Brad Blackwood mastered the recording of my friend Brandon Herrington's band's Fast Planet at his studio Euphonic Masters. The sonic quality was incredible! His mastering production skills were clearly at work, producing a fine-sounding product that is now available on the market. Brad Blackwood began his professional recording career as a staff engineer at Ardent Studios, Memphis, Tennessee [Tape Op #58]. He gradually gravitated to mastering when he found the precision of product refinement more suited to his particular expertise and interests. Brad was awarded a Grammy for his work on Allison Krauss' Paper Airplane album. Brad has also worked with Maroon 5, Three Days Grace, Korn, Black Eyed Peas, the North Mississippi Allstars and many others. He has received 12 Grammy nominations, two Latin Grammy nominations and 15 Dove Award nominations.
Why are recordings "mastered"?
It's the last creative step in the process of making a record, and the first technical step to producing a mass-produced consumer product. Originally mastering was literally making the masters: it was cutting the acetate to make plates from. Then in the late '60s, Doug Sax started the Mastering Lab. Before that mastering was done by all the labels in house. Doug started doing it and set the bar really high. He also had developed a lot of custom equipment to produce masters. Over the years it became creative processing and more about translating a cohesive feeling across a recording. It's about translation; you want to make sure that whether it's played on an iPod or over the radio it sounds as good and as consistent as it can sound.
In any media...
Yes. It's just a matter of translation more than anything. You want to make sure that you're listening in an environment that you know very well, so that you know what it's going to sound like when it's played in those different sonic environments.
So your mastering philosophy is...?
If anything, it's hands off. I'm a minimalist. I try to do the very least I have to do to make the recording sound as good as it can sound. Some guys use lots of color; I don't. My entire chain has been designed and custom built for the purpose of being as sonically neutral as possible. I don't want it colored or anything unless the recording really needs it and if that is necessary we have the ability to do it. But I try to leave no fingerprints on it if all possible. Now, it usually takes some processing but I try to be neutral. It's considered pretty old school the way we do it.
A typical mastering session consists of...?
I find that you can only hear the recording for the first time once. So I get that initial objective, the gut response. What does it feel like immediately? What sticks out? What sounds good? What doesn't? The system I've built is about efficiency. I want to spend the least amount of time to get the best possible sound. It doesn't mean I rush through it, but the more you listen to something and the more you become accustomed to the way it sounds the more you lose that (initial) perspective. So I don't like to listen to material ahead of time unless a client is worried about the mix. I want to make sure the balances are okay, but I want to listen to it fresh while I'm working on it and work quickly and not drag it out, because I don't want to become accustomed to hearing the "works", if you will. Basically, the session is that. We'll cut the record in a day, then upload reference files for the client to download. If we need to tweak it, we tweak it, if not we cut the parts whenever they're ready.
You started as a recording engineer?
I started in high school working with friends' bands. I didn't play an instrument, but I was always the guy that knew hi-fi and stereo equipment, so I would cobble stuff together and we'd record. I ended up attending Full Sail and after graduation got a job at Ardent and moved up here [to Memphis]. The first couple of years I thought I really wanted to be a recording and mixing engineer, but it was a bit excruciating listening to somebody try to hit a guitar part for an hour and a half. Sometime in the late '90s Ardent bought a SADiE system; it was when SADiE had just started. It's a digital editing system and mastering platform. I learned it inside and...