While the four mastering engineers pictured on this month’s cover are certainly deserving, each with an extensive and stellar body of work, I admit, as I did to them, that I had my reservations. What about Ludwig and Grundman and Sax and Marino? What about Stubblebine, Jensen, Wilder, Meller and Brian “Big Bass” Gardener? All of them Hall of Fame-level mastering engineers, all very active, but none has ever been on a Mix cover. So why these guys?
Maybe it has to do with the fact that I’m a middle child from a large family, and often found myself straddling two generations within my own house. While I leaned toward the ideals of the former, I was definitely enmeshed in both. These four engineers—Michael Romanowski, Gavin Lurssen, Andrew Mendelson and Joe Palmaccio—came of age professionally in the waning years of the mentorship era, then forged their careers at a time when the entire recording industry, primarily because of shrinking budgets and declining sales, abandoned the very model that it was founded on.
So they, and many others like them across the globe, have straddled two eras. The analog age of multiroom studios and engineering staffs, and the emergence of digital dominance and increasing isolation. From the monolithic distribution format of the CD to the brave new world of streaming and download and mobile delivery. Always with a hand in the old and a foot in the new. They are the middle children of mastering. I guess I felt a kinship.
It’s not always easy finding yourself in the middle of two generations, especially when culture in general, and our industry in specific, is undergoing such rapid change. While there is the benefit of wisdom from the past, the future can appear riddled with uncertainty. But that can also be an advantage: Because the future is uncertain, you get to make it up! And because you’ve had the benefit of a mentor, a teacher or an up-close and personal brush with old-school techniques, you have the opportunity to pass that on to the next generation, in a host of new ways. With each new rollover in generations comes great opportunity. If you take advantage of it.
The term “mentoring” is bandied about quite a bit these days in recording, as evidenced by efforts from SPARS, the Recording Academy and countless local and regional organizations seeking to fill the need. Professionals are genuinely looking for new ways to pass on the collective knowledge of an industry, to supplement the learning process that the schools initiate. I’ve found over the past couple of years that the motives are pure; any time a group of like-minded individuals comes together, having attained some level of success, there follows a desire to teach, to tell the world what they’ve learned. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes overt.
Romanowski, Lurssen, Mendelson and Palmaccio each carry a certain swagger in their own way, a coat of confidence, and they should. They are good at what they do, and they put in the hours and hours of hard work necessary to get to this point in their careers. But they all bow down themselves and thank the stars that they stand on the shoulders of giants. They have complete reverence to the Masters of Mastering, and are grateful to those who took the time to teach them and give them the space to learn on their own. But in the here and now, they sometimes find themselves alone in their rooms, doing their work with a combination of classic and modern tools and techniques, looking into the future and wondering, “How do we pass this on?”