Bernie Grundman-the engineer and the facility-has been synonymous with quality mastering for more than 30 years. Avuncular and quietly authoritative about so many aspects of sound, Grundman cut his mastering teeth during the 15 years he ran the mastering department at A&M Records, Los Angeles. He has become an icon in the industry since opening his own facility in 1983, and with current mastering associates Chris Bellman and Brian Gardner, he has built up a client list that includes many of the music industry's elite, such as Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Ry Cooder, Quincy Jones, Kenny G, Ani DiFranco, Dr. Dre, Alanis Morissette, Heavy D and Joni Mitchell. A number of producers and engineers-including Quincy Jones, Bruce Swedien and Glen Ballard, to name but a few-have come to regard Grundman and his associates as critical to their record-making process.
Grundman respects the way in which the professional audio industry has evolved and progressed but has never found off-the-shelf technology solutions satisfactory. The three consoles are all custom-designed, single-ended discrete pieces of equipment with no active or passive isolation devices-a simple and direct signal path is the operative philosophy, and that extends to the custom-built signal processing and custom-configured Tannoy components in the monitoring systems in the four mastering suites.
"The whole point is to put as little in the way of electronics into the sound as possible," explains Grundman, who began his career with the jazz label Contemporary Records after arriving in Los Angeles from Phoenix in the 1960s. The same goes for his aesthetic approach: "We don't try to impose our musical sensibilities on the client. But we do try to use our musical experience to get inside the client's dreams."
In May 1997, Grundman opened a mastering studio in Tokyo based around the talents of engineer Yazman Maeda. It seems to be working-last year the facility was represented on 22% of all records on the Japanese charts. And both the Hollywood and Tokyo locations will be undergoing significant expansions this year: Designed by Grundman with partner Karl Bischof and with additional input from fellow technical wizard Beno May, each of the facilities will be adding a 5.1 surround-capable room, with a 6-bus custom console and 24-bit/96kHz capability for DVD-Audio recordings.
At the same time, however, the Hollywood facility's Scully lathes remain quite active, continuing Grundman's tradition of covering all the major formats with the same degree of quality and attention to detail. "The trick is to give the client the highest degree of quality but to do so with a minimum of processing and a minimum of artistic coloration," says Grundman. "We accomplish that with a combination of clean electronics and an open mind."