Another in our series of interviews with some of the very talented people out there who help us at Desert Mine Music make great art that can last beyond the age of the immortals.
This time we speak to Dave Keegan, a sonic alchemist who not only plays in the highly regarded duo Keegan Snaize, but who also masters a large percentage of the output of Desert Mine Music including The Sorry Kisses' 'Keep Smiling' and Sam Forrest's 'No Imagination' and 'Born Again EP' releases.
He's also had a large hand in helping many of the recordings at Factory Of Unprofessional Sound, sound sparkling and alive.
To many, mastering can seem an unwieldy subject. Many simply know that once a recording is mixed, it is then passed onto a mastering engineer who then makes it sound 'louder and better' before being passed onto a CD manufacturer.
However, we here at Desert Mine Music believe that there is much more to it than that, so we sat Dave Keegan down and asked him these probing questions about mastering:
1. If you were locked in a cage and the cage was hanging over a ferocious river, which frequency would you be listening to most?
Hi Dick. I'd guess that the dominant frequency I'd hear would be the blood-curdling screams for help coming from my own mouth at about 3 or 4 kHz ( depending on urgency). That would mainly be due to the fact that it'd be the sound nearest my ears. But off set by the HRTF owing to the density of my terrified head. It would also matter how far away the river was from the cage, but I'm thinking a little top-end 18kHz static & high-mid turmoil would be mixed in there too regardless.
2. Is there any job more boring in the whole of the music industry more boring than mastering?
At times it feels like there isn't. Mostly when entering meta-data repeatedly and dealing with fuckwits who give me the wrong ISRC codes. But it's always amazing fun during the creative, mixing side of the werk.
And that feeling of 'ok NOW it sounds like a record' is unbeatable. I also feel a HUGE responsibility to do a good job given the hours of effort that's gone into writing, recording & mixing songs.
I don't know if that's a yes or no.
3. When mastering, do you ever turn the speakers off and just guess by looking at the waveforms?
Yes. Why do you think 'Keep Smiling' sounds so good?
It depends what I'm looking for. I always do that initially if the files come with a lot of headroom, just to get the gain up to a nice amount before you start adding limiting, etc. But it's a well-judged guess based on how quiet the mixes are.
4. Have you ever taken a mastering job, not done anything and handed the music back to the artist untouched yet told them you'd worked on it for a week and they believed it?
Yes. Why do you think 'No Imagination' sounds so good?
If I could get away with it I probably would. But I'd need to target a much stupider market base.
5. If somebody says to you 'Mastering is a dark art', do you want to punch them?
A. Depends on the context. If it was a guy saying 'I realise that mastering is a dark art and will therefore pay you handsomely for your secret wisdom', then probably not.
6. Have you ever refused to master something on the grounds that the music is rubbish?
Not yet. But so far I've had the luxury of mostly working on stuff I personally like. I'd only refuse it as a paying gig if the stuff I was given was unuseable. In terms of maxed-out levels or a hopeless mix. It'd have to be pretty bad though.
7. When you are listening to music whilst mastering, do you stay in a static position or do you like to move around the room really fast?
I generally like to bob and weave like a Preying Mantis for a bit. Until I find my KILL zone, whereupon I become as still as a windless glade yet coiled like an angry viper.
I then strike down troublesome frequencies with considerable venom & end their terrible suffering. I also like to stand near the door a lot.
I always need to call upon my trusty AKG K240 headphones at some point too. In which case I remain motionless. Like a corpse in a bad chair.
8. If you could, would you replace your eyeballs with another set of ears to help you master audio more precisely?
I've looked into this quite extensively and whilst the eye/ear transplant is relatively simple, the resulting benefits are too negligible to make the procedure worthwhile. Far better to have another pair of ears stretch===ing out from the back of one's head or shoulders to the rear walls of the studio.
9. Have you ever accidentally deleted somebody's audio files and then tried to recreate them yourself and hoped that nobody would notice?
I can't use that joke again, can I? No, but it would bring a distinct note of truth to the client's mastered-version first listen comment...
" Wow..it sounds COMPLETELY DIFFERENT!"
10. If you were to try and dissuade somebody from getting into mastering, what would you tell them?
I would tell them that despite their lofty goals for wider appreciation of dynamic range in music, the only way they'll earn a decent living is by making loud mixes even louder.
Don't get me wrong. Dick. I love loud mixes...I love to see the needle worrying the red!
And I'm a huge enthusiast of bringing out important detail in a master mix with volume...I love accentuating certain frequencies with my favourite hardware compressor too.
But squashing it to fuck? No. Stamps the fire out of it.
Thanks for your questions.
I will soon be unveiling www.dkmaxx.com for all your mastering needs.