Mastering 'Ghost In The Rain' on Christmas Eve
Music can exist only if it reflects the inner life of humanity, not the outer life of its technology.
Christmas eve is usually reserved for last moment chaotic use of credit cards & twisted frantic nerves in preparation for the traditional gathering of family the next day. Not so for me this year; not by intent but external circumstances. I spent the day at Jack the Bear, Deluxe Mastering Melbourne, doing just that, mastering 'Ghost In The Rain' the third Alien Skin album.
Tony Mantz, aka Jack the Bear, also mastered the previous two Alien Skin albums, 'Don't Open Till Doomsday' (2008) and 'The Unquiet Grave' (2010). He's also mastered people like Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Real Life (Imperfection, 2004) and scores of other luminaries.
It seems each instance I arrange to master an album, it's a similar time of year, and Melbourne gets extremely hot and humid at this time, but entering the externally unassuming premises of Deluxe Mastering is like stepping into a different world, and the windowless studio could easily be an air conditioned spaceship, far removed from the planet beneath. I took a photo (below) of the lane way leading to the front door; the loud graffiti almost matches Tony's own colourful, full body tattoo artwork. That's a lot of painful work Tony, but I must say the man is a gentle giant, a gentleman and a top mastering engineer, or I wouldn't return time and again:)
I have always attended the sessions in person, as I feel input from both sides is essential to achieving the best final product. The man knows my work by now and is pretty quick in nailing the masters. For those who aren't quite clear on what mastering actually accomplishes, I'll briefly explain...
Mastering is the final step before an album is ready for CD pressing. Once the individual recordings are mixed, in my case 10 tracks, the mastering process helps shape the audio of each disparate recording with regards to the overall balance of volume, equalization and other details. This ensures the overall work is of a uniform sound from first to last song.
A production master CD is then created which is used to manufacture retail CD's and of course eventually to feed the dreaded digital download market. Included in this are our 'friends' in the illegal supply of our creative and self funded hard work. There's nothing like anonymous stealing, unless You are the victim! And I feel it's such a shame that after all this work, not to mention the artwork, some people still prefer the inferior quality of MP3 downloads.
But, I digress:) ….
As I record and mix in a totally digital domain, I enjoy knowing that Tony's set-up is a combination of digital and analog, meaning 'real world' devices such as analog hardware EQ units, compressors, limiters etc, as opposed to doing it all within computers (don't worry if you don't quite understand, it's not essential). Just be aware that the analog component gives the final audio result a sensual warmth, otherwise missing from solely digital recording/mastering.
Anyhow, after a 5 hour session, which included half an hour to feed ourselves down the street with rather tasty tortillas, we managed to complete the mastering of 10 new Alien Skin songs. I brought along a video camera and filmed part of the session with an old school friend, by chance also called George. I've produced an edited video which I'll present closer to the release of the album. It will feature sections of about 4 or 5 songs as they are being mastered through the massive studio speaker columns. I know you're curious to see it right now, but you'll have to wait a little longer. We still have the New Year to survive through:)
The mastering process has pumped up the tracks and they effortlessly feel as though they belong together as a unit, not just aesthetically, but sonically as well. In due course, during the release of the album, I'll do an audio recording of myself discussing each of the songs from the CD, giving better insight into their creation over the past year or so. This time I remembered to keep some of the handwritten lyrics I scribbled in the process of writing the songs and I'll scan these as photos for you as well. With computers these days, I often just type the lyrics in, but in some cases I do pick up pen and paper:)
It is very difficult for me to be anything more than subjective when listening to my music being mastered on the day, as I've worked alone on it for so long. The songs become little more than nursery rhymes to me. That's the 'occupational hazard' of creating and recording music, and living with it for so long, hearing each song over & over & over till it becomes meaningless. But all in all, I think it's been a job well done and I look forward to having all of you hear it.
Presently, I'm waiting on the completion of the CD album artwork before I can commence sending the package over to the US for manufacture and then set up worldwide distribution. It all takes a lot of waiting time. I'm planning for a February 22nd, 2012 release but I can't guarantee it as so many things can go wrong by then.
Keep checking back for more blog news...and I love to read your comments here as well, hint:)
All the best,