Really? 25 years of mastering?
Quite recently I realized I’m mastering music for 25 years by the end of 2023. I wanted to tell you the short version of my story. Now that I think of it more, it really doesn’t feel like 25 years to me for numbers of reasons. I also don’t like celebrating birthdays and things. I was even on a holiday 2 years ago when I turned 50, so no party, just some cake and a dinner with my wife and kids. This means I will most likely, also not be doing anything with this ‘25 years in mastering’ thing. Sorry guys. 😊
Back in the 90ties I was signed as an artist at ID&T. I made techno/house and I made a lot of it. That’s when my A&R manager (Kostijn Egberts, thanks dude!) decided it was the right time to release a full-length album as Da Goose called Materialistik. This album was going to be released on CD and double vinyl in 1998 (discogs says 1999 BTW), and so of course it had to be mastered. Back then this was just a bunch of DAT tapes, no wetransfer link or whatever. I had a vision on the overall sound, but more importantly, the album flow and so Kostijn decided that it might be a good idea to sit down with the mastering session, and work on the album. That mastering-engineer was Mark den Hartog from Zownd, who is now a really good friend and we talk on the phone and real-life about mastering and other nerdy and personal things a lot. Mark is a pioneer without even realizing it. Mark, if you read this, dude, you really are a legend!
Soon after that mastering-session I thought to myself, wow, that mastering thing is cool. I want to do that myself, how hard can it be? So I got myself a ‘copy’ of wavelab (version 1.5 or something like that) and started messing around with some waves plugins (waves L1 anyone?) and I made things sound better. Well, at least I made it sound different and so it must sound better right? I had no idea what I was doing really.. But it was fun! A friend (Remy Verheyen, who I know since the mid 80ties and actually came up with the name Da Goose) was also signed at ID&T and he was also going to release an album and so we decided that we were going to master that album together in my studio, how hard can it be? That was the end of 1998 and to my surprise, the master actually sounded pretty good. I must still have that master CD somewhere in the closet. But I’m afraid that if you want to listen to that album yourself, I have some bad news for you. That album was unfortunately never released because Kostijn left as an A&R manager and the new A&R, I think, didn’t really like that album and so it was never released. So, my first payed mastering-job was for ID&T and was never released. 😊
After that, I started messing with my own music and ‘mastered it myself’, still no idea what I was doing though. I was lucky enough that my music was released on vinyl and so my masters where send to a cutting-engineer who most likely EQ’ed a LOT to make it sound good again and work out for vinyl, but I got to learn how it works by listening to the differences. Though of course, vinyl sounds different and so the AB was hard. But still, I learned some things over time and the differences between my masters and the vinyl release got smaller. I then also realized that mastering my own music didn’t really work, mastering is about being objective, that’s impossible with your own music.
I was also DJ’ing and so I knew quite some other DJ/producers who also made music. I talked about that mastering thing and I got to master some music for my colleagues, for free. I had no intention in being a mastering-engineer, let alone that you could make this your profession. I was a DJ/producer and I liked making music and DJ but that mastering thing was also great fun!
Slowly things evolved and I was mastering more and more music. Remember, this was late 90ties, not a lot of mastering-engineers existed. Most people didn’t even know what mastering was let alone know what it meaned. I was doing 100% dance related things, house, techno etc. But then all of a sudden, I got to master a full-length country album. I have no idea how this artist came to me, but he was from the USA but lived in the Netherlands and he wanted me to master his upcoming album. Now that was something else.. First of all, I don’t ‘really like’ country and it’s a totally different approach. But I knew how it should sound, I got his previous album (mastered in the USA) as a reference and I also learned a thing or two about how to get there. The album turned out pretty good I think and the client was happy about it. So, from that moment on, not just dance related mastering. Now that’s fun! And a bit scary..
From there, things steadily evolved and after realizing I could make my part-time profession with this, I started focussing more on this mastering thing. I’m a firm believer in making something grow by fully focussing on it. So it did grow and I got more and more work, not free of charge of course though I was still cheap, too cheap maybe. Because the mastering business grew, I had less time to make music and that meaned, less releases which lead to less DJ bookings. It was a natural shift into mastering, I never really came up with that plan, it just happened basically because I was focussing on this. But then I realized, why do I still have that studio with all those synthesizers, drummachines and things like that without even using it? I then decided to sell everything (still regret some) and made my studio a fully operational mastering-studio. More focus, more growth and I soon became an almost full-time mastering engineer. Cool right? I also got to work with bigger artists, labels and big name mixing engineers, which also helped of course and then, without realizing it, I was doing this mastering thing full time.
I also noticed that there was a shift from dance/electronic music to more pop, rock, acoustical music. Right now, maybe about 10/15% of the masters that I do are ‘dance related’, though dance got more mainstream and so pop music is also more electronic, and funny enough some dance orientated music is now done with acoustical instruments. I like that, I really do! This is what makes my job as a mastering-engineer interesting, you get to hear a LOT of cool new music and see artists evolve into big names. That’s what drives me every day to get to the studio (which is behind/part of our private house) and work on awesome music all day, every day.
After doing this for 25 years now, I still love mastering and I learn new things and hear new stuff every single day, still evolving. It doesn’t feel like 25 years, it feels like I just started. But looking back now, I realize I have worked on some amazing music, some evergreens, really big hits (and flops) and what I also really like, I fully work in the background. Sometimes you walk in a shopping-mall and you hear music coming from a shop, I mastered that song. You walk by construction-workers blasting their radio while they loudly sing along, I mastered that song. Going to a wedding where people dance and sing to an evergreen, I mastered that song. That feeling of making people happy, being it the artist, the label, the audience, the listener, with your small final touch to the music is what drives me to continue this journey. And I hope for many more years to come.
Thank you for all trusting me!
Without you I would not have written this. 👊