Guest blog star: Pete Maher - Mastering Engineer

As a band we’re really lucky to work with some great people, whether that be during the recording process, playing live, working on PR & marketing or producing videos. We thought it would be great to introduce some of these folk and give you a  break from our own ramblings ;-). 

First up is mastering wizard Pete Maher who has mastered every song we’ve released so far. His mastering credits include U2, Jack White, The Killers, Pixies, The Rolling Stones, The 1975 and Paul Weller (to name but a few). We caught up with him and asked him a few questions about his career. 

How long have you been working as a mastering engineer and how did you get started? 

I entered the music industry as a young ‘lamb to the slaughter’ musician in the 1990’s. I played in various bands, signed several deals and worked with many big name producers, but failed to get the sound I was looking for. Little did I know that the missing 'secret’ ingredient was the 'mastering’ process. Back then it wasn’t an option for small labels. Only the big boys could afford it so there was a huge 'sonic’ gap between a major release and an independent one. After a few years of record label nonsense I walked away and never looked back. I ventured into sound engineering and worked with the likes of Sheryl Crow and Annie Lennox for live sessions at the BBC. I also worked live sound for Coldplay, Keane and Razorlight amongst others. It was during this time in 2002 that I also discovered the fine art of mastering. It was a light bulb moment. This is when I realized that mastering a track could transform it from a decent sounding demo into a glorious sounding master. It inspired me so much that I set a studio up in Camden Town in 2004, with the aim of catering for unsigned artists and small labels. I became the first engineer in London to offer online mastering. 

Over the years peoples listening habits have changed dramatically; most people stream, download mp3s or listen on their phone speaker. Have you seen this affect the characteristics of mixes you work with, does it change your approach to mastering? 

Many people describe mastering as a mysterious dark art but to me it’s not. It’s actually simple. You take a mix and you bring the very best out of it. A well mastered track will sound great played in any format and through any system. That’s why Elvis, Bowie, T-Rex, The Clash and The Rolling Stones still sound great today. They are loud, clear and dynamic. A recent game changer in the mastering world is the new iTunes/Spotify playback limiter. It was designed to combat the 'loudness wars’ issue. Overcooked or super loud masters are now turned down (on playback) whilst under level masters are enhanced and turned up. For this reason it’s best to comply with MFiT technology. 

Any big DO’s and DON'Ts artists should pay attention to when sending their tracks to be mastered? 

It’s important to leave sonic headroom for mastering. This means avoiding limiters or mastering plugins on the master bus during mixdown. The worst excuse for this is when producers say they use it to glue the mix together, but in my opinion a well mixed track shouldn’t need gluing together. The biggest mistake is blasting a mix through an L2 type plugin and then reducing the output volume to minus 6db, in the hope that it creates headroom. You can’t unscramble eggs and you can’t replace lost dynamics. Eventually they get it, but in all fairness most artists and producers know what they are doing. The quality of mixes today are 100% better than they were 10 years ago. 

If you were stranded on a desert island and could take one track/EP/album you’ve mastered to listen to which one would it be and why? 

I find it hard to listen to one album or one artist these days. Instead I like to make compilation discs of all my favourite masters. I make a new one each month for the car and listen to the artists I work with. This gives me a better understanding of where the music comes from and how it sounds in the real world. I like to think of my clients as one big community or family. So to answer your question, I could take any one of those discs and be happy. 

Finally, if you could pass on one piece of career advice you’ve received what would it be? 

Enjoy your music. Please yourself and ignore what everyone else is doing. Give it your best shot and go easy on yourself. I spent my twenties on adrenaline and anxiety. It was an almighty rollercoaster of highs and lows. I put everything on the line for a dream and it didn’t really turn out as planned. I compromised too easily with producers/labels and got lost in the machine. When I eventually called time I had a manager, a promoter, a major deal and a tour but I’d had enough. It was incredibly liberating to end it but quite daunting not knowing where the next chapter would lead. Thankfully everything worked out but many fellow musicians fell through the cracks. It’s a tough industry where it pays to be an optimistic paranoid! So enjoy it and don’t compromise. It’s your music, so look after it, especially the publishing !! Good luck .. 

If you want to find out more about Pete Maher and his mastering services then visit his website. If you want to hear what a rollocking good job he does then why not download our track Into the Fading Light for FREE here