This page is a mastering engineer question and answer session with Barry Gardner.
you give me a biog about yourself, how and why you got into music, a bit about your history?
always been an avid listener to music since I was in my teens, I was fascinated by black music and loved to listen to pirate
radio stations, I was completely in awe of the music the pirates played, soul, house, electro, hip hop, rare grooves. I worked
in finance initially and knew pretty soon this was not going to be for me. I enrolled on an audio course and passed the course
fairly easily. I started work in a recording studio that had a DDA desk working as an assistant engineer with all that entails.
Whilst it was a learning experience I could not sustain myself financially so had to go back and do temp work elsewhere to
earn a crust. Then I applied for paid work experience at a radio production company and got the job after a grueling interview.
After 3 months the company was still very busy and I was kept on for 6 months and then was made permanent staff. I was trained
in house by a former BBC studio manager. Within 4 years I was mixing many BBC radio programmes and recording music sessions
for broadcast. My manager left and I was appointed head of engineering and continued to widen my experiences in broadcast
and music recording. At the time I was managing two other skilled audio engineers. I have been very fortunate and have recorded
quite a few big named artists along with some major outside broadcasts (Brits, Mobo's), it was a very privileged position
to be in. The highlight was really the music recordings which were largely done direct to stereo (sometimes with a multi track
back up) You need to have an ear for balance and get a good sound together quickly, pressurizing but great fun at the same
How and why did you get into mastering?
I was asked to do a job
by my boss, I was a little apprehensive at first knowing the requirements. A job came in working with Pogues producer
David Coulter recording 8 or 9 buskers, 6 of which would be released on a vinyl run. I had to record the musicians in the
daytime with David producing and pre master the tracks for a vinyl release in my home studio in the evening. I was pretty
stressed out but I managed it all and it was a very successful arts project. I impressed myself and started to look into the
techniques of mastering and realized all the years balancing concerts for the BBC broadcast of Jazz on 3 in SADiE (DAW) had
stood me in good stead. I had to fit the dynamics of jazz concerts into that of FM radio and so fader rides, intro and outro
fades, adding and editing applause and balancing commercial and live track levels for 4 years or so had really honed my skills.
I did not know how this would feed into mastering until later on when I voluntarily left my full time job to go freelance.
This gave me freedom to focus my attention on the work I was beginning to love whilst supporting myself with freelance work
in broadcast, post production and music recording. SafeandSound Mastering as name grew from a catchy audio forum
name I had given myself and over 3 or 4 years I have built it up and it has become my main source of income. I cannot turn
down the occasional Jazz recording session though, I still love recording and afterall it feeds nicely into mastering in my
opinion keeps your chops together.
Which high profile artists and tracks have you worked
on and describe how these went?
Well in my history as a recording/broadcast engineer I have been very
fortunate having recorded, Ronnie Wood, Lemar, Craig David, The Rumblestrips, The Coral, The Hoosiers, Chick Corea,
Kano, Avishai Cohen, Incognito, Martha Tilsden, Terry Callier, Amp Fiddler, Billy Cobham, Marshall Allen and SunRa's
Arkestra and quite a few others. All these recordings went very well I had the support of a fantastic and highly professional
production team. I am still very thankful to be able to have been exposed to such artists, it has been wonderful.I recently
mastered an album for Robin Beck an artist who was very big in the 1980's, classic power ballad rock and very well executed.
I had to produce mastering previews for the producer/mix engineer and create a few changes to the versions over a very short
period of time, the mix engineer was in Florida so the time difference made for long hours but it was a buzz and I was very
into the work. Paul White is a hip hop/electronic artist whose work has a really interesting lo fi sound, quite challenging
for an engineer to work with and yet very exacting. The job was difficult in the sense that every track had to cross fade
into each other and the track start I.D.s were at very specific points in the intro of the tracks, the actual sonic work was
matched in complexity by the PQing work ! I also mastered an album under a fairly short time frame for Scott Matthews who
is signed to San Remo records. It was a pleasure from start to finish to work with the people there and I really enjoyed the
What is the most common problem you encounter with an unmastered track and why do you think
There are a few common issues, clipping, too much or not enough bass, tracks that are delivered
with a limiter on and clicks in files. Clipping comes from not understanding digital audio metering and it's relationship
between electrical level and that which would have been a typical nominal level on an SSL or NEVE desk. Remember 0Vu
is approximately equivalent to -14dBFS so at 24 bit resolution there is no need to push levels much higher when recording
or mixing. The bass issue is simply because it is very difficult to get a neutral response below 300Hz in an acoustically
untreated room so it becomes very easy to misjudge bass content. Limiters can easily be removed and chances are most mastering
engineers will have a selection to choose one that suits the music. Like all audio devices, limiters have a different sound
and the mastering engineer can choose one most suitable to the material and the level required. Clicks can come from the export/bounce
process or just bad edits.
How does a typical mastering process work?
really isn't a typical mastering job as any processing is dependent on the music at hand. What is typical would be listening
at a decent volume level, around 80dB SPL, eq adjustments, possibly compression and not necessarily for the gain reduction
but for a tone, consideration of stereo image. Then depending on my instruction from the client I would be considering trade
offs between level and punch, thinking about the genre of music and what does the track allows vs reference to it's peers
in the genre, considering what the artists has suggested as pointers on how the music should sound and comparison against
supplied references. At all times it's about presenting the music in it's best light, enhancing and ensuring the music
can translate as best as possible given the mix. Sometimes there is less to do and sometimes there is more to do.
Can you supply a step-by-step action plan of how you master a track?
It might sound evasive but that
is very difficult. Why? Because it really is different for every piece of music. To generalize you first need to have accurate
reference monitors that you trust and know. Then you must be operating in a well controlled acoustic, otherwise you could
be guessing, mastering is not a place for guesswork. As a mastering engineer you need to be sure of your tools and environment.
To cover the processes that could be used in any given track I would typically use listening at around 80dB SPL, eqing, compressing,
possibly M/S adjustment, stereo width enhancement (which could involve reducing width), DA/AD conversion, volume automation,
automation of filters or eq, fades, SRC, dithering, bit rate conversion and listening back for QC .In some cases I would use
noise reduction, click removal software or manual click removal.
What do you think the future
holds for online mastering?
Personally I think it has a great future. It is convenient, the client
remains in control and it generally is not as expensive. I think there is a slight danger of some "mastering engineers"
abusing the situation, there are many graphics and text only based sites popping up which do not list gear, recent clients,
engineering background for these sites the future will not be so rosy because musicians and producers are clued up. People
know when something is not quite right. There will always be a place for quality control and improvement so I am very happy
to be working as an online mastering studio.
Why do people use your services rather than other people’s?
Ah..... blow your own trumpet time ! Well I have been fortunate in that I have had a wide exposure to the
many varying tasks in audio engineering such as direct to stereo recording of a lot of well known artists. This gives me a
very well rounded take on things. So audio engineering experience counts for a lot which helps with making good judgements,
clients notice that quickly. In direct terms, experience, equipment and pricing matter as well. When it comes to communications
I tend to treat people with similar respect, whether they are a well known artist or someone who is just starting out. I am
also obsessed with audio often working long hours and I think that makes people feel they are a priority.
Do you have any top insider tips or tricks to enable people to master their own tracks?
I do, you
must have accurate monitoring and acoustics otherwise there is no basis for action. It's a fact that unless you know what
is in a mix or file then it is very difficult to improve or even assist it's translation to many different reproduction
systems. Mastering is the one area within in audio engineering where DIY culture cannot apply.
What are your
thoughts on the loudness debate? Should we be trying to lower volumes and why?
My stance is that it
is genre dependent, I would never condone bad sounding audio for the sake of loudness. I approach these things with common
sense. An Indian classical music cd is not going to benefit from being heavily limited, nor will an acoustic folk based album.
A heavy rock track can be tastefully limited. Limiting is not all bad it has some good attributes, but it does require good
judgement and reproduction systems capable of showing up the signs of distortion and loss of transients early. I think genre
sympathetic, tasteful processing sums it up.
What have you got planned for the near future?
More mastering work on many different types of music. It is very dynamic being a mastering engineer, you honestly do not
know what is coming up next and I am never booked up for months in advance. I have a rock project from Italy, there are usually
a few drum and bass and dubstep projects in the pipeline with my regular label clients and I am working with some Bhangra
labels now which is great. There are always albums and E.P's in the pipeline and long may that continue.
Can you supply a list of your favourite gear?
PMC IB1 Monitors (these are wonderful speakers, the
bass is incredibly accurate and they are truly high definition)
Dynaudio Acoustics BM6P (I have used
these throughout my engineering careeer and they are very valuable)
Hand Crafted Labs - VARiS Vari Mu compressor
Summit Audio DCL-200 Valve compressor
Custom stereo ganged mastering eq inspired by SONTEC circuit.
TC Electronic 2240HS analogue equalizer (heavily modified)
Customized MOSFET power amplifier (250W RMS per side)
Plextor 700 series CD burners. (the ultimate in mastering grade disk creation)
SADiE Version 5 (High end professional PQ editing workstation for disk creation)
Ozone 4 (dither
"What is audio mastering?"
fact : Some online mastering studios offer free preview mastering so you can be assured
of the quality, click the link below to visit SafeandSound Mastering and get your free preview.