Mastering engineers, like Alan Silverman of Arf! Mastering, make music sound better.
Of course, by the time the mastering engineer gets to hear the music, it's already been recorded, mixed, and fussed over by at least one recording engineer, record producer, and the band for weeks, months or even years.
The mastering engineer brings a fresh set of ears to the project and (hopefully) the necessary skill set to eke out the very best from the music. Silverman has mastered music by Norah Jones, Keith Richards, Dolly Parton, and Rufus Wainwright.
When I visited Silverman a few weeks ago, he was finishing work on Medeski, Martin, and Wood's upcoming CD, "Radiolarians 2." I'm a big fan of MM&W's free-form funk jazz, and these guys always make great-sounding recordings. It figures Silverman is involved with the upcoming CD.
I heard from friends that Silverman's newly updated playback system is not only super accurate, it sounds like an audiophile system. That sort of truth and beauty are a rare combination so I brought along some of my reference recordings and was thrilled by the sound. Silverman uses Revel Ultima Studio2 speakers and a McIntosh MC252 power amplifier.
Of course, in the real world just a handful of people are listening over a system like that. So for Silverman, "It's about how the music 'translates.'" A great mastering engineer knows how to make the music sound the best it can over all sorts of systems, played back in differing environments: headphones, car audio, plastic computer speakers, and high-end audio systems.
That's why Silverman hopes he will soon be doing multiple versions of a recording: a highly compressed mix for iPod or car, an uncompressed CD quality version for home listening, and a high-resolution one for audiophiles.
But now that so many bands are recording themselves mastering engineers play an even more crucial role in making the most of the music. When I asked if recordings ever come in that are so awful Silverman turns them away, he said "No, not at all, although in rare cases one of the best things you can do for client is advise them to do a remix. In general, though it's easier to make a poor recording sound better than improve a recording that's already really great. With those you worry if you're really making them better or just different. In those cases sometimes even the smallest tweaks add extra dimension and life to the music." Toby Wright, 3Doors Down's producer, uses Silverman and raved about his work: "So much better, it's silly."… Read more