When asked to look at the album as a walk-through example of what the process entails - what the album sounded like before it was brought to you, what you did, how you did it, and the end result - he responded as follows:
"An album requires a lot of consideration because it’s got to flow and feel comfortable to the listener from tune to tune. That has a lot to do with how it’s spaced and how each tune hits you after you’ve heard a complete tune. There’s a certain place where you’re ready for another one, but it has to be comfortable. It can’t be too loud, too soft, vocals too loud, vocals too far down or whatever it is that all of a sudden disrupts your comfort. In mastering, because these things are done over a long period of time, a lot of times we try to iron out some of the differences from mix to mix so that it does flow and feel comfortable to the listener but does not all sound the same, because that would be boring. That’s one aspect. The other aspect is what I was talking about earlier. We’re going to try to make this thing compete and get the most out of the mixes, optimize this mix so that it’s going to be more effective in its communication ability and its ability to attract people’s interest. When we manipulate the sound, we have to get on the same wavelength on these recordings as the producer intended. It’s good to have them here so that we can make it more effective and get a better experience from this music. You wouldn’t know what to do otherwise. You might be able to make it more balanced in some ways, with similar amounts of bass and treble and all that, but what you really want to do is find the important elements, the things that tell the story of that piece of music in a way that it communicates well. We have to be open emotionally to these things and judge what does and doesn’t work. There was a time when this could go back and forth for months, but not often anymore because no one has the budget.
With the Van Halen album, I did some stuff with them before, but of course there was a very good mixer, Ross Hogarth, on this album, and when we have really experienced, good mixers, it makes our job a lot easier because they’ve already zeroed in on what’s important. We’re trying to do justice to a good recording to bring it up to a competitive position. That affects the mix and the spectrum balance and so forth. One thing we’re looking for is to make it sound the way it sounded out of the studio, if it’s a really good mix, and this one was very good. We want to lose the least amount possible in this process. Ross was here for the mastering. We did some equalization, and some of it contributed to it and some of it just kept it the way it was, the way that it was balanced and so forth coming out of the studio.
With each different kind of music, various things are more important than in others. In hard rock, it’s about energy and excitement. If you do too much screwing around with it, you lose some of that. All of these things are important. A lot of these things we do are to make the album flow and have a certain kind of continuity, but with Van Halen, these are incredible players, so their recordings are a pleasure to work on because they’re so well performed. A lot of stuff isn’t as well thought out as theirs, and this album is terrific; it’s as great as ever. It was mixed very well, and we have a lot of custom things in the system to try to preserve it. We have a very elaborate equalization system and there’s something like 35 or so frequencies that we can manipulate. We can’t do that many at a time, but we have a lot of choices to fiddle around with the spectrum and try to make sure that we’re getting everything we can out of the music.
Our system is all custom. We built the compressor and computer here. We have a whole tech staff. We’re unusual in that way. We license a certain software called AudioCube, but we put it all together ourselves so we can use special power supplies and special wiring because all that stuff makes a difference. Even the processors, the converters and all of that are hot-rodded. We rebuilt the amplifiers and put our special beefed-up linear power supplies in everything. Our system is hands-on and we’re always comparing this and that and making sure we’re moving in a positive direction, trying different things and trying to make the signal path cleaner and cleaner. There are eighteen people that work in this studio and another nine people in Tokyo."
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