Tuesday, February 20th, 2018

Streaky Mastering : from Acid House to Mastering House

By editorJuly 1, 2012

AUDIO MASTERING

Streaky is the chief mastering engineer at Streaky Mastering in London which he launched in 2008.  He has since mastered platinum albums and number 1 singles for Taio Cruz, Chipmunk, Skepta & Groove Armada with other highlights being for Kasabian, Will Young, Tinchy Stryder, Pendulum and P Diddy.

Streaky began his career in the music industry as a professional DJ in the days of Acid House, specialising in Chillout and Balearic House, where demand for his sets took him abroad to countries such as Sweden, Ibiza and Spain.

In 1994 Streaky started work at Battery Studios in the CD Mastering department.  Here he took the hands-on approach to mastering.  During this time he mastered for A Tribe Called Quest, KRS 1, Mystikal, The Stone Roses, R Kelly, Backstreet Boys, Aaliyah, Fatboy Slim, Britney Spears, Groove Armada ‘Vertigo’ and many other artists on Jive & Zomba Records.  Streaky also developed a strong client base among London’s leading dance & garage producers, mastering club classics like Shanks & Bigfoot ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’, Azzido Da Bass ‘Dooms Night’, Artful Dodger ‘Re-rewind’ and many more he can’t remember!

Streaky made the move to The Soundmasters in 2000 chiefly to extend his skills from CD mastering to include vinyl mastering.  Under the tuition of veteran mastering engineer Kevin Metcalfe he swiftly developed a reputation as a talented drum & bass engineer, and cut records for Adam F, DJ Marky, J Majik, Ed Rush & Optical and pretty much anyone who is worth their salt in the drum & bass scene!  He also built an impressive client list among bands such as Death In Vegas, Asian Dub Foundation, Kasabian, Embrace and Snow Patrol. Other notable 5.1 Surround Sound albums for Kasabian, Moby, Erasure, Depeche Mode, Dave Gahan, and Martin Gore.

Whilst at Soundmasters in 2004 Streaky launched eMasters, an online mastering service aimed at independent producers, musicians and record labels.  This was the first time a leading mastering studio in Europe had provided a fully online approach to professional mastering.

Here’s what Streaky had to say about the art of mastering …

What do you consider to be the role of the mastering engineer?

Firstly it’s important to understand the artist’s requirements and what they are hoping to achieve from the sound.  Once this is established a good engineer will use the correct amount of audio processing to add space, dynamics and level whilst keeping within it’s genre.

What do you consider to have been the major changes in music technology which have either benefited or been detrimental to the production and delivery of music recordings, and how has this impacted on your role as a mastering engineer?

The internet has had a major impact on the traditional role of mastering companies over the past 10 years. Artists and producers are more remote and therefore not attending sessions as often as they might have done previously. Probably around 80% of my work is now unattended with many conversations/discussions on Skype and email and with the client listening in their own mix environment.

What advice do you have for mix engineers in preparing their final mix for mastering?

Get the mix to the best possible point without using a fake mastering chain on the end of your mix buss (i.e. heavy limiting and compression).  Learn to mix by keeping the track peaking at around -5dbu with plenty of peaks still visually showing in the waveform.  Some mix engineers use compression on the mix buss which is fine as long as you aren’t smashing it and just only using it for flavour.

Do you feel there are still advantages in either recording to analogue tape or to bouncing stereo mixes through a tape in order to gain warmth and what some consider to be desirable tape compression?  And do you consider that ‘A to D’ and ‘D to A’ converters are now good enough to cope with the multiple conversions this would entail?  And what about all these ‘wonderful’ old analogue compressor and equalisers which all the famous mixing engineers seem to swear by?

I’m a big analogue fan and I use mainly outboard equipment to master with.  I’ve had mixed results going to tape – it really depends on the mix.  I find more acoustically produced music works better as the warmth and compression isn’t sharp / peaky enough for a more electronic sound.  I think the A to D converters are good enough to handle a transfer or two so it’s well worth paying for some tape to have options when mastering.

On the point of analogue outboard I find these essential as I’m yet to hear some plugins that come near to the earthy sound you get from the real thing.  You can add so much more flavour and warmth with some nice old valves or some of the super-clean Maselec type mastering equipment.  With most mixers using plugins, I think the adding of analogue mastering is now the only way to go.

How do you feel about the re-emergence of vinyl?  Are you getting more requests to master for vinyl, and if so how does it change your approach to mastering the material?

I’ve cut Vinyl for over 15 years and I’ve always eq’d the material in the same way.  With the continued appreciation of the sound that can be achieved through vinyl cutting, it still remains a popular format for my customer base.

My approach to mastering is the same for both vinyl and digital.  You naturally tend to listen for things such as wide stereo bass or a bright high end as these are difficult to cut on a lathe.  Bass always sounds better in the middle and high end sounds better under control and not too sibilant.  In my experience by applying the same techniques used to achieve a good vinyl cut, you can get the music to sound great on CD too.Could you give us a quick run though of how your mastering room was constructed and what you consider your most important mastering gear.

The walls of the room were constructed using the standard “room within a room” technique.  The main speakers are seated on solid concrete stands separate from the floating floor.  A “Star Point’ mains distribution system has been installed to help achieve a phenomenally quiet noise floor and audio distribution using LAT silver cable.  The room has some bass trapping but is mainly diffuser based to keep it slightly live.  The most important mastering gear in the room are the speakers (B&W 802d’s).  The low end has unbelievable detail and they are so warm they never tire your ears out even after a loud 12 hour session!

I’m a huge fan of Maselec equipment so I have most of the things Leif Mases makes.  I’ve collected some old valve bits over the years but my favourites are my Neumann lathe compressors as they have a sharpness in the mids that just punch through with that classics 70′s German vibe.

Which artists have you been working with?

I’ve been mastering a good variety of acts including Ed Sheeran, Hurts, The Egg, Taio Cruz and the new girl band Stoshe.  I’ve also been working with some great producers including The Justice League, Jagz Kooner and James Reynolds.  I also master the complete catalogues for both Universal Production Music and Warner Production Music.

What do you see as the next likely advances in delivery formats and how is this likely to impact on both the recording and mastering stages in music production?

I think that mp3′s are dying with broadband getting faster and hard drives getting larger.  There is no need for these bad quality small files.  This will give people the opportunity to hear how great HD files sound in comparison and this will in turn have a big effect on the quality of people’s recording techniques.

Our thanks to Streaky.  Check out his Mastering Facility at www.streaky.com

Here’s a run down of the equipment at Streaky Mastering

Monitoring System

  • B & W 802 Diamond monitors
  • Yamaha NS10
  • Bryston Amps
  • Classe 301 Amp
  • Maselec Master Control and Pre Amps MTC 2
  • Benchmark SPM – 2 Vu / PPM Meters

Analogue Eq & Dynamics

  • Prism Maselec MEA-2 EQ
  • Manley Massive Passive EQ
  • Neumann U473 SP Compressor
  • Thermionic Culture Phoenix Mastering Plus Compressor
  • Prism Maselec MLA-2 Compressor
  • Maselec MLA-3 Multiband Compressor
  • Avalon 747SP Compressor / EQ (modified with 1960′s Phillips Valves)

Digital Eq & Dynamics

  • Weiss EQ-1
  • Weiss DS-1
  • Junger Accent Dynamics Processor

ADA Convertors

  • Prism Dream ADA-8
  • Apogee Rosetta R200

Computer Workstations

  • Sonic Solutions Soundblade
  • Pro Tools HD

Playback

  • Studer A80 1/2″ Tape Machine
  • Sony 7010 Dat Player
  • HHB & Sony CD Players
  • Marantz CDR 1
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