My interest in mastering has been driven by my passion for story telling, says mastering engineer Emily Lazar. People and music are really similar both yearn for meaningful connections. So, a big part of that connection is being able to tell stories that deeply resonate within an audience. Lazar owns The Lodge, a New York City-based mastering house that polishes the final mood on recordings such as David Bowies Heathen, and on movie soundtracks including work on a track for the latest Austin Powers film, Goldmember.
One of the most exciting aspects about being a mastering engineer is working with artists and helping them to be better storytellers by helping them find their albums unique voice that defined sound, she adds.
Music In Her Roots
Some of my earliest memories of music are of playing and singing with my mother. Having grown up in a very musical household, I played a lot of instruments. I learned guitar, piano, flute, voice and violin.
Although my personal music has taken a back seat for the time being, Ive been writing and recording for over 15 years, she says. Being a musician has given me a strong sensitivity and appreciation for the artists role, which has added perspective and affected my work as a mastering engineer.
Lazar received a Masters Degree and a graduate fellowship at New York Universitys Music Technology Program, as preparation for becoming a mastering engineer. Soon after she began working for other mastering engineers, she knew she wanted to run her own show.
The Mastering Process
The first step in mastering is to assess the source recording. Some of the sources provided to Lazar are already in digital format for example, on a 16 or 24-bit CD, in the form of Pro-Tools session files, .WAV/.AIFF files or a DAT (digital audio tape). However, analog tape is still preferred by many of her clients and is one of Lazars favorite mediums.
Precision adjustments in frequency, equalization and/or compression are then made. Theres no frame or template for mastering, as each mix will always be different and all need to be approached individually, says Lazar.
After the recording has been mastered, it then travels into the hi-resolution Macintosh-based digital audio workstation for sequencing and editing. At the completion of that process, Lazars newly-made production part can be delivered on an assortment of formats, such as 3/4 U-Matic, DDP Exabyte, DVD, DLT, PMCD, Vinyl Lacquer and SACD. This final master goes directly to the CD manufacturer. From this medium, the CD manufacturing facility creates a glass master for replication.
Balance Is Critical
So what goes into good mastering? In my experience, respect for the integrity of the music is vital, but equally important is the ability to add something completely unexpected to a project, she says. I think finding this balance is critical to the work of a great mastering engineer.
My goal is to always be a subtle innovator. All in all, I think that I have been able to recruit top name acts to The Lodge because of the quality of my work and my reputation as someone an artist can rely on, she explains.
Macs Run The Lodge
We use Macintosh computers for everything we do here from administrative databases, spreadsheets and budgeting, to graphic design and highly technical digital audio editing, says Lazar. In a creative environment like ours, there is nothing else that compares.
We pride ourselves in the ability to produce the best quality product in the world, she adds. Apples commitment to quality is second to none. Hence, its a perfect match.
From Vintage Analog to Digital
At The Lodge, the equipment ranges from vintage analog pieces to cutting-edge digital outboard equipment. The combination of our hardware and software, and the way it is chained together, is an important factor in delivering a unique sounding album, says Lazar. Specifically, our engineers use products from Avalon Design, Pultec, TC Electronics, Weiss, Tube-Tech, Z-Systems, as well as many others.
For our mastering digital audio workstations we use software and hardware combination systems such as Sonic Solutions/Sonic HD, and as a digital playback option for mastering from data files, we use many professional mixing and editing platforms including ProTools and Logic Audio, she adds.
The Current Roster
There are always a number of different projects in the studio, says Lazar. Among other things, we just finished mastering the remixes of Beyonces Work It Out from the upcoming Austin Powers: Goldmember soundtrack, Nada Surfs new album, a Jeff Buckley release for Knitting Factory Records, and are in the middle of remastering Sonic Youths Dirty, with previously unreleased B-sides.
The Lodges mastering work speaks for itself, as its clients keep coming back for more. Labels like Putumayo World Music, Definitive Jux and Naked Music return time and again with amazing projects that Im honored to work on, says Lazar. Additionally, before the month is out, well be mastering Columbia Records Wood as well as Atlantics The Donnas.
One recent personal highlight for me was the re-mastering job we just finished for Clem Snides first album, You Were A Diamond. she says. This is a record very dear to my heart a collection of unbelievable treasures that never really had a proper mastering job before.
Quicker, Better Masters with Digital
Technology has improved the mastering process in many ways, says Lazar. The advent of non-destructive digital-audio editing has increased the engineers productivity as well as advanced the ability for more creative editing decisions. Digital edits, crossfades and other such DAW processes allow for much quicker results with greater precision.
As sampling rates and wordlengths continue to improve, better digital quality is achieved, she adds. We can now retrieve digital data file mixes from a clients FTP site. This is an incredibly efficient means of gaining access to our clients.
Lazar holds quality first when it comes to her mastering work. Every day, we make sure that we produce the highest quality final product we can achieve or it doesnt leave the premises, she says. We are building relationships based on the quality of the work we do, not the volume of jobs we receive. We understand that our work does our best promotion, so we concentrate on doing a great job each opportunity we get.