). We released “Pearson” in January and “Hannah” in March. The third single is called “No Surprise” and we’re going to put it out sometime soon. We have very cool ideas for the third release, which will most likely include a physical manifestation but the plans are still under wraps. I definitely know that when the time comes, you guys will be the first to know.

Excellent! Well, my final question is about the future of First You Get the Sugar. What are your plans?

The part of this job that I love the most is that in the spaces between our deliberate plans, amazing surprises pop up. All along with this band, I’ve found that if we keep pushing forward with baby steps, we keep growing. Especially looking back on the last year, we have made amazing strides, so many great things have happened that I could have never predicted. It’s really exciting to think about the year ahead and all that it might bring with it.

Tell me about your upcoming gigs.

We’re playing this Friday, June 15 at the NXNE festival in Toronto. Our set is at 8pm as part of the Converse City Carnage Showcase series at The Wrongbar. It’s going to be an insane night, we’re sharing the bill with Uncle Bad Touch, DZ Deathrays, the Death Set and Bass Drum Of Death.

In the Fall, we’ll be back in Toronto for Indie Week, and we are really hoping to be a part of CMJ in New York this fall too. Somewhere along the way this year, it would also be great to get back into a studio and record all the new material we’ve been working on.


Visit First You Get the Sugar online: http://www.firstyougetthesugar.com/

First You Get the Sugar on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/FirstYouGetTheSugar

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Getting the Most Out of Your Medium: Mastering for Vinyl in the Digital Age, Part 1

So I’m sitting down with a client friend today. He has a concept EP that he’s been working on for the past couple of months, but now it’s ready to go. As we sit and chat before the session I figure out he’s looking to do a vinyl as well as digital release. Things just got more interesting for me.

Photo of Alex DeTurk
Alex with a project he cut for the Luaka Bop label.
Unfortunately for the the ones footing the bill, it’s common knowledge (or at least it should be) that the CD master doesn’t always make the best cut. And he wants a nice hot CD master. Not only that, but my friend had done all his tracking and mixing at 24bit 96k. Sounds like a perfect time to suggest doing two different mastering passes. One will be the loud 16bit 44.1 CD/dig release, the other a full dynamic/depth interpretation at high resolution 24bit 96k. Sweeet. Turns out the label will pay for it: great.

After touching on all the finer points of mastering we get to work. I do the CD version first. After each transfer I work out a different vinyl-centric approach and print at high res. On this project I’m looking to get out of any squashed digital peak limiting, though I’m still using some analouge hard limiting for feel, really to get that kick drum right. I also tend to change the EQ once the material is brought back from the brink of converter/limiter annihilation. Sometimes the annihilation is doing a good thing, in this case it was making the high freq crunchy and present, so I brought up a bit more of the highs to reflect this in the vinyl transfer. Also the bass changes when you pull it back too, the dynamics of it, in this case too much, so pulling out a little more in the low end helped keep things feel balanced. Onwards we go EQing the EP down in parallel.

Had this been an LP, I would have approached the CD and vinyl mastering in two separate sessions. The process would become exhausting over the course of a full length album. But in the case of a shorter program like this one, it’s great to give the client immediate feedback on what the vinyl would sound like.

Now I’m checking out the potential side lengths and formulating my best release format. Hmmmm, a 12 and 14 min side. Could be a 10″ at 33 1/3 or, yes, my favorite 12″ 45 rpm. Maximum disk diameter means less inner band distortion. High speed 45 rpm keeps the groove geometry nice and open, extended high freq response. Great, awesome. The 14 min side is a bit consistently loud, so we may have to cut the level back a dB or two – but it’s well worth it for the 12″ 45.

We’re done for the day. My client takes a reference home to check it out – and loves it. If he wanted to change anything, I would have had to change both EQs — so it’s especially good that we nailed it on the first pass.

Continued in Part 2.

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Ellen Fitton on Mastering the Motown Catalog

Around the same time that Vlado Meller and Mark Santangelo came on board the Masterdisk roster in September 2011, another mastering engineer — perhaps more low-key but no less impressive — joined the team: Ellen Fitton.

Ellen has worked for some of the top studios in the New York area: Right Track, Atlantic, The Hit Factory, Sony Music Studios and most recently, Universal Mastering Studios-East. She learned so much about engineering in her early days at Atlantic Studios, working with legendary producer Arif Mardin, and his long time engineer Michael O’Reilly. Years later she would continue to refine her skills recording classical music, working with the late Bud Graham, and producers Steve Epstein and David Frost.

Complete Motown Singles Vol 6In her last position at Universal, Ellen’s main focus was the restoration of the famed Motown catalog. Her work on The Complete Motown Singles box set series gave her the rare opportunity to remaster every (yes every) A and B side ever released on the Motown label, from its beginnings in 1959, through its heyday, and ending with the hits of 1972. This work, which was released on the Hip-O Select label, won her a MOJO award in 2007. Ellen was also nominated for a Grammy for her work on Sony’s 100 Years Soundtrack for a Century box set.

I sat down with Ellen and asked her about her experience with Motown.

JB: Thanks for taking a moment to discuss your work on the Motown catalog. If you don’t mind, I’ll get right down to it: the sources! What did you use for these archival releases?

Photo of Ellen Fitton
Ellen Fitton
EF: The goal was always to get as close to the original master as possible: the original 2 track or mono masters. If they weren’t available — or if the master was damaged or missing, we’d use whatever the next best source was. But I had the original masters for most songs.

JB: And what was the condition of the tapes?

EF: They used Scotch tape, so overall they held up well. Though there were some years that fared better than others — primarily due to how much action the tapes saw. The main challenge was finding the correct master versions. Luckily I had a great team of Motown historians to work with, who understood the cataloging system of that era. Motown had an usual way of storing their masters. There wasn’t a dedicated artist on each reel like we have today — there would be many artists masters co-mingling on the same reel. Often multiple versions of a given song as well.

JB: That’s unusual!

EF: Definitely. They were very cost conscious, I think. Tape was expensive so they wanted to use every inch. When the master was done, one copy went to the plant, and another was kept in-house. These in-house masters (called DM’s for Duplicate Master) were very unusual configurations. Initially, they used a half-inch 3 track tape running at 7.5 ips. They would print on track 1 from top to bottom (different artists and songs), and then they would go back and do the same thing on tracks 2 and 3 until the reel was full. Imagine what the label on each reel looked like! I had never seen anything like this before.

The Complete Motown Singles Vol 1In later years, when they had stereo masters, I might find a mono master on track 1, and the stereo master on 2 and 3. Often the mono track would be at 7.5 ips but the stereo tracks would be at 15 ips. All on the same reel, it was pretty crazy.

JB: Did you do a lot of processing for the CD releases?

EF: No, very little. A primarily analog chain — with Sontec EQs, minimal compression — and then we’d do a 96 kHz conversion. Sometimes I would do a little digital work, but not always. And then we’d re-capture at 44.1khz.My goal was always to stay true to “the sound” of the period, using the technology to restore it so that it could be heard through today’s equipment the way it was meant to be back then.

JB: What was it like listening to every Motown single? Are you an expert now?

EF: It was like listening to history being made, it was amazing to see the progression. And, in terms of how to handle that catalog, I guess I’m probably one of the foremost experts at this point! (laughs)


Contact Ellen at ellen@masterdisk.com or, to book a session, contact booking manager Peter Cho at peter@masterdisk.com.
Read more about Ellen on her page at the Masterdisk site.
Check out the Motown box sets at Hip-O Select.
Reviews of the Complete Motown Singles sets at Pitchfork.

Sleeper Agent CD and Artwork Giveaway on Facebook

We’re having a contest over at our Facebook page! In cooperation with Mom+Pop Records and Rolling Stone “band to watch” Sleeper Agent, we’ll be giving away 5 copies of the band’s new CD “Celabrasion,” each with a numbered, hand made (and in some cases, signed) 11×17″ poster!

The Masterdisk Facebook page: facebook.com/masterdisk

Sleeper Agent is a young band from Kentucky who play an ecstatic brand of rock-pop. Spin magazine called their album “Celabrasion” “a dozen deliriously catchy gems… it’s the sound of high fives and Maker’s Mark spilling from the speakers.”

Celabrasion was mastered at Masterdisk by Matthew Agoglia. In the video, Matt discusses the process of mastering the album and his approach to mastering in general.

To enter to win one of the 5 CD/poster packages, all you have to do is to name your favorite energetic rock/pop song — from any era — and the artist that recorded it in the comments on the Facebook post. We’ll choose 5 winners at random on Thursday, 11/10 at 1 p.m. (New York time). At the end of the contest I’ll create a Spotify playlist with all the song entries.

These are the posters we’re giving away:
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Facebook Vinyl Giveaway: Javelin’s “Canyon Candy” EP

Head on over to the Masterdisk Facebook page to enter to win a copy of the limited edition vinyl 10″ release of Javelin’s Canyon Candy on the Luaka Bop label!

Photo of the Canyon Candy label
Canyon Candy Side B
Photo of Scott Hull with Canyon Candy
Mastering engineer Scott Hull with Canyon Candy in the Masterdisk back lounge.
Photo of Alex DeTurk with Javelin's Canyon Candy
Cutting engineer Alex DeTurk with Canyon Candy in front of the lathe.
photo of the Canyon Candy runoff groove with Masterdisk stamp.
Note the MASTERDISK stamp in the deadwax and Alex's initials to the right.

The Cuddle Magic All-Analog Vinyl Project

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/

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Scott Hull on the New Sting Box Set “25 Years”

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.

Image of Sting box set 25 Years
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.

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Masterdisk Presents: ZELAZOWA

Masterdisk Presents is a new blog series spotlighting some of the incredible artists we work with. Each episode will be a behind-the-scenes look at all the different aspects of music making in the new “Indie” music industry, focusing on the technical, creative and business decisions of the artists. We’re thrilled to celebrate these artists and we hope that you will find the insights into their motivations and methods interesting and useful.


This Masterdisk Presents post features New York-by-way-of-Philly band ZELAZOWA, whose new album Love is Lunacy was recently mastered by Matt Agoglia.

As Matt put it, “Love is Lunacy is a strong record, with great songs and performances — and it was recorded and mixed really well too. The kicker is how they have woven some of their musical influences through the record while keeping the sound fresh and exciting. It’s a record that you can listen to and discover a new layer with each spin.”

I spoke with ZELAZOWA’s lead singer and guitarist Bryan Weber, as well as recording and mix engineer Steve LaFashia, via email.

BRYAN WEBER – ZELAZOWA LEAD SINGER AND GUITARIST

Masterdisk: Hi Bryan. Give me a little background on the band.

Bryan: ZELAZOWA came together as a band around 2000. The four of us basically grew up together in the suburbs of Philadelphia and were always playing music together in some capacity. Kyle (the lead guitarist) is my younger brother, Terry (the drummer) is one of my oldest friends, and Ian (the bass player) is actually Terry’s cousin who I met years ago. It wasn’t until we officially created ZELAZOWA though and struck out on the road that things really started rolling (in my personal opinion). Since 2006 we’ve pretty much been touring all over the U.S. and Europe, releasing our own records, and having a ton of fun along the way. We even made it into this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue for our song “You Say Love”, which is pretty cool. [“Say You Love” was chosen as the official song for the 2011 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue online video teaser. You can view it here. -JB] Continue reading “Masterdisk Presents: ZELAZOWA”