Are you confused about what mastering really is?  Are you tempted to skip this important step in the process of preparing your music for distribution?  Aaron Sefchick and Joe McMurray bring in the esteemed Chris Graham of Chris Graham Mastering and the Six Figure Home Studio Podcast to talk about the final polish in the process of preparing your music for release.  According to Chris, mastering is “optimizing a music track for goosebumps for the most people on the maximum number of listening devices.”
Chris tells the guys his story of how he became a musician, started producing music, and fell in love with mastering.  When he started his mastering business, he had the idea to put raw vs. mastered samples on his website and provide free mastering samples to new potential clients.
The guys talk about business books including The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferris.  Then they discuss the podcasting world, how podcasts are making it possible for niche shows to thrive, and how podcasts provide people with the opportunity to better themselves by learning while they drive or perform other life-tasks.  Then they dive into the topic of higher education and whether it pays off.
Aaron and Joe get to ask Chris lots of questions about mastering.  Chris tells them that it involves compression, equalization, limiting, and much more in order to make the tracks sound consistently better, more cohesive (on an album), and often louder on as many different listening devices as possible.  The guys ask Chris about his thoughts on having your tracks mixed and mastered by the same person.  Chris recommends doing a “mastering contest,” in which you go to multiple different mastering engineers and ask for a free mastered song from each.  Then compare the tracks and choose your favorite.
Finally, Chris, Aaron, and Joe talk about the “Loudness Wars.”
You can find Chris at:
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Welcome back to another episode of Fret Buzz The Podcast. My name is Aaron Sefchick.
I’m Joe McMurray. And today we have a very special guest, Mr. Chris Graham.
Hello sir, how are you? I’m fantastic. I’m pumped to hang out with you guys today.
We’re glad to have you. Yeah, this gonna be great. Yeah, if you don’t know who Chris
is, he runs ChrisGraham Mastering.com, he’s also one of the hosts on the advice
buffet over over at The Six-Figure Home Studio Podcast. Giving out tons of great
information weekly, every Tuesday. It’s amazing. These guys have a great rapport
with each other. It’s a great show. If you haven’t subscribed, I definitely
suggest that you go over there and subscribe. It’s a really good show. Thank
you. Yeah, great advice even if you’re not into mastering. Just good
business advice. Yeah, it’s true. No matter what business you’re in, it’s
a truth bomb after truth bomb after bomb. It is. I credit the editing
for that so, we cut out the stupid stuff and leave in the occasionally smart
stuff that needs to be edited together to sound smart. Right, right. It works,
whatever you doing. Yeah, it’s it’s really a good show. So yeah, what I would like to
just kind of jump right into is, since you do and you have been mastering, if
you could just give us a little bit of backstory on what and how you came to be
where you are now and then I would actually like to get into a little bit
about the mystery behind mastering. It just seems to be an ongoing thing, year
after year after year. That it’s this new do ya really it really is but yeah a
little bit of backstory if you were yeah well my story is I was born and raised
in a pretty musical family but it was all like classically trained like nerd
music and stuff and I for my 13th birthday this is a
little bit of dramatic story so I’ll lighten it up after I explain on this
but on my 13th birthday my dad moved out and I got a guitar for my birthday and
it was this really intense like oh my dad doesn’t live here anymore
and now I have an electric guitar right and so it was the guitar for me was this
really important part of my life that I would just like kind of process the
shitstorm that was my life it was an Electra I don’t know if you guys have
ever seen Electra’s but it was like two humbuckers in a single-coil in the
middle and push-pull pots for days so like strat ty lee whatever you Les Paul
whatever you wanted to do with the electro you could but I wasn’t smart
enough to know that that’s that it was a pretty cool guitar right and so
eventually I like took it all apart and tried to paint it gold and that didn’t
work and I like put leather on it it was really done it was totally ruined it do
you still have it no I threw it away I really wish I did but I got like wood
burned like the top of it it was just like classic 13 14 year old stupid stuff
right right and so ended up eventually buying another guitar but but so my
story kind of starts there with the guitar and I started making up songs and
learning how to play better and eventually performing later on in high
school but basically that didn’t play for anybody for like six years and just
practiced and wrote and then eventually got started getting into cousteau
guitars as well and started playing for people and it was crazy cuz like all the
sudden girls were like oh who’s he I was like this thing is awesome
I’m I’m going to become better at this instrument and so really kind of leaned
into that and then when I went to college my freshman year they had open
mics and open mic for those of you guys that don’t know it’s like a coffee shop
or a bar or whatever and you sign up on a list and then you get 15 minutes or 30
minutes to do anything you want onstage and so I bring a guitar I’d share some
songs and it was awesome it was like I was finally home for the first time
and so that got that went really really well and I made a CD and decided I would
be a music production major at my college so I could record my CDs for
free and ended up starting to do like shows and sell these CDs and I was like
this is like 2001 2002 alright right around there so it’s at the absolute
like tail end of CDs yeah so this was like the golden era for a singer
songwriter because you’ve no overhead it’s just you it should just be me like
on stage playing and singing I do a lot of looping and stuff
looping pedals and whatnot and then I would sell my CD afterward and I didn’t
have to share the money with anybody because it was just me right and this
was at the end of the golden era of CDs where someone would be like hey I like
that one song here’s 15 dollars right and I’d be like yeah yeah this is great
yep so I eventually started producing other singer songwriters okay and you
know I would take all the money I would get from CD sales and I’d sync those
back into gear and this was sorta on the very beginning of like being able to buy
like portable computer-based recording gear so I bought up some o2 eight to
eight was like one of the first yeah it’s a firewire box and you could plug
it right into your laptop and record anywhere and so my shtick was that was
like the portable producer basically right and I should have called myself
that that that’s literation alliteration absolutely and so I would record these
singer-songwriters and then I would pretend I could mix and hire a mastering
engineer most the time some of the time are you still are you still performing
throughout all this yeah still performing through out of this and
that’s how I would would win clients right is people would see me the show
and they’d be like wow he can sound good on a stage I bet he could work in a
recording studio with me it was like and so anyways I ended up getting a bunch of
projects through that and I I there was a sky edie Cash who was a producer in
Nashville who I was like obsessed with I just thought he was the coolest guy in
the world and he was an all singing all dancing producer so he would do like the
writing performing in the record he’d record the record he’d mix the record
and like the only outsourcing he would do hire me he’d hire a mastering
engineer at the very end and so I heard about him got to know him
a little bit got to know his little brother a little bit and was like I want
to do this and I’ll do all of the things and make records and the problem with
that was I got I was pretty bad at all the things and even once I was ok at all
the things it’s still hard to make a record when you’re only ok at like five
people’s full-time job right and but anyways it was just this thing of like I
you know would perform I’d sell CDs I’d make a record for somebody one of their
friends would then hire me to make a record for them one of their friends had
hired me to record front of them and so on and so forth and occasionally what
would happen was we’d were you know get all the songs written and get them all
arranged gonna Mott recorded get them all produced get them all mixed the
mixes would be approved and the client would say I don’t have any more money
you’re gonna have to master this yourself and mastering is essentially
the mix is done all the individual tracks sound great and it’s not loud
enough yet it’s not polished and it usually only sounds good in like one or
two sets of speakers it doesn’t necessarily sound good in all speakers
yet and then the sides kind of mastering it’s like you send it to some weird nerd
like me and I make it compatible with all headphones and speakers sort of and
so what would happen is like my clients my production clients would run out of
money and I’d be like oh crap I guess I’ll master it myself which is the
hardest thing you possibly do it’s to do all the things and then to like hold the
keys to the finish line it’s just really really stressful
because inevitably here like I’m gonna go change the mix again okay now I’m
gonna master again okay I’m gonna go change the mix again okay now I’m gonna
master again and just again and again and again and again let’s add a bridge
to this song it’s just like never ending it’s just this black hole of despair and
so I had to learn how to master so that the records I had like spent like months
on we’re at least decent sounding right for my clients I couldn’t expect we’ll
just release the mixes and not the Masters and what ended up happening was
I fell in love with the process of mastering and I started asking friends
of mine their producers hey can I master a record you’ve already released you
know can I just I’m looking for stuff to practice with
and I would send them back what I did and then be oh my gosh you’re you’re
better than our mastering engineer here we’re gonna hire you and that just sort
of snowballed and then eventually I came up with an idea for a website which is
now Chris Graham mastering comm and the idea was hey what if I put like my
unmastered files and my mastered files on the website and I had this cool
player and you’d press play and you could switch back and forth while the
song was playing and hear it mastered and unmastered then people could listen
to that and be like oh yeah okay cool I want my songs that to be done to my
music yeah so had the idea for that website totally lucked out and knew a
guy capable of building this and at the time nobody had ever done this before it
was as far as I could tell I was the first guy that ever had a mastering
website that did this it’s since been copied many times but launched that got
really heavy into marketing and just did a bunch of free samples for people just
advertised like hey send me a song I’ll do it for example same is something to
do for example yeah and my kind of story starts to get weird there it took off
really really fast mastering business did and I could not handle the work was
way too much work and I kind of had like a little mini freakout and reached for
finally was like you know I can’t do this reached for a book that had been
sitting on my couch behind me in this room that had been sitting there for
three months racking up late fees and it was this book called the 4-hour workweek
picked it up amma’s like I don’t have time to read this whole book maybe I’ll
just read chapter 5 that sounds interesting went to the coffee shop
read chapter 5 and all of a sudden was like wait a minute there’s like good
stuff in books to like teach you how to make money and stuff and not have a
business that is tragic crazy so it was this like instant addiction and I’ve
read I don’t even know how maybe like four or five or six or seven dozen
business books and just kind of like really fixated on that and as I became
better at figuring out how to be efficient and how to run my business
well and how to not be a dick to my customers
the grew a lot and I mastered I don’t know
how many tens of thousands of songs at this point and so I met Brian who is the
coast of our podcast 6-4 gram studio and we both had like I had had an addiction
to business books and so we just sort of bonded over that and like hey like let’s
do a podcast together his idea not mine and we started doing it just for funds
because we loved talking about business nerd stuff and audio stuff and the
podcast like exploded and there’s thousands of people with audio engineers
that listen to it and I sort of along for the ride and just trying to figure
out what that means for my life but it’s been really really cool like tons and
tons of mastering projects come off that podcast now a bunch of other
opportunities business opportunities and friendships and it’s been crazy so the
past year has been this nuts thing of like I don’t have to market myself
anymore right and so yeah that’s sort of my
story it’s just like it’s well that’s a it’s like a piece of my story but the
rest is super long and boring but yeah so now I’m like a podcaster riding the
wave of this awesome revolution that is podcasting and I just want to do it all
day long yeah it’s it’s awesome day that the recording community is actually
coming together I know you get you’ve had people like Graham Cochran on your
show and as well as like Matt Boudreau yeah all those all these top-tier guys
in terms of the podcasting space and the recording industry space it’s and it’s
like we were talking about on the last podcast it’s very much a family and
community oriented kind of thing going on where oh yeah everybody’s kind of
like helping each other out you know it’s it’s very much a camaraderie and
it’s awesome it’s Korea there there isn’t so like Matt Boudreau there’s
working-class audio the working-class audio podcast and lid Shaw does the
recording studio rock stars podcast two of the probably biggest podcast for
audio engineers that are out there – two out of three at least yes and so Bryan
and I actually met through Matt Lidge and so they kind of gave us this
vision for like what podcasting could look like and we were like okay we’ll
try and Matt and Lidge are like family like they have been so helpful for us as
we figured out like what does it mean to have a podcast yeah and yeah it is like
there’s absolutely zero competition even in spite of the fact that like we’re all
kind of Matt and Lidge definitely have sponsors we’re exploring having sponsors
there’s no weirdness there at all like these like I talked to him a couple
times a week usually yeah and man it’s it’s been great it’s been such a healthy
family environment yeah that’s great now do you guys have
different I haven’t listened to those other podcasts do they have a different
angle at the whole no engineering thing it’s not mastering in business yeah so
they’re there Matt is sort of about a work-life balance thing but mostly
interviewing other audio engineers about that lidge’s interviewing other audio
engineers and just talk and shop with them both of their shows are incredible
when I highly recommend them you guys should check them out as far as we know
like there’s no other like business only recording studio resource out there so
like we kind of lucked out like we came up with this concept and there’s like no
blogs no YouTube channels no podcasts yep and it was like we’re it for from a
business standpoint and like other people talk about business sometimes but
nobody is like hey we don’t want to talk about preamps we don’t want to talk
about microphones unless there’s a business component to that other than
like this microphone sounds better than that microphone can’t do that on the
6-figure you get the gear slut alert man like if if you go full nerd and you
start talking that stuff and there’s like a like a submarine alarm I guess or
something like that that goes off and just be like you can’t we’re not
supposed to do that well yeah so you guys have a different the fact that
Lidge and Matt are they’re not directly competing with you they’re actually by
making audio engineering you know having multiple pod
about it seems like it makes audio engineers just dive even deeper into the
podcasting world totally you know if you have multiple podcasts that you’re into
it just makes you always listening to podcasts probably totally well and I
would say to all of your listeners I would guess that all of them have the
same problem all podcast listeners have the same problem and it’s not that I
don’t have enough time to listen to podcasts we all have enough time because
podcasting is the only thing you can do other than the radio that you can
multitask at correct you know like I can be like I’m doing the dishes or I’m
mowing the lawn or I’m working out and I’m listening to a podcast so there’s
zero shortage of time with podcasting and a huge shortage of podcasts yeah
there’s there’s nowhere near enough niche podcasts out there and I think
we’re really in this weird spot where what you guys are doing is probably one
of the best investments you can make because this podcast and five years
could be huge especially as podcast gets more popular
every day yep it’s freaking exciting yeah we’re on the precipice of something
and really yeah it is happening right now yeah I mean we are just at the
hockey stick part of the growth curve yes we get just started about whoa
what’s Joe Rogan doing oh my gosh whoa what’s you know what’s have you
guys listening to Conan O’Brien’s podcast no yeah incredible it’s like
they’re setting a new bar for how entertaining a podcast can be but it’s
this is this fascinating thing where like all the sudden
let’s take Joe Rogan for example yeah I love his show and it’s got kind of
something for everybody if Joe Rogan ran for president he he has a shot at
winning because he talks into mic every day but he doesn’t work for a company or
anything he just like doesn’t on his own yeah and it is this weird thing where
we’re seeing the power of this of this medium like just take it over it’s crazy
yeah yeah it’s it’s I mean I years back I’d always heard about podcasting but it
wasn’t until I started actually diving into it a little just a little bit
deeper and started finding wow this is radio direct
towards me yeah that’s awesome yeah well it’s weird there’s a book
sorry if I’m going too deep down the nerd hole for you no you go as far as
you want we love going down that hole there’s a book called the long tail and
it’s about it’s about 10 15 11 years old but the idea is that the Internet has
enabled types of content they were really specific like really nerdy only
very highly niched down to be profitable and like plausible to make you know back
in the day like there was no sense in doing anything that couldn’t be mass
market like it was all friends and Seinfeld and in sync and Britney Spears
and like we all basically listen to the same stuff and watch the same shows now
there’s this huge opportunity because of the internet to be like well we have a
show that’s like for guitarists that are left-handed you know right like you
could probably make show for left hand guitarists and you’d have an audience
because it’s accessible that wasn’t possible 10 or 15 years ago and
podcasting is so exciting because then the niches there’s just so many
unexplored like niches that people would go nuts for yeah awesome yeah I loved it
I loved podcasting I have unfortunately I have a two two-hour commute every day
and that I mean you guys are obviously on Tuesday mornings and yeah I mean I
have my schedule of all my podcasts they’re almost all recording related but
yeah I love it it’s it’s it’s it just fills your and rather than listening to
music which I’ve done for you know and mmm everybody has just listened to music
for years and years and years it’s it’s nice to be able to listen to something
that’s educational and entertainment as well yeah there’s a good you don’t feel
guilty or like dirty after you listen to a podcast like I just self improve
myself yeah a little bit yeah it’s pat on the back I mean even if I do nothing
today I don’t have to feel that bad Yahoo and there’s that there’s that
there’s though there are those times when I come home at night and I park my
car in my garage and I’ve done this with you guys multiple times where I just sit
there in the car and I listen to the rest of the episode I’m I’m not going
inside because I want to finish this I want to hear what they have to say whoa
oh yeah you drove two hours to work two hours home and then sat in the car to
finish a podcast that’s amazing yeah oh yeah true dedication oh yeah do tell me
what podcast you’re into I’m I’m I don’t have as nearly as much time as you do
fine so I’m like excited to hear like what do you love like what are your
favorite shows it’s funny you guys are like one of my top three I like I
definitely enjoy oh man in between you and Brian and that’s no joke I you have
this natural and it yeah it is editing obviously but at the same time Brian is
very you could tell he he’s a bit of a jokester at times but he’s very he is
definitely focused whereas you are the man with all the voices and and you just
are you know you’re just a joke you like to joke around and yeah I think maybe
that has to play a little bit into and I don’t know but you’ve got kids and you
play with your kids playing for at night and you’re just a dad kind of guy
where’s Brian just got married and he’s just starting to go down that route and
I personally identify with you a lot because you’ve kind of had quirkiness so
that’s why I enjoy you plus you guys have the way that you structure your
podcast the advice buffet is it’s I like the way that you kind of put it out
there it it’s you no matter who you are you can always pick up a little bit of
information from every single episode that’s awesome
thank you I’m gonna say something so weird like yeah I I haven’t no I have no
idea why our podcast is popular you know my guy I sort of understand it
but I’ve been learning a lot about podcasting and that like it really is
the contents a piece of it but it’s the relationship with the people that do the
podcast and podcasting is almost like a like a virtual friendship yeah almost
you know like because it’s it’s a voice in your head and it feels like you’re
there and it’s authentic in a way that no other type of media is yeah so I’m
still kind of like learning even as you’re talking I’m like oh yeah I guess
we do kind of cover a lot of bases yeah maybe that’s why we have been popular so
yeah like I’m just I’m absolutely just still a student of all this like
figuring out like what on earth is happening you know like people are
getting let’s go back to Joe Rogan for a moment because his podcast is one of the
most popular in the world people are getting tattoos of his face yeah like
every day somebody got a tattoo of Joe Rogan’s face because the dude talks into
Mike about stupid stuff with random people and people are in love with him
it’s so weird I’m fascinated just to answer your question I listen to the
mastering show with Ian Shepard I know Ian yep I’m sure you do a very cool guy
I listen to social media marketing with Michael Stelzer okay he talks about
I mean he’s won it he just had a huge conference that all the top social media
marketing people went to I listen to pat flynn oh yeah Pat even he’s amazing oh
he really is he had an episode 187 I want to say but it was it was about
lathering up yeah have you listened that episode oh yeah oh my god I listened to
it twice really it really blew my mind this idea of like building a business
and then building another business and then building another business and just
anyways go ahead go ahead you’re going yeah I listen to video creators with Tim
Schmoyer okay so that’s a he’s like one of the top guys on YouTube and how to
make sure that you’re doing the best you can do and what to expect in the future
for YouTube because they’re always changing their algorithm
the six-figure home studio I’ve heard of that one yeah I heard that one too yeah
working-class audio with Matt of course wonderful podcast URM I would suggest to
you if your since you’re a sound guy there’s a podcast out there called
20,000 Hertz I’ve heard of it I haven’t listened yet it’s amazing yes really
really good in terms of the production value and what they do with each episode
Dallas Taylor he’s what they do is just really good it’s each episode is a
journey and they explore all kinds of things from like ASMR to the thx sound
at the beginning of movies and where that came from and ah it’s it’s one of
my top podcasts I’m gonna check that out for I’m trying to spread my wings a
little too wider as far as the variety of podcasts I listen to I don’t really
listen to a very large number I’m a huge fan of akimbo it’s Seth Godin podcast
yep good – that shows amazing I love revisionist history with Malcolm
Gladwell okay and then I also listen to occasionally perpetual traffic it’s like
a marketing podcast like a lot of like paid advertising some of that but I
don’t I haven’t been doing that much paid advertising lately so I’ve kind of
pulled away from that but Seth Godin’s akimbo I’m obsessed with and then also I
about a year ago I decided I wanted to have an office in addition to my studio
so that I could master in one place and this would be like the dojo where I
podcast and make music sound pretty and then I wanted somewhere else where I was
doing everything else so that it sort of didn’t like overlap can I kept this as
like a creativity space yeah so I got an office with this guy that lives in my
hometown oh yeah you’ve talked about this yeah his name is Andy Jay Miller he
goes by an DJ pizza and he is a podcast called creative pep talk and you’re
gonna have him on the show aren’t you yeah I think Tuesday yeah Tuesday it’s
you know yeah and so we met and he’s like one of my best
friends now and it was this weird thing of like his podcast is a business
podcast for creatives and I was like that’s the weirdest thing in the world
that you would live in the same town there’s like only a couple people on
earth doing any kind of like where the arts and business meet like that
intersection and that’s like my ice why I’m obsessed with that that’s my sweet
spot that’s the only place I want to be all day long and so we met and have just
really hit it off and his podcast is creative pep top like like I said and
it’s sort of this really whimsical goofy you can quit your job and do what you’re
passionate for a living yeah and so it’s been really fun hanging out with him
it’s it’s been great because that his podcast I think I want to say Brian and
I are probably like 250,000 downloads and he’s that like four million
heavy-hitter so it’s been cool I’ve learned a ton about like what the heck
is happening with podcasting just by hanging out with him a lot yeah he’s
great and where do you guys live Ohio just miss Ohio okay what about you guys
I’m in Northern Virginia okay I’m in Virginia Beach awesome I used to live up
in Northern Virginia Erin I work together at one point that’s
like a band together and yeah here we are is the George Washington National
Forest in Northern Virginia is one of my favorite places on earth I just I’ll
never ever get enough of those woods it’s so good yeah yeah yeah actually up
in win Ohio I went to school in Chillicothe after recording work oh no
way yeah I’m familiar with them I know a ton of people that have gone there
they’ve been an excellent reputation yeah Jake you’re king of course yeah but
yeah I tried to get both Jim and Jeff on the show I’ve reached out to them to try
to get them on the show I think that would be a great episode for people to
kind of hear what their story is and I personally really like the idea of what
they’re doing versus something like full sail totally agree I think that you can
rack up a big debt on something with Full Sail
versus these guys you’re in you’re out and you can apply all those ideas right
away yeah and Brian and I’m anyone that’s ever listened to our show knows
that we have mixed emotions about audio school yeah and the older I get the less
mixed those emotions become and the more frustrated I am like there’s a systemic
issue in our country when it comes to going to school for the creative arts
mmm and so audio school is one of those things where you know I I got a nod a
degree and it was fun I really enjoyed college I would absolutely do college
again in a heartbeat but one of the problems is that when you enter a major
like audio or you go to a private school you know that’s extremely expensive like
so fail excuse me
you know you’re gonna rack up 60 70 maybe even $80,000 for the debt doing
that and nobody tells any of these students fYI our job placement rate is
less than 1% right we’re less than 5% let’s say let’s be really generous with
them there’s just not jobs out there if you want to do audio for a living you
need to start a business you know there’s only a couple jobs and even if
you can get one of those jobs because so many people have an audio degree you’re
gonna be competing with a bunch of people which means their wage is going
to be very tiny and we actually have it better here in the states and in Great
Britain I just recently found out we haven’t even mentioned this in our
podcast yet there’s a giant company over there that owns almost all the studios
and if you want to get in there you have to work for free for years as an unpaid
intern before you have a shot at a paid gig I
didn’t know that yeesh right and so my thing that we’re done around servitude
exactly it is it’s indentured servitude so I just learned this the other day
with the sky been hanging out with and that kind of blew my mind and I I wished
that there was like a requirement in our country where
if you take out especially student debt and you do a major that’s like hey your
odds of getting a job your odds of taking an investment and having it pay
off are this you know like this audio degree
won’t necessarily make you run a better audio business right or it might not
help you get a job because there are none there needs to be something in our
country where if the government’s gonna underwrite a student loan that they say
hey you have to sign this release form that says me and my mom and dad who are
co-signers on this agreement I acknowledge that I will almost
certainly not get a job as a result of this nearly six-figure investment right
it’s unbelievable but that’s not a normal thing in our country there’s
definitely like some sort of weird industrial education complex it’s tricky
yeah ya know I I just pulled it up extra episode 68 with Mark Eckhart I just the
fact that this guy it blew my mind that he had the know how to contact the
Berkeley teachers go up there take private lessons come home do it all over
again and get a Berkley education on a private private basis and then spend a
fraction of the cost doing so that was like one of my favorite moments in our
whole show because he explained you is like you know when you pay for a
Berkeley education it works out to about three hundred dollars an hour for
private lessons right but you can hire any of these teachers for like fifty to
seventy dollars an hour right and so you can get basically the same education
because here’s the problem if I was gonna hire an audio engineer to work for
me hmm I don’t care if they have a degree or not I care what their last
project sounded like yeah and if it sounds amazing
and if it’s with a good band that I’m like okay let’s talk yeah but if it’s
like oh I graduated first in my class cool where’s your portfolio right like
let me hear that because I don’t that doesn’t mean anything and
so it’s the same with Berkeley’s a little different Berkeley’s I’m sure a
much better investment because you can sort of wield that that brand name but
even then like no one’s gonna be like let’s say you want to be a musician for
a living you’re gonna have to audition and you’re gonna get hired or not based
on your ability to play right right and if you can do that without a Berklee
education nobody cares like that you don’t have a Berklee education or not
they’re not gonna be like wow we tested him pretty hard but he didn’t I don’t
know if he would know how to play an eleven teenth Lord you know no one’s
ever asked me I’m gonna try to get a gig if where I went to school never once
ever ever yeah let me hear your demos dude that’s it right yeah and even then
15 seconds of yeah exactly yeah which and which is kind of awesome because in
our sort of world as music people we’re a meritocracy meritocracy is different
from aristocracy aristocracy means you get the job based on who your parents
were that’s that’s like why we quit being British in 1776 and I love the
Brits by the way I was working out with the Brit then I would at the American
most of the time and so but this idea of a meritocracy is like well what can you
do you’re me you will be hired based on your merit and we have this weird thing
happening in our country where it’s not exactly a meritocracy or at least we
don’t all believe in a meritocracy it’s almost this like like degree autocracy
you know where it’s like oh well you have the degree that’s that’s enough not
if you want to be a doctor or a lawyer or whatever yeah yeah for sure for sure
it’s gonna that’s gonna be you’re gonna want to do that yeah but in these other
more meritocracy focused businesses not so much I’m probably I’m full nerd so
holla let’s back off let’s talk about something fun I think this is great
we’ve talked about music school with we’ve had on Berkeley grads we’ve had on
one of my professors from George Mason talked about what it’s like to even get
into the teaching side of university level music education we’ve
well it’s we’ve had miles went to Berkeley yep a few weeks we’re gonna
have the Dean of the jazz department we’ve got it we’ve got a don’t look at
my hood first okay so ya know we we definitely like to go for nerd because
we feel like it’s something that a lot of especially musicians who haven’t gone
to school wonder about these things and like can I make it as a musician if I
have it like that it can be something that needs to be talked about yeah
there’s a FOMO there of well yeah is there an opportunity I’m gonna miss out
am I not gonna realize my potential the answer might be yes for some people and
that’s the tricky thing here is it’s there’s definitely not this idea of like
well if you go and get a you know a business degree at your local college
you’ll definitely get hired by businesses it’s not like that for
musicians at all you know like you’re basically gonna live and die based on
your practice ethic and these magical inspirational moments where you had a
really cool idea and people loved it you know it’s sort of this like creativity
it’s an epiphany thing yeah and yeah it’s a very funny thing it’s very
interesting I’m fascinated yeah love it yeah it’s
been it’s funny you often on the on the show you talked about how you I’m
talking to myself 15 years ago is how you say and I you know a lot of that
plays into what we do here at fret buzz is you know talking to those of us who
wish we had access to that information I wish I would have had access to this
kind of information as a kid you know like it would have it would have
broadened my horizons exponentially I would have had a better idea of what I
could have actually done with music in my future I had no idea I had I thought
it was being in a band you know that’s that’s what it was and
now that I’m much older I realize all the opportunities that are actually out
there and I think there’s a lot of students because I do I have lots of
guys going into indice or out of high school into college and they are not
really sure what they’re gonna do with an audio degree because they don’t know
the opportunities that are actually available out there for them with an
audio sorry what do I do with an audio degree that
was me you know you I’m from Columbus Ohio and when I graduated high school I
had no idea like well what does the job market look like what is what does it
even look like to have a career in this like that people are these sort of
freshmen are 100% ignorant of the real world yes which is ironic cuz that’s why
they’re going to get an education but you need to be educated to pick your
major there’s this weird like catch-22 there and yeah like I really wish I had
done a gap year right out of high school yeah like to just go around an intern
and you know go to like I went to name this past winner just even going to
something like NAMM and be like oh ha okay well this is the thing there’s a
lot of people making a living doing this and that and this and this and this and
this I would have known so much more and I’m sure I would have made such better
decisions and I almost feel like there’s a coming rift in society between people
who listen to podcasts or audiobooks or read books or in some cases watch
specific types of educational YouTube content or who take paid courses I
privately made you know like Brian’s profitable producer course would be a
good example of that my co-host they take these courses made by specialists
and the number one guy in their field there’s almost like a rift coming where
you’ve got people who don’t consume that sort of educational content and those
that do because if you’re consuming that type of educational content all day
every day or even like 20 minutes a day yeah five years from now you are at a
totally different place in your wisdom and knowledge then somebody that’s just
like oh I’m gonna go home and binge Netflix all day yeah
yes it’s interesting it’s a massive societal change that people can educate
themselves during their commute or while they mow the lawn now and man that is
just the coolest thing in the world yeah thing that comes with thing I think
musicians are especially good at you know that you feel that urge to practice
as a musician because you always you’re trying to get better you’re always
trying to get better and then all this this self education stuff plays
perfectly into our natural instincts to want to continue to improve
oh I love that you’re absolutely right like there is there is more of an
impetus to self-improve as a musician probably more than probably more than
most other fields on earth yes one there’s like an instant gratification
when you’re like I just nailed that song by myself in my bedroom that’s a great
feeling that sounded really gross what’s so true that’s so true I’m sure all of
us have been alone with the guitar at one point and you are practicing and you
do something amazing that you’ve never done with feeling and then you you feel
good the rest of the day yeah there’s a high you get from that
and so one there’s this like driver to have more of those moments and then to
when you know like this was a big driver for me when you have one of those
moments while a pretty girl is watching you you know like my wife is a babe yeah
and we met while I was playing a show like that’s how I you know there’s the
only way I convinced her like I might be worth talking to is like look at me I
can play the guitar I can do one of those fast strums it’s a triplet all
right let’s hang out hey my wife came and saw me play an open mic the first
day we met oh dude stuck with me yeah it’s such a powerful thing if I could go
back in time to like 11 your old Chris and be like trust me it might not make
you much money but it will pay off yeah you’re gonna this is gonna level you up
like you’ll go from like a 5 2 & 2 & 9 there’s work on this stuff
oh yeah yeah that’s their true I don’t know that there’s any back to your point
about maybe there’s not another hobby or profession where the same obsession
exists like I’m sure athletes have similar level but it’s not as
sustainable I don’t think well the mandible or I’m sorry let me let me hop
at this point you’re good it’s not as with most sports as objective I was also
I ran track and cross-country in high school amazing sports because they’re
completely objective did you run four times around the track faster than the
last time you ran four times around the track yes yes or no but like wrestling
it was like oh you lost well but was the guy you wrestled better than the last
guy you rest well maybe like it’s it’s totally subjective even football is like
like the wind was born in the wrong direction or whatever so yeah this idea
of being a musician I think drives you towards the objectiveness of well I can
I can play this song I couldn’t before or I had these magical moments I had two
of them today and now I’m having an average of two a day or you know
whatever or when I show up when I have a show with my band a hundred people
showed up today versus forty showed up the last time there’s like this
objective thing where you can look at it and be and and look yourself in the eye
in the mirror and say yeah I’m I’m getting better at this and this is
awesome and I want to keep going yeah and it’s obsessive thing I totally I
feel like I can’t practice enough like there’s like no moment where I feel like
I shouldn’t be practicing it’s almost it’s a curse in a way yeah like in total
you know there’ll be like a Friday night where I don’t have a show and I’m like I
could call my friends and go out or I could practice for three more hours and
maybe like learn this song that I’ve been excited to learn er get really good
at this thing it’s it’s kind of a curse well and it’s an interesting thing what
hooked me with guitar was the idea of like I can remember learning the G chord
for the first time 13 years old and I remember this thought of like ha I’ll
probably remember this the rest of my life yeah I get to
bit you know like you watch a movie and you have these moments as like like 10
years later I’m still gonna be playing G chords when I’m 90 years old man
guaranteed so there is this aspect as a musician that like as you understand it
more you get to keep it and that is just that’s awesome yes so cool and coming
full circle back to the recording aspect of this I I was on my way back from a
show I played last night and I listened to one of my old bands albums on the way
back and the satisfaction of being able to record something and the the
permanence of that yeah is worth so much more than just the money that you make
off that record sale like it really is like I was having like some deep
feelings I texted my old bandmates and I was like man I was listen to our stuff
remembering the good times and it’s it’s really powerful to be able to record and
and I love that it’s becoming more and more accessible to record and we can
record at home and oh man you’re capturing these memories you know you I
could die tomorrow and at least I recorded that last song and my family
can remember me through that yeah like powerful stuff your family but maybe
like 10 generations later yeah you know like my thoughts are like with my I’m
gonna get weepy here but like I’ve got a couple CDs in my own music and my kids
will listen to that someday I haven’t really showed it to him yet but like
their children’s children’s children’s children could be like going through the
family tree and be like oh here’s great great break break break off grandma what
great Chris here’s the song he did okay well I kind of feel like I know him a
little bit it is this permanent thing and even in the face of like World War 3
like if you uploaded it to iTunes the way our system works or you know Spotify
or whatever all of that media is distributed in what’s called a CDN a CDN
is a node of servers and the same files exist in multiple positions all over the
whole globe so that people can access them faster so like even if
the earth gets hit by an asteroid it won’t take out all the servers there’s
like so so so so many of them and that music it really is perfect it is etched
in better than stone and it’s gonna be around forever and that’s cool it is
really cool that’s funny I was telling you about the 20,000 Hertz podcast there
last episode was how the gold record was sent on the satellite er yeah and there
was it was on that no it’s gonna last forever I was thinking about voyagers I
was maybe I’ll bring that up maybe I won’t but yeah there’s a record
out beyond the reaches of our solar system flying through space and you know
if Star Trek’s right one day voyagers gonna come back what you guys seen that
this I shouldn’t have gone in this road there’s a Star Trek movie we’re like a
giant spaceship returns to Earth and almost like kills everybody and it turns
out it was Voyager that encountered this like robot Society and they’re like
let’s upgrade him and then they send it back to earth with like all the
information in the known universe and anyways it’s I’m sorry I’m so sorry can
we jump back to mastering yeah yeah I’m not as nearly savvy there was
experiences Aaron so I’ve been of self-chosen myself to ask the stupid
questions like I I have my own like I’m running through a focus right
Audio Interface and I use Ableton in my computer and I you know I I know enough
to record what I want and I can make it sound decent I definitely don’t think it
sounds as good as stuff that my bands have recorded professionally in the past
but when it comes to mastering like it’s still a lot of mystery have I know more
than I used to but like I’ve got this mastering software that came with
Ableton and you know you can it kind of eek used the final mix a little bit more
and sometimes they can make it it’ll tell you like you can
choose a wide mix or a you can have more clarity like it they try to make it seem
simple is that just not doing anything good at all or is that like is it
worthwhile to go through something like that
well here’s here’s the long and short answer to that beautiful that’s what I
want when I when me or any other mastering engineers mastering a song
what’s happening is it’s kind of like a doctor and the doctor sits with the
patient and it’s trying to figure out how to make that patient as healthy as
possible mm-hmm that patient could have any one of millions of issues and what
the doctor is able to do is leverage an awful lot of experience to diagnose and
to hopefully fix those issues someday there’s going to be automated mastering
software that’s going to be fantastic but right now the goal of mastering or
music for that matter is that when you make a recording the most objective
thing you can measure is how many goosebumps on your left arm people get
does the average person get when they listen to that song and here’s the
problem they’re like let me let me pose a question to you guys why do human
beings like music can change your day change your the way you feel at any
given time how why why does it do that
on the spot it’s a trick question nobody has ever figured it out yeah I
would assume it has to something to do with our frequency in the whole history
of like you know you can listen to one song that’s arguably a great song you
know all the music Theory’s gorgeous and and it’s absolutely brilliant but it
doesn’t affect you emotionally at all right and then you listen to another
song where you’re like oh this is doesn’t sound good
there’s some weird decisions being made that lyrics are lame the vocal sounds
harsh and you like get weepy and have an emotional connection and get goose bumps
on your left arm we don’t have any idea why that happens
it’s a complete mystery it’s this metaphysical thing so to come back to
your question Joe when you’re working with a mastering engineer the mastering
engineer is optimizing if they’re good they’re optimizing for goosebumps and
not just goose bumps but goose bumps to the widest number of people on the
widest number of listening back devices so it should sound great on my ear pods
it should sound get it great in my home theater system it should sound great in
my car and there’s a lot of art to this of figuring out like how do I give the
most people the most goosebumps and so mastering software is tricky because you
can’t write software around an undefined goal like evoke the most human emotion
it’s really really tricky and so for the same reason of like a perfect guitar
solo might not evoke any emotion at all but it might be arguably perfect but a
different guitar solo that’s also arguably perfect might evoke a ton of
emotion and we have no idea why there’s this totally disparate response to
basically the same stuff and so there’s a not that I guess what I’m trying to
say is music is extremely mysterious and you know we don’t understand a lot of
stuff we don’t understand gravity or black holes or you know dark matter
there’s all sorts of mystery in the universe and music is still one of them
and the best bet the best machine that we have to figure out how to impact the
most people emotionally because that’s what we’re doing with every song right I
want to impact the most people emotionally right is to work with
somebody who specializes in making decisions that will hopefully make the
music impact the most people emotionally a mastering engineers making those
decisions with compression with EQ obviously with limiting and then with
multiband compression where stuff gets really crazy so you’ve got like this
compressor only affects the base and this compressor only affects the highs
and so on and so forth there’s like millions of different variables you can
adjust when you’re mastering a song that can make it point one
more emotionally appealing to a human and it’s through making a bunch of these
small decisions that you can accomplish something where suddenly this song is a
little bit more engaging than it was beforehand so like the to answer your
question Joe like that software can sometimes work but the the job of a
mastering engineer is to work consistently is to be like every single
time the song is a better song in that it makes people more emotional when they
listen to it every time they do it software just isn’t there yet it might
never be I think it probably will but I mean it’s just one of these weird things
where we don’t we don’t know the answer to what why do humans like music so you
can’t write software that involves like if-then logic statements which is what
you’re doing when you’re writing software is it’s a bunch of it’s a logic
tree right if if the song is louder than this then do this if the highs are
louder than this there’s a lot of stuff that can help but not necessarily
consistently I know that there’s what it slander is that the yep yep yeah I know
that that’s out that there’s been this it’s died down a little bit since but
when it came out a couple months ago I know there was a lot of discussion
around it I remember Ian Shepard actually talking about it as well yeah
it just doesn’t it’s just not the same I mean it’s close it’s getting better but
it’s just not the same yeah well it again it’s just this thing of they can’t
you can’t write software around these things right it defies I mean like if I
want to optimize you know something like
cleaning my house like vacuuming my floor like you can write software to be
like the goal is that there’s no dirt on the floor you can write it piece of
software on that but if it’s the goal is that this type of person would cry when
they listen to this song you can’t like you can’t quantify that there’s there’s
no that’s the whole point is software you have to have quantifiable variables
that you can aim at and program around so I’m like way into the wild blue
yonder if nerdiness and I’m sure I’ve liked
ad nauseam answered tried to answer your question but it is helpful it’s a good
way to look at it okay no no good I was gonna go too deep go ahead no my
question was was and I’m I know where I stand on this and I know that there has
been debate about this and then I’m a little older so in terms of mixing where
you master or vice versa yeah I’m I’m very much in the old school thought of
you don’t do it I mean if you need some space between you and your project and
handing it off to somebody else that was extremely experienced and that’s all
they do and their room is tuned to it and I’ve always been of that school of
thought of you you don’t mix or you don’t master where you mix well I would
say there are these magical beans out there who have turned out great songs
that they’ve mixed and mastered them there is definitely exceptions to the
rule that’s for sure there for sure are so let me say that first virtually every
hit that’s ever been on the radio with a few exceptions has been mixed by one guy
mastered by somebody else hmm you know and so this is a normal process this is
how hits have been made and the thing that’s tricky that I really want to
point out is when you’re mixing and recording yourself as you should be this
is like one of the greatest times to be alive because we can have a home studio
that’s incredible yeah one of the things that’s tricky is that when you are
comparing your songs to someone else’s songs those songs have almost certainly
been professionally mastered and it’s kind of like if you’re baking a cake and
you don’t know how to put the icing on the cake and you compare it to a
professionally made cake you’re always gonna have this feeling of like oh gosh
I’m just maybe I just suck and it’s frustrating it’s really intense to be
like well on my band sounds like Foo Fighters so I’m gonna finish this mix
now I’m gonna go listen to a Foo Fighters song oh I
doesn’t sound as good yeah so there’s a huge element there of like you got to
keep in mind that a professionally made song is mixed by somebody who only mixes
all day long he’s recorded by somebody who probably only records all day long
and the musicians in the room are probably musicians all day long and then
it goes to a guy who only masters all day long right cuz of course it’s gonna
sound better so when you’re figuring out what to outsource so that you can major
in your majors and minor and your minors what mastering is one of the first
things I would say you know if you’re in a situation where like I just I love
making these songs but then I sweat bullets right before I release the song
when I’m not sure if it sounds good or not and I can’t remember which way is up
and I don’t know if it’s 3:00 in the morning or 3:00 in the in the afternoon
you know this sort of like space cadet thing that happens when you’ve been in
the studio all day mastery is one of these easy things where you can just
reach out to somebody at the last minute and say hey can you make sure this
sounds good I think it’s a yeah sure let me adjust some stuff what I would say my
advice to you guys and your listeners would say I don’t recommend relying on
software for mastering what I would recommend is doing a mastering contest
most mastering engineers that are you know either really cheap or sort of
middle-of-the-road price wise or even a lot that are very expensive from time to
time will offer a free mastering sample at least to most people and there’s
plenty of people out there that’ll never offer a free mastering sample and I
don’t really pay a ton of attention to this other than knowing there are a lot
of mastering engineers who master all day long they will master one song for
free my advice always to everyone is not spend 10 hours messing with software it
send that song that you’re almost done with out 2 3 4 5 I’ve had guys that have
sent out mastering you know a mastering sample that a dozen or sometimes even
more than 20 people get a free mastering sample back see which one sounds the
best and at the worst case scenario you’re gonna get them all back and be
like this one sounds the best and it doesn’t really sound better than what I
did myself if that’s the case you might be one of these magical people that can
do it on their own but you still got to keep in mind mastering is about
consistency it’s about making a record that’s a
cinematic experience to listen to which means you press play on song number one
and it sucks you into this virtual world and you are there until the last song
fades out and then you have that moment of like woah I’m back yeah and a great
mastering engineer can do that every time a bad mastering engineer might make
it might make one of the songs sound amazing and the rest sound like trash or
might make one of those songs sounds amazing
and your studio monitors but sound bad everywhere else this is an awful lot of
variables to account for here so the mastering contest I’d like send a song
out get a bunch of free samples see what it sounds like you know make sure you
send one of those songs to a Chris Graham mastering and side-by-side on
your on your I do yeah perfect so doing doing something
like that can be this sort of like dose of reality
too big okay I did a pretty good job oh my god I had no idea professional master
engineer could take my steaming pile of poo and make it into an unseen pile of
poo yeah and then you also have this idea of some albums they’re not always
recorded in the same studio you may not yeah it’s much more complicated yeah
report quartered over here and then it’s up to the mastering engineer to make
that whole album cohesive yeah cohesive is the right word and that’s that’s
really the job of a mastering engineer and I think most the time when someone’s
doing DIY they think it’s just sounding good does it sound good
and there’s the portability issue and there’s the cohesiveness issue so I
think it’s something that’s all it’s it’s one of the easiest problems to
solve finding a good mixing engineer is a lot harder than finding a good
mastering engineer because mixing engineers by and large don’t do free
test mixes on a large scale so it’s hard to find a really good mix engineer that
will do a free test mix just because it’s so time intensive mastering if all
you do is master all day long I really doesn’t take that much time right it
doesn’t take me like I could do I could pretty easily do two records in a day if
I had to I really do but I could write huh how much now I can’t say that
they’re over but I can’t we can’t have a mastering conversation without coming up
with the idea of the loudness Wars hmm how and like I said I can’t say that
they’re over but we are definitely closing out that chapter at least
getting a little bit closer to it how much do you deal with that still
that is a great question the loudness Wars is this idea that back in the day
kind of started in the 90s bands would say oh if we can get our mastering
engineer to compress our music more it’ll sound louder than previous songs
on the radio or the next songs on the radio and that’ll make people like us
more and that just went on and on and on and on and on until eventually Metallica
released a record and it yeah Death Magnetic it sounded terrible and
then some people were hanging out with their kids and they heard the unmastered
version on Guitar Hero and they were like wait a minute
why does this song sound amazeballs on Guitar Hero and terrible on my CD and
then everything started to crumble and you mentioned Ian Shepard before he had
a big piece in this of just pushing this idea that again you should be optimizing
for goosebumps not for like let’s make it super loud so that it you know people
are like wow this records louder and therefore better there’s all these side
effects and back to this sort of doctor illustration and mastering every sort of
medication that you can take as a human for the most part it’s gonna have
negative side effects when you’re trying to make a song too loud and mastering
especially if there’s mix issues the side effects can get really substantial
that’s one of the reasons with Chris Graham mastering that we do a free
mixing consultation before mastering did you sort of like walk the person that
we’re working with through hey you might turn this up you might turn that down or
this is over – this is overly bright you’re not gonna like how that sounds
after mastering it gives us an opportunity to make sure that the master
sounds as good as possible as the mixes as good as possible
it seems like it can accentuate if you’ve got a little in the past of at
least doing it myself if there’s something that’s clipping a little tiny
bit and it sounded okay in the mix like you’re like it’s barely there as soon as
it was mastered it’s like whoa yeah rings out the bad sometimes yeah
all the nuance comes forward in a master you can hear all the like the
intricacies of the recording and that it should be a good thing but in some cases
it can be like oh you didn’t do any crossfades
on your edits and there’s pops and clicks that you couldn’t hear before
yeah yeah yeah it’s been crazy fun hanging out with you I wish I had more
time yeah yeah thank you Chris this has been amazing absolutely really do
appreciate you coming on the show it’s my pleasure man yeah really enjoyed
having you and thanks for shedding some light on the mystery of mastering
mystery of mastering I like the sound of
so Chris if you could plug as much as you can okay have you guys have a home
studio and you are mixing and mastering yourself you should do a mastering
contest go to Chris grant mastering calm you can send me a song I’ll do a free
sample if you’re trying to run a business and audio or to business and
music in general check out my podcast the six figure um studio it’s it’s the
best thing I do it’s it’s great people tend to like it
it’s um and most of that’s because my coast is the freakin genius so come come
hang with us anywhere podcasts are available awesome thank you so much
Chris oh it’s my pleasure good hanging out yeah

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