MASTERING: AN INTERVIEW WITH KATIE TAVINI
Meet Katie Tavini: mastering engineer and all-round sound-enthusiast. We catch up with Katie to talk about mixing, mastering and metadata.
Can you talk us through your choices for the tracks?
Absolutely love Holy Fuck, absolutely love Mandy Parnell. Love love love! “Tool” — what an amazing sounding track! First heard this when I was about 13, still in school and dying to get into music production. I had no idea that this was female-produced until I read the back of the album. Released in 1993 and the production still sounds relevant. “Gonna Be An Engineer”. Relevant. I love Peggy Seeger!
What in your view are the main roles of a mastering engineer?
Loads of stuff, but in my opinion, the most important job of a mastering engineer is to have a fresh set of ears and an outside perspective on the mix.
How did you get into Mastering? What have been your influences?
Funny story! I’d been a recording engineer for a few years, and one day my mate James (Sonic Boom Six) asked if I could master an album he’d produced. I said I’d do it for a laugh but that if he didn’t think it was good enough then he didn’t have to use it. Turns out he loved it and then asked me to master a whole load of other stuff. Five years later, we’re still working together!
Can you describe your working method/ process? What is the first thing you do when you get a track to master, or the first thing you listen for?
The first thing I do is listen! I arrange all the tracks in order, and have a good listen to the style, mixes, production, vibe etc. Then I start balancing tracks out in terms of level. I like to keep a good dynamic structure within an album, but sometimes when I pull all the tracks together the ones that should be the quiet tracks are louder than the should be. After this comes the part which most people consider to be “mastering” — making little adjustments with EQ and dynamics controllers. How much of this all depends on the music and the context, though. The next step in the mastering process for me is a big one — I think correctly labelling music is totally underrated. Applying metadata is crucial! Once everything is correctly labelled and codes have been applied, I make a DDP file for the release if it’s needed.
Do you have any tips for someone trying to master at home who doesn’t yet have the finances to get it done professionally? Is it ever a good idea to master at home?
It’s not a horrific idea but if it’s on your own mixes then it doesn’t really count as mastering, as you’ve probably heard your own mixes a million times. You’re probably just making it louder really and that’s okay. I would suggest to only make very slight changes — if you’re happy with your mix then it shouldn’t need too much doing, maybe just slight EQ tweaks and a bit of limiting.
What is your favourite bit of gear and why?
My monitors! They’re my ears. I can master on whatever software/plugins/outboard there is, but good monitors that I’m familiar with are irreplaceable. When I’m mastering from other peoples studios, I always take a couple of pairs of headphones I know really well. I usually have my Beyerdynamic DT880's and my custom Sennheiser HD25's with me. Plus a pair of iPod headphones which I rarely check on but it’s good to have the option.
What is your personal ‘top tip’ for people wanting to get into mastering?
Listen lots. Read lots. See if anyone can play you some examples of before and after mastering. And have fun!
What is your view of online mastering services?
I’d really love to say “no comment” and bypass this one but… as I said before, in my opinion the primary job of a mastering engineer is to be a fresh pair of ears. As far as I’m aware, they haven’t built ears into online mastering applications yet…
Say you sent your mixes off to be mastered but there was a couple of clicks in the bassline. You’d want that tidying up. Or if turning up the vocals by 2dB was going to take your mix from average to bangin’, you’d want to know about it. Hire a human!
What are you future projects?
I’ve just finished engineering an EP for an all female band called Ajah. They’re awesome! We really took our time and had fun with the recording process, which is a bit of a rare luxury. It’s currently being mixed by Tom Povall at The Room Studios and then I’ll master it once it’s finished next week, ready for an April release!