Mastering Lol Cooper
Before I officially joined the Lol Cooper Band, I was asked to master the final mixes for the then forthcoming release Poetry & Fairytales. I have mastered over 250 albums and singles over the years, but to the best of my knowledge this was the first recording by Lol I had the pleasure of fettling in over 30 years in the business.
I had worked in his studio, Cavalier Studios in Stockport, on many occasions and he must have liked my work as I was asked back to work on many recordings and audio projects as well as me hiring the facility for my own clients. In the mid ‘naughties’, Cavalier Studios ceased as a recording studio and moved completely to video. This timed with my own ventures into studio ownership. I was working more and more on my own music and starting to master more recordings of other artists and engineer/producers at this time.
So what is mastering? In the “olden days”, final mixes from the artist/engineer/studio would come on magnetic tape and the first thing would be to align the playback machine to exactly match the characteristics of the recording machine. Now this could be a formality, or a nightmare depending on the original recording engineer and/or studio. You also hoped the various mixes supplied were all recorded on the tape by the same machine with the same alignment. After this had been ascertained and the correct settings applied to the playback device then listening subjectively could begin in earnest. Getting to this point these days is somewhat less of an issue. Tracks supplied in a digital format are usually similar and there are considerably less formats to worry about. The mastering could now begin and after initial listening, the mastering engineer may begin corrective or artistic equalisation of the tonal balance to help it sit against similar sounding artists and help give a uniformity for playback on all the different playback systems around today – car, radio, mp3 player etc.. Dynamic processing will also likely be applied to help the music sit favourably next to other tracks by other artists and the whole album, as it were, to sound like a complete project. The engineer’s critical listening will require a particularly accurate environment and playback system. Software tools help with all these processes as does an understanding of what the artist and music is trying to convey. There may also be some audio editing needed as well as final compilation of the albums running order and final master preparation and delivery to suit the next stage – manufacture.
So, back to mastering Poetry & Fairytales. Tracks were delivered as all mastering engineers would like – clean as a whistle, in the correct order and format. Beautifully mixed and performed.
So what did I do? Not a great deal really, an overall equalisation of the various tracks to bring about uniformity and some multi-band compression to help sit the vocals better in the mix and add a bit of ‘loudness’ to the album. An edit fade here and there, and the copyright codes encoded ready for the pressing. Over 40 years in the business of recording music showed that Lol and his excellent reputation was richly deserved.
Tim A. Duncan