Written by guest writer, Rowan Bradley
R: How did you get started in audio engineering?
A: I started audio engineering in 2013 taking the more traditional route of a studio assistantship. Senior Engineer and my mentor, Adam Gonsalves at Telegraph Mastering, was looking for an assistant to train and I had the amazing honor of being selected. I had no formal sound engineering education, but had spent roughly 12 years in classical piano training eventually moving on to orchestral percussion before leaving musical performance behind. At a time when a ton of my friends were starting bands, I found that despite being a proficient musician, performing created a great deal of anxiety in me and I began allocating massive amounts of time exploring all things musical and supporting others musical endeavors. It so happened that the early foundation of music theory combined with a sincere obsessive love of a wide variety of music genres that gave me a terrific foundation for mastering. From 2013, under the guidance of my mentor, I spent countless hours training, observing, reading college audio text, visiting recording studios, vinyl manufacturing plants, and eventually practicing basic mastering skills and learning the art of cutting master lacquer discs. I began mastering and disc cutting for my own clients around 2015 while continuing to develop my audio engineering skills.
R: What does your process look like? How has it changed over the years?
A: My process is one of transparency and precision. Mastering is truly the final stop in the audio production process before an artist's work is manufactured and sent out into the world. There's a tremendous amount of responsibility in that role and I am always striving to honor the artist's sonic goals without leaving my discernible fingerprints on their art. I strive to be invisible while making a series of tiny clean audio shaping manipulations that end up summing to a track that is professional sounding and truly finished. One of the greatest assets to my work is the room I work in and the quality of the audio gear I get to use. Since I started at Telegraph, we've acquired many new fantastic pieces of equipment as well as undergoing acoustic upgrades designed by Andreas Nordenstam in 2015.
R: What do you like most about mastering and audio engineering?
A: Aside from listening to music for my job, I think what is amazing about this field of work is that each project is completely unique requiring a totally customized mastering approach. Each year an engineer can constantly grow and change in their craft as they engage with new pieces of music, audio gear , and discover new way to approach a sonic goal. I believe I will be learning and working in this field until my ears fail me.
R: Can you think of a creative project that changed the way you think about your work?
A: I had the amazing good fortune of woking at Cascade Record Pressing while learning how to be a master lacquer cutting engineer. Being able to master a record, engineer the cut for the lacquers, then personally examine the stampers that are made from those lacquers, and evaluate the test pressings at Cascade accelerated my skills in disc cutting lacquers exponentially. I can recall a challenging electronic project I worked on and was experimenting with a few new techniques for cutting a record with predominately inorganic sounds. I was a bit nervous about what would happen to the fidelity once electroformed and pressed into vinyl. It ended up sounding incredible and I learned where I can push some of the limitations of the vinyl format to achieve a better sounding record.
R: What’s it like working in the music industry in 2018?
A: It is a wild time to be working in the music industry. The last 20 years have seen a huge disruption in the status quo of major labels and they way the music industry has historically operated. With the advent of music file sharing and the rise in power of online and streaming music entities, a huge fragmentation occurred with a shift to a more decentralized industry. As a result, a DIY scene has emerged that is no longer a subculture and is it awesome. Artists don't necessarily need a major label to tithe to and can afford to self release their own album right into mainstream sources. Coupled with the renewed energy into vinyl, artists have a physical art that they can sell to fans again. I think this has ultimately resulted in more music being created and released into the world.
R: Any new music you’d recommend people check out?
A: Our regional music is always so brilliant. The hip hop community in Portland is just blowing me away right now. Check out the label EYRST or Wynne for a taste of the PNW sound. Silent Season is a label out of Vancouver BC and is a gem in the electronic scene; I love everything they put out. Additionally, a compilation I mastered, "Raised By Women" showcases female artists in Portland and is going to be released in October by Dazzleship Records; proceeds will go to a local domestic violence agency, Raphael House.
R: What are you looking forward to?
A: We are in the initial stages of a new studio build. We are working with Thomas Jouanjean of Northward Acoustics. It's a dream come true to have the honor of working in a room like this and I'm absolutely thrilled to have that resource available to the Portland music community.
Amy Dragon was part of the 5x5 speaker series at this years WeMake DISRUPTS conference.