Mastering Tycho At Monsterlab

Posted by Scott

I made the drive out to Sacramento this morning to have the next Tycho single mastered by Eric Broyhill at Monster Lab Audio. In case this is sounding familiar to you, it’s because this is my second pass at this song. I mixed and mastered it last month but after repeated listens, something just wasn’t quite right so I did another mix over the past week and it’s finally wrapped. It’s been a long road, this particular track is sonically very dense and it’s been a very difficult one to mix. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the idea of mastering, it’s the last stage in the production process in which an engineer puts the finishing touches on your music and gets it into the form it will take for the final release — be it CD, MP3, vinyl, or otherwise. That is, of course, a gross oversimplification of what mastering is, if you’re really interested in the details here’s the Wiki article on the subject. It’s a vital step in the process of moving a recording out of your studio and into the real world where every stereo and every room is different, and you hope that your music sounds good on and in all of them. I think most importantly it puts another set of critical ears on your music. By the end of the production process your own ears can become deaf to the subtleties (or not-so-subtleties) and details of the material so it’s vital to have some fresh ears hear it for the first time and recognize it for what it is, not what it has become for you through infinite listens. Ideally, those ears belong to a capable person who knows waaaay more than you’ll ever know about the science and nuance behind how people perceive sound. Mastering can be heavy-handed or light and transparent, and therein lies the problem. Because the process can have such a profound effect on the final product, you have to trust the person doing it. You must have faith that they get what you’re trying to do with a song. It’s a very difficult thing to hand over the reigns to something you’ve put so much of yourself into, to another person who may or may not understand the essence of what you’re trying to do sonically with a song.

I was fortunate enough to meet Eric Broyhill back when I was finishing up my first album and he’s mastered all of my releases since. He’s great at understanding what I am going for and I am always amazed at the night-and-day results when I compare his versions with the raw material. The shots above are from his space which is located inside Hangar Studios (John Baccigaluppi’s studio and the home of TapeOp magazine) in Sacramento. I took these shots during a session a while back so they aren’t really up to date, I think he’s replaced a few pieces in the rack but the interiors are the same and that’s the really impressive thing about the place (unless you’re like me and you can’t stop staring at the Manley Massive Passive). A mastering environment has to be acoustically treated to ensure accurate monitoring of the material. There are many ways to go about this, most involve fiber sound absorbers and diffusers. I’ve always admired Eric’s solution to these problems from both a technical and aesthetic perspective. He was able to build much of the treatments into the structure so that they’re almost unnoticeable but the most prominent element is definitely meant to be noticed. The primary diffuser on the front wall is a giant face he had built by a local artist out of wood blocks set at varying heights (see picture above). This randomly redirects reflected sound waves to avoid phasing issues that can be caused by parallel surfaces. It looks amazing and sounds even more amazing when paired with the incredible Earthworks Sigma monitors he uses. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever heard a better sounding system than this one.

Now it’s time to finish up the album. I really can’t wait for the day I get to drive back out there, it’s always like a celebration for me at the end of the months spent in the studio slaving away on the music. You get to hand it over and then watch it become complete. If you’re in the market for mastering — which any self-respecting musician should be — definitely check out Eric at Monsterlab, he does incredible work at very reasonable rates. And if you’re not in Northern California I know he can do the work remotely as we did a couple sessions that way. Monsterlab Audio

19 Comments Leave A Comment


Rent says:

March 24, 2009 at 6:54 am

This is very well timed for my situation Scott cause I’m just now attempting to master my own ep that is coming out and it is much much harder than it looks or sounds. I was going for that “night and day” transformation when doing my final touches and I’m finding that it is very hard not to degrade the raw files after much editing and disection.

That studio looks absolutely amazing though and I can only hope my music will grace a setup of that magnitude someday…but looking at his rates, a 4 track ep wouldn’t be that expensive to master I guess. we’ll see if the money permits in the coming months…thanks for this post Scott, very helpful.


Na'atch says:

March 24, 2009 at 7:42 am

Beautiful little mastering suite there. Thanks for sharing!

I’m curious about this whole “mastering one track” thing. I thought mastering was really about an entire album, getting it all to sit right with itself and sound uniform. When you master one track, what is your point of reference, and what is the mastering engineer doing it for you outside of running it through some really high end converters? I would assume your stuff is pretty well mixed when you bring it to him…


Harley Turan says:

March 24, 2009 at 9:33 am

My dad (Tim Turan) s a mastering engineer, so I recognize that Manley up there :)
Really nice workspace too. Very open, with just a rack and a computer in the centre. Can’t wait to hear the new single/album.


Scott says:

March 24, 2009 at 12:43 pm

jeff & jay-
it’s going to be a vinyl release with remixes and should be out in the next few months, but I can’t promise anything. once it gets into the label’s schedule there are a lot of variables that dictate the final release date.

you won’t regret it, outside mastering is a must. your ears just don’t hear the material the same way by the end of the production cycle and mastering is just a whole other world, no matter how good you are at producing this is still a necessary step to a truly finished and polished product.

you raise a good point. I am just finishing up a series of 3 single releases so for the purposes of those, a single song mastering session makes sense. you’re right, part of mastering is making all the songs on an album feel cohesive and sit together well. but that’s just one component. Most of what Eric does involves EQ, compression, and Limiting. that’s where a lot of the sonic coloring occurs and problems are corrected. for instance, on this latest song, the low end was a little out of hand. The kick and bass were stepping on each-others toes. eric was able to tighten that up using frequency specific multi-band compression, meaning he is applying compression to individual frequency ranges to target problem areas. Overall, I usually leave with a finished product that is more open, easier to listen to, and has a more well defined top end. yeah, I’d love to think I bring him well mixed songs, but I am always still blown away by the mastered version. we’re not talking simple dithering or conversion, this is a difference that anyone off the street could pick out in an A/B test (believe me, I’ve played these back for people who know nothing about audio and they always love the mastered version and are amazed at the difference.)

At any rate, when the album is done, I bring it in and he re-masters the whole thing at once. if there are tracks (like my singles) that have been previously mastered, he can recall the settings for those and use that as a starting point to work it all together.


Oz (ffs) says:

March 24, 2009 at 2:51 pm

Thanks for sharing your process, Scott. It’s incredibly interesting for me as I was always too scared to delve into music creation, while Djing a few years back (not wanting to spread myself too thin between design, djing and making music) and I still have a voyeurs interest in music creation. Keep throwing out the behind the scenes stories/pics as I am sure, like myself, many people find it fascinating.


Tardlovski says:

March 24, 2009 at 7:34 pm

is that your studio? it’s weird. like…i dunno, it’s like white lab coat meets gap jeans. and those columns for your monitors…whoa.


Daniel Carvalho says:

March 25, 2009 at 12:11 pm

Heh, glad someone asked, I thought you designed that Monster Lab website, it has your design nuances all over.

Man, reading about the whole mastering process gives me shivers down my spine. Although I have no skills in the aural realm, I can still relate to the fear of handing over something you’ve tirelessly crafted to your specific tastes in the hands of someone else.

I hate that feeling and avoid it as much as possible even to my detriment. By default I try steward projects from beginning to end that I’m involved in. But every time I can break it down to very specific variable that you mentioned above, trust.

I imagine you’re quite particular, perhaps somewhat OCD, and the guy must have proved he had the chops to gain your favour. Although thinking back to screenshots I’ve seen of your prints, there were many unnamed layers ;)


Joe Hertler says:

March 25, 2009 at 12:51 pm

I’m a folk artist from MI and I’m pretty close to being done with a six track ep. Considering this guy’s prices. I’m totally gonna consider him.


Bas says:

March 25, 2009 at 1:22 pm

I was listening to Novastar’s new album today again and it manages to impress me every time I play it. The production is so clear, yet so warm and rich. It’s amazing compared to other cd’s on my mp3 player.