Coast Mastering and Kenny Wayne Shepherd in Atmos

Congratulations to Kenny Wayne Shepherd on the release of the Blu-Ray edition of his new record The Traveler! Michael worked with Eric “ET” Thorngren to mix the song in his Immersive/Atmos room at Coast Mastering. Once they completed the mixes together, Michael mastered the final release for Blu-Ray that will include the Dolby Atmos 11.1 (7.1.4) version, as well as a 5.1 surround, a Dolby Binaural headphone version, and the high res stereo release of the the album mix. The release date is set for August 30th.

IsoAcoustics' new product: The Gaia Titans

I've always been impressed with IsoAcoustics' products, using them at home, in the studio, and taking them with me on location. I've most recently been using their new product, the Gaia Titans, which have exceeded my expectations.  The Titans decouple my speakers from the floor, which serves to remove unwanted resonances -- resonances that could otherwise cause timing issues and cloud the "presentation".

Check out this video below discussing listening and how the Gaia Titans are fundamental to enhancing that process.

All the very best to Dave Morrison and his family at Iso-Acoustics!

Six Pre-Mastering tips and an SPL Phonitor 2

Big Thank You to Warren and his team at Produce Like A Pro for coming up and spending the day at the studio. We had some great discussions and some good laughs. It was fun to hang and wax philosophically and do what I would call “hang out on Tangent Ranch".” This is the shorter video that is all about a few pre-mastering tips. And of coarse, a chance to be the proud owner of the excellent SPL Phonitor headphone amp. In the longer, more conversational video, which I will post in another blog, We talked about music, touched on some things including some past career highlights and favorite gear. And even a few soapboxes of mine. Here are Six Pre-Mastering Tips (but there are more buried in the video comments!).

Also a big thanks to SPL for donating one of their fantastic Phonitor 2 Headphone Amps to a lucky entrant! Full video on the way.


Guest Review on Mix Magazine: Review: SPL DMC Console, MC16 Monitor Control

Earlier this month I took the time to review two of SPL’s offerings: the DMC Console and the MC16 Monitor Controller. Take a look at my thoughts on the gear HERE, and see below for an excerpt from the review:


SPL has made a very thoughtful, excellent sounding modular console core and ancillary components for almost any studio situation. And they have done so while holding to their exacting sonic standard that appeals to audio professionals at the highest level. I’m very happy to have been part of the process of bringing the user side requirements to the design stage, and I’m even happier to have the finished product in my studio. 


Fantasy Studios Closing

First,  perhaps a bit of clarification, Coast Mastering is not affected by this change. And, as far as I am aware, the same goes for all of the other tenants in this complex. Yes, The building is being sold. But any business in the building is still covered by the terms of their respective leases. So Coast Mastering is still open for business and thriving. Fantasy Studios in owned by the building owners (Wareham Properties) and not a separate company. So their selling of the building also includes the studio. 

Coast Mastering will continue to provide the highest level of professional and comprehensive mastering services available. Serving the Bay Area and beyond for 25 years and many thousands of records.

We are deeply saddened to hear the news about the closing of the Bay Area's iconic Fantasy Studio. There have been so many fantastic and influential records recorded in this Berkeley landmark. Far too many to count. And, so many amazing artists, engineers and producers from all over the world have passed through the studio doors creating sonic masterpieces. We will miss the vibe, energy and creativity of the multi room facility. Sadly, multi room studio facilities are fading away. Off into the sunset of a different era. That is very unfortunate. Having a sense of community and a center for creative interaction is, in my opinion, a very necessary part of a thriving musical scene. It's heartbreaking to see another facility see its end.

We also must say thank you and be appreciative of everyone who works, or has worked at Fantasy. It has always been an extremely professionally run facility. All the best in the future to everyone at the studio. Fantasy Studios will be greatly missed!


Happy Listening

AES Restoration Conference June 28-30 , 2018

I am very much looking forward to the Audio Engineering Society Restoration Conference in Culpeper Virginia This weekend. I will be participating with Chuck Ainlay, Konrad Strauss and Maureen Droney as we talk about the P&E Wing Recommendations and Best practices to make sure that projects move forward from inception to completion. With the idea that engineers and producers are well prepared and thinking ahead for long term usage and future proofing of their projects.  There will be so many very smart people helping to educate on proper archival and restoration technics, preservation and storage. Way too many to list in this post. But they are indeed the best of the best. See more information here.

Putting Your Best Foot Forward: The Case for Hiring a Specialist

Today’s music business demands a lot from artists: To be successful, it’s not enough to be talented; musicians need to have a working understanding of everything from songwriting to marketing. Artists have vast resources at their disposal, and there’s no question that they can do things that were likely once financially and technically out of their reach.

But it’s important to have perspective on your strengths and limitations, and to recognize when a dedicated specialist can help take your art and career to the next level. Whether or not you subscribe to the “10,000-hour rule” popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, we can all agree that there are no instant experts. A specialist is someone who has invested a lot of time and energy cultivating expertise in a specific discipline; it’s someone who offers focus, advanced skills, and deep knowledge; and who works in a dedicated environment, with specialized tools.

Working with a specialist in the music business can go a long way toward putting your best foot forward. It's making sure that you as an artist are able to put out the truest representation of yourself and the art you're trying to convey: The music, the message, the vibe, the feel, the sound, and the experience you want your listeners to have.

You wouldn’t want a general practitioner or jack of all trades performing a very specific process or procedure: If you're getting your car serviced, you wouldn’t want to take it to a tire shop if you needed a new head gasket. If you need your taxes done, you wouldn’t just hire anyone with basic math skills and no experience with tax codes. And you certainly wouldn’t hire a foot doctor to perform open-heart surgery.


When people listen to your music, they're probably not paying attention to the process behind the recording. They don’t care how much time or money you spent making your record; all they care about is whether they like it or not. How does your music make them feel? Does it sound good? Do they want to dig in, or move on?

That’s why, when you’re making a record, you always want to work with somebody who is a specialist in his or her field, who understands your work, and who knows how to get your musical message across.

When it comes to your art, you never want to compromise or put out something half-hearted, because that's how you’ll be presented. Remember, once it’s out there, it’s out there. It’s how people perceive you. It’s the same when it comes to your masters. You want to make sure that your masters are prepared by someone who understands the manufacturing and distribution process. For example, if you're making LPs, you want the person cutting your lacquers to be knowledgeable, experienced, someone who understands the art form—not just the mechanics, but the art itself.

Every format requires a deep understanding of the requirements of that particular format. Whether you’re creating surround tracks, high-res audio, downloads, lacquers, CDs, or LPs, just like when you’re recording or mixing, you want to hire a mastering engineer who knows how to help you be more you.

For me, the production process is like a pendulum swinging back and forth between left brain and right brain. Attempting to handle everything yourself, you’ll constantly be going back and forth between the artistic and the technical sides, as the pendulum will never swing very far in either direction. You won’t be getting the most out of the art form, or the technology. I believe you should never compromise on your art if you want to build a successful career.

Your music tells a story—not just through melody and lyrics, but also through sonic context. Everyone who works on your music should be the best that they can be, helping you to be your best, too.




P&E Wing Recommendations for Delivery of Recorded Music: That’s a Mouthful, but It’s Important


As some of you know, I’ve been active in the Recording Academy for a long time. At the national level I’ve served as Trustee, Chair of the Presidents council, and as a co-chair of the national Planning and Governance committee. Locally, I’ve served in positions ranging from governor to president of the board of our San Francisco chapter. As a longtime member of the P&E Wing, it means a lot to me to be able to share knowledge and experience with the recording community and help build solutions for raising the bar for high-quality audio.

So, I was privileged to be part of the team, led by Academy Trustee Jeff Balding, that updated the Producers & Engineers Wing’s new recommendations for the delivery of recorded music projects.

These guidelines, many of which have been in place for some time, have been followed by labels, studios, and other music creators as best practices for ensuring physical recordings are delivered and stored correctly and reliably so that they’re accessible in the long term.

One of the key additions in this new document is a section on recommended file hierarchy and management. It outlines a structure built on international nomenclature for dates, artists, and file locations: where your stems are held, where your high-res files are held, where your masters are, different mix versions, live versions, instrumental versions, etc.

As an industry, particularly in the digital era, we’ve been lax about documentation, which has caused problems with everything from credits to archiving to re-issues to getting paid. These new delivery recommendations offer better ways to document files not only during production, but also in deliverables to labels or artists after the fact.

Crediting documentation is extremely important for a number of reasons. Accurate documentation is key to getting paid, but remember that recordings are also our calling cards as engineers, producers, and musicians.

Including proper documentation within the project folder will mean that moving forward, when people want to look back and find something, they’ll know by its name designation, exactly what it is, and who created it.

The guidelines outline a clear folder hierarchy that covers elements ranging from alternate takes, stem mixes, and LP masters to specific parts such as folders for vocal tunings. There's also great glossary of technical terms and recording technologies.

The document features a section on keying the two-bus compressor—when creating stems, making sure that when you're using a compressor on the master bus, you're not hitting the compressor in the same way as you are with the full mix, but more in a manner that's appropriate for the stem itself. On the P&E recommendations site, there’s even a link where you can grab a set of folder presets to start building projects.

These guidelines give you the tools to organize, deliver, and back up your files to preserve your work for posterity. We hope they’ll become adopted standards moving forward.

The Human Element in Mastering

When Avid and Landr announced a partnership last week, I wasn’t surprised. Production technology gets more affordable and accessible every day, which has opened doors for countless artists and engineers. I’m glad to see the scope of mastering options widen. And we all have to keep up with evolving technology, or we’ll be left behind. 

But at the same time, as a professional mastering engineer, I think it’s vital for artists to understand the differences between these options, and the audience and purpose they serve, and to manage their expectations of the process—whether they choose a professional mastering engineer or a self-mastering algorithm.

First and foremost, music is art, and art is expression. Having a machine do mastering is like having a machine write a song. It’s certainly possible, but how is it going to express emotion?

A song, or an album, can be presented in many ways, sonically, and a mastering engineer provides invaluable insight and guidance on its final direction. Running music through an algorithm to be analyzed and regurgitated is not art. It’s not making music the way it’s intended, from the artist’s point of view.

Context and perspective are key in mastering. For example, you would never make a decision about a microphone, preamp or studio monitor on specs alone, would you? Just considering frequencies would be like arbitrarily making adjustments based on an analyzer telling you which frequencies are there, which levels are there. It has nothing to do with what it sounds like, and nothing to do what it feels like. (And isn’t feeling the whole point?)

Much of mastering is about cohesiveness and translatability of the body of work, not just a collection of songs. Being able to listen and make adjustments to make sure a mix is expressed as intended everywhere it’s played is not something that machines can do; that’s a human touch, and that’s experience. 

Mastering is also about quality control. It’s about identifying potential problems and advising clients. It’s being able to notice that perhaps something might be out of phase in the mix, being able to distinguish between pops and clicks and percussion; it’s knowing a track was mixed on headphones so the vocals are a bit down in the center, and how to handle it…it’s being able to catch these problems ahead of time, so mastering becomes the polishing state rather than the fixative state. 

All of this collaboration helps raise the bar for future work of the artist and the engineers, and elevate the craft. It makes the client look good, it makes the mix engineer look good, it makes everybody look good. Algorithms can’t do that. Machines can’t do that.

Your art was not created by an algorithm. I believe mastering shouldn’t be, either.