Not long ago in this space, we reported that Masterfonics studios had closed, a casualty of the Emerald Entertainment Group's bankruptcy. As Mix has since discovered, we were happily mistaken. In fact, the mastering rooms at Masterfonics have barely changed hands; the “new” faces behind the name Masterfonics are Tommy Dorsey and Jonathan Russell, two staff engineers who have called the facility their home for 13 and seven years, respectively. Dorsey and Russell acquired all of the studio's mastering gear and the Masterfonics name from Voss Development earlier this year.
Masterfonics studio owner/engineers Jonathan Russell (left) and Tommy Dorsey
“We're so glad to have our own business now. It's very exciting, and our clients are excited about it, too,” says chief engineer Dorsey. “We obviously put in a lot more hours dealing with all of the transitional business, but we're glad to be doing it. I think it just adds to the positive momentum.”
Each of the two new owners has retained his own room in the original Tom Hidley-designed facility, each with its own custom mastering console and Kinoshita/Hidley two-way monitors with TAD components. These two mirror-image studios were once at the core of an expanding studio complex; Dorsey and Russell have reverted to a more personal, boutique approach. “Masterfonics started out where the owner was the head mastering engineer, and it's come full-circle,” Dorsey says. “It's very natural and very comfortable this way. This is a service-oriented business, so it only makes sense for us to be deciding what gear to purchase and what decisions are in the clients' best interests — we're on the front lines of all of that.”
Dorsey, a Nashville native, says that personal service has become increasingly important as the music business in town has evolved in general. “For a long time, the industry was so much more label-driven,” he says. “Now that the technology is so much more affordable, it's the producers and engineers who actually approach us as mastering to work on their projects.
“We're in an industry town and we're in the heart of Music Row, so business is extremely competitive,” Dorsey continues. “But at the same time, the only way to survive is to offer a level of personal attention and a personality-oriented vibe that's very comfortable to people, where clients know they're going to have time to make the decisions they need to make. In mastering, that's so crucial because we're making the final tweaks. That's the last time in the world you want to be rushed.”
It's perhaps because of their patient, personal approach that so much work comes to Masterfonics from outside — and inside — Nashville. Both engineers work on styles of music ranging from mainstream pop to hip hop and indie rock, and both have clients all over the country. Russell, for example, masters numerous live recordings for the Dave Matthews Band. (For more on those releases, see this month's “Tour Profile” on page 78.) Dorsey and Russell also say that no matter where their tracks come from, clients are generally checking in with their mastering engineers earlier and earlier in the production process.
“They're coming in or e-mailing files to check in about their mixes,” says Russell, who worked alongside Denny Purcell at Georgetown Masters for seven years before joining Masterfonics in 1999. “A lot of times, if they're working in their living rooms or home studios, they don't necessarily know how it's going to sound. When you're monitoring in home studios, getting the low end can be a crap shoot sometimes.”
And, according to Dorsey and Russell, low end has never been as important to as many types of music as it is now. “In mastering, being fluent in diverse styles of music is the name of the game,” says Russell. “Even on country records now, you hear a lot of low end, which you would normally associate with hip hop and rock records.”
“People are crossing boundaries,” Dorsey agrees. “Country styles are not all alike. The pop market is broadening. There's so much more wide acceptance of different styles that you could call ‘pop.’ That holds true for ‘urban.’ Whereas you used to be able to make so many generalizations about what you needed to listen for in certain genres, now it's really more about getting to know the artist's taste. It's about connecting with the client more than trying to impose some sort of industry-standard construct of what a hip hop record is supposed to sound like.”
During their tenure as staffers at Masterfonics, Dorsey and Russell have amassed a stellar list of clients from across all of those genre boundaries. A small sampling of credits include Rissi Palmer, Kimberley Locke, Young Buck, Alison Moorer, Synonna, LeAnn Rimes, Lil' Wayne, Chingy, Venus Hum, Kylie Minogue and Twista.
“Being in this situation, being at Masterfonics has always given us wonderful exposure,” Dorsey says. “We see so many industry people all the time. Even if it's stuff we're not working on, people bring things in to play for us. That's what's so cool about this location. People come by to share what they're working on, or share their thoughts in terms of mixes or in terms of gear. There's a lot of interaction, and manufacturers come in to let us evaluate their equipment, so we're always testing things. Having been at Masterfonics for this length of time and now being in the stream of everything that's going on as business owners is really a bonus for us and our clients.”
The other rooms within the building that houses Masterfonics Studios will also soon be up and running, as a separately owned commercial recording facility. Mix will share details as they become available.
Send Nashville news to Barbara Schultz at