The reality of the modern audio industry is that most mastering sessions function the same way: a finished mix is uploaded remotely to the studio and left in the capable hands of an engineer—with guidance on how to proceed. So-called “attended sessions,” where the artist and/or producer sits in during the process, are becoming less commonplace as recording budgets continue to shrink.
Abbey Road online mastering has been available since 2009, allowing anyone in the world access to the experience of its senior mastering team—and the benefit of the legendary studio’s equipment. And now the Website has been revamped to improve communication via a direct-chat interface.
“We really believe communication is key,” says mastering manager Lucy Launder. “People do want interaction. They want to have their say, but they also want to feel that the person who is mastering their project is mastering their project individually, and producing the result specifically for them.”
“We live in a ‘fast-upload’ world,” says Abbey Road mastering engineer Christian Wright. “Everyone—including major labels—sends us their tracks remotely. That’s the wonderful side of online mastering. But I also think it’s really important to have that understanding of what the artist is trying to achieve. What’s right for one person isn’t necessarily right for another, particularly with music. One person might be concerned about volume, another might be very concerned about keeping the dynamics there as much as possible. With that, I think having the connection with the artist is really important.”
Fellow mastering engineer Alex Wharton agrees: “Every job is different, and it’s very subjective, so we really want to work with the client and know exactly what they want. It’s just better to connect with the actual music, and the artist behind it. If I were to smash out something really loud thinking that’s what [the artist] wanted, they might come straight back and say, ‘Why have you done that?’ It’s good to know what people want.”
Our “fast-upload” world has led to many mastering services being offered online. In choosing which one to use, Abbey Road’s Geoff Pesche explains that, “Experience is key in mastering. People don’t care if you wear Air Jordans or your baseball cap sideways. They’re into your perception and your experience about how stuff should sound. The [engineer’s] experience is huge.”
Like the majority of the mastering team at Abbey Road, Pesche has racked up well over 25 years perfecting his craft. That knowledge is being passed down to the more “junior” members like Wharton, who has actually been with Abbey Road for more than 16 years.
Pesche adds: “Mastering is the link between the studio and the factory. It’s the last port of call before you can change anything and raise a flag before the record’s on Amazon, or the CD is out there. Sometimes you have to be a bit of a brave person and say ‘this mix is great’ or ‘this mix is unusable,’ otherwise a robot could sit here and do this. That’s where the experience comes in. The rest of it; what sort of gear you have or what sort of converters you use, that’s personal.”
Gear is personal. But let’s face it, we all have a wish list. Music is about connection. We connect a song to a moment, a sound to a feeling. Inevitably, the discovery that a certain piece of gear created a certain sound—which in turn gave us a certain feeling—creates a desire for that piece of gear. Or at the very least, access to it.
“That’s one of the exciting things about the online mastering,” says Wright. “People know that the outboard their favorite album has gone through is the same outboard their album is going through as well. It’s an exciting thing.”
It’s not just the outboard gear either; most online mastering tracks go through the legendary TG12410 analog desk, specifically developed for Abbey Road by EMI.
“It has an amazing warmth to it and is a really musical desk, so all the EQ is musical and it’s lovely for when you want to get a nice, broad sound,” says Wharton. Of course, a nice broad sound might not work for your music. Point being, says Wharton, just get in touch: “We’re engineers with a lot of experience and all the best gear you can get. It’s not a computer (doing the work). We’re here, with ears.”