Culver City, CA—September 2017…Eric Boulanger has earned so many A-list engineering credits we won’t even try to list them. The multiple GRAMMY winning mastering (and sometimes mixing) engineer and studio violinist got his professional start as an intern at Capitol Studios in Hollywood, mentored by the legendary producer/engineer Al Schmitt. Schmitt, in turn, guided Boulanger to the next stage of his career, working for mastering engineer Doug Sax of The Mastering Lab, whom Schmitt called “the greatest mastering engineer in the world.” There, in addition to mastering records, Boulanger designed and maintained the main studio, designed and built the Mastering Lab’s Ojai vinyl mastering room, and absorbed Sax’s methods and mastering philosophy.
After Sax’s death in 2015, Boulanger carried on his legacy, founding The Bakery, located on the Sony Pictures Studio lot in Culver City. One of his first moves was to acquire a Manley Massive Passive Stereo Equalizer. “It was a very quick but easy decision,” Boulanger recalls. “We had a Manley Massive Passive for awhile in The Mastering Lab, and it was used a bunch, so I had experience with it already, and I knew it was a great place to start.”
For years, EveAnna Manley had invited Boulanger to come visit her factory in Chino. “It was bittersweet because it was right after Doug passed,” shares Boulanger, “but finally we had an excuse to visit. I went to Chino and saw the place. It’s just incredible, everything that goes on there, especially the technology and the attention to detail.”
At the time, Boulanger was racing to finish The Bakery. “Following Doug’s passing, I had to get up and working very quickly,” he confirms. “I don’t know how I did it but the Mastering Lab closed in June, and I built the new studio, moved in, and was working on projects in August. I barely remember any of it because I didn’t have a chance for it to sink in.” Under the circumstances, finding immediate cash for equipment was a challenge. “EveAnna helped me get on my feet,” he recollects. “She said ‘take anything you want and pay me in a year. I know where you live.’ It’s very rare to find that sort of trust.”
The Massive Passive was one of the few EQs, and for that matter, one of the few pieces of manufactured gear that Boulanger tested for The Bakery. In the end, it proved to be unique. “The Massive Passive is the only piece of analog gear in my studio that I have not messed with, which says a lot because I get inside everything. In fact, my speakers are the only other things that are close to stock. Except for the Massive Passive, I built every piece of analog processing in the studio from scratch. But I have not modified the Massive Passive at all.”
Like most mastering engineers, Boulanger employs a short signal chain to avoid signal degradation and keep the job as simple as possible. “My signal path is more simple than most because the fastest point between point A and point B is a straight line,” he avers. “But on the analog side, there’s nothing conventional about my studio or design—which is kind of like my personality, I suppose. The part of my signal chain that you hear on records—I’m not talking about the monitoring chain—I designed so I can ergonomically run three parallel chains at matched level. I can process things 100 percent analog, and at the flick of a switch I can compare with what it sounds like processing 100 percent digital. At a flick of the same switch, I can compare what it sounds like using a mixture of the two.”
Boulanger is well aware that many people think mastering is a black art. “It’s not like we use anything different from a mixer or recording engineer,” he observes. “We work with gain, EQ, compression, limiting, reverb.” So why do people think it’s a black art? “What you’re paying for is perspective. It seems so simple that no one wants to believe that’s the difference between a mastering engineer and the mixer or recording engineer. For example, let’s say a recording engineer works on a new album for an artist; tracking could take something like six months. The mix engineer is probably going to take about a month. I master an album a day. I don’t live with projects for an extended period, so I have a fresh perspective. The mastering engineer also gains a lot of experience because we’re working on more projects than anyone else. But it isn’t a mysterious black art.”
For Boulanger, the Manley Massive Passive isn’t a mystery either; it’s a familiar friend. But it does deliver the sort of magic he seeks from a foundational piece of gear. “Get the Massive Passive,” he asserts, “and you can start working right there and then. It’s a great piece.”