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SPECIAL FEATURE: Mastering and post-production

Daniel Gumble
SPECIAL FEATURE: Mastering and post-production

Audio Pro International takes a close look at the rapidly-expanding world of mastering and post-production...

The art of audio mastering and post-production is a process that has emerged from the shadows somewhat over the past couple of decades to establish itself at the fore of the music industry. Think of just about any ‘classic’ record from the past 60 years and you won’t have to look far to find a remastered re-release, most likely propped up with a host of newly mastered demos unable to make the grade upon its initial outing.

This element of post treatment also extends to the world of live sound, whereby the ever-increasing output of live performance CDs and DVDs shows no sign of abating. One needs look no further than the enormous success of Adele’s 'Live at the Albert Hall' release as an indicator of just how substantially this market has grown.

With so much attention surrounding this aspect of the production process, it should come as little surprise that large proportions of the industry are now not only keen to gain an insight into what exactly goes on during this process, but whereabouts they can seek out such services.

The obvious place to start, unsurprisingly, is London’s Abbey Road Studios. As one of the most famous studios in the world, the facility has firmly established itself as one of the world leaders in the fields of audio mastering and sound restoration, with all of its mastering clients offered access to its multi award-winning engineers, in-house acoustics and range of high-end gear. As most famously exemplified via the remastered Beatles albums just a few years ago, Abbey Road Studios can master to enhance both old and new recordings from any format: 78rpm or LP discs, analogue tape, digital master tape or audio file.

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Recent projects include mastering of the Oscar winning film, The Artist O.S.T, Brit award-winner Ed Sheeran’s +, and new albums from Paul McCartney, The Big Pink, Odd Future and Richard Hawley’s Standing at the Sky’s Edge. What’s more, the studio recently remastered McCartney’s Band on the Run, as well as The Complete Smiths and David Bowie.

With regards to notable market trends, Abbey Road has seen an increase in Hi-res mastering, while online mastering remains particularly popular with overseas clients such as Brazil and Australia, who are currently amongst the top five territories for this service in terms of revenue.

Also making its presence felt in the world of mastering and post-production is Sensible Music, whose facilities have been providing the entertainment industry support for more than 35 years. The multi-purpose studio is capable of accommodating audio recording, production and live recording requirements, while its list of clients includes major record labels, management companies, artists, composers, filmmakers and advertising agencies, both from the UK and around the world. 

In recent times, the studio has seen a slight dip in budgets for long-term mix projects, as well as sound to picture 5.1 post-production. However, with a consistently strong return client base, the studio remains a key location in the world of post-production, with artists such as Faithless, Wretch 32, Amy Winehouse, Chipmunk, Matt Cardle, Alexandra Burke and Mark Ronson making use of its facilities. Sensible Music has also been recognised for its post-production work on Example’s Playing in the Shadows and Jessie J’s Who You Are, both of which are now platinum selling albums.

Having been in the business for the best part of 30 years is London-based Masterpiece Mastering, with a facility boasting three studios designed to handle all aspects of mastering. The company’s services have been in high demand of late, with both Noel Gallagher and Wiley utilising its mastering capabilities for their upcoming projects, while Tulisa has recently dropped in to work on her latest single ‘We Are Young’.

In addition to the aforementioned contemporary works, Masterpiece Mastering was also behind a host of classic vinyl re-releases, which have been at the centre of substantial growth for the company, from such acts as The Wedding Present, Black Sabbath and Phil Manzanera.

Another major player in the mastering and post sector is Streaky Mastering, which was opened back in 2008 by Streaky himself. Since his days as a professional DJ in the days of Acid House, Streaky has gone on to become a key figure in the industry, with an impressive client list resulting from his mastering credits on such albums as Death In Vegas’ Scorpio Rising, Asian Dub Foundation’s Enemy of the Enemy and The Duke Spirit’s ‘Roll Spirit Roll EP’. Other notable albums include 5.1 Surround Sound albums for Kasabian, Moby, Erasure, Depeche Mode, Dave Gahan, and Martin Gore.

In 2004 Streaky launched eMasters, an online mastering service aimed at independent producers, musicians and record labels, with Streaky at the helm as chief mastering engineer. This marked the first occasion that a leading mastering studio in Europe had provided a fully online approach to professional mastering. Subsequently, he then went on to open Streaky Mastering, which has mastered platinum albums and number 1 singles for Taio Cruz, Chipmunk, Skepta & Groove Armada.
Also enjoying good business at present is London-based Alchemy Mastering. Its facility offers three expert mastering engineers, each having amassed a minimum of 25 years hands on industry experience. The studio deals in all aspects of mastering, and has recently completed a host of high-profile projects for the likes of Rizzle Kicks Stereo Typical for vinyl, Nikki Minaj, Paul Weller, Erasure, Florence and the Machine, Noah, The Fixers, Adele (Live), Bombay Bicycle Club, Ed Sheeran (live), Cee Lo Green (Live), Friendly Fires (live).  

It certainly appears to be the case that this persistent stream of remastered editions of popular works has contributed significantly in drawing the attention of the music industry at large to the art of mastering. A clear example of this can be found in the case of the Music Producers Guild (MPG) which has gone on to develop its very own mastering section under the MPG Mastering Group title in order to help bolster the mastering community.

With such emphasis now being placed on this most vital of processes, artists and musicians are becoming increasingly aware of just how crucial it is to commit the necessary time and funds into producing a professionally mastered piece of work, while those directly involved in the world of mastering and post continue to do good business in a time when vast sections of the industry remain blighted by the precarious state of the global economy. And what with the remote online mastering boom, the sector looks set to expand even further in years to come.

Tags: the beatles, depeche mode, paul mccartney, post production, abbey road, mark ronson, moby, david bowie, alchemy mastering, adele, kasabian, example, noel gallagher, the smiths, taio cruz, adele live at the royal albert hall, mastering, sensible music, streaky, streaky mastering, tulisa, the big pink, richard hawley, at the sky's edge, matt cardle, dave gahan, asian dub foundation, groove armada, masterpiece mastering, paul weller

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