activist mastering

Activist Mastering

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“You’re the only mastering engineer who’s ever adjusted an EQ and I’ve thought, ‘I like that!'” — Gordon Raphael (producer: The Strokes, Regina Spektor)




Hi! My name is Jamie. Thanks for visiting my mastering page.

I’ve been mastering records on a word-of-mouth basis since 2011; after nine years, I thought maybe I should finally make it official, and so I launched this mastering service in March 2020. I’ve mastered dozens of records since 2011, in a wide variety of genres, for artists from North America, South America, Europe, and Australia. 



“First, do no harm.” — Hippocrates

First, a confession: I’m not primarily a mastering engineer. I came to mastering via producing and mixing records, which I’ve been doing for 25 years. I taught myself how to master records because, honestly, I was frustrated. 

It seems like, a lot of the time, somehow the intentionality of a production can get warped in the mastering process. It’s like either the person isn’t spending enough time to really get to understand the material, or they’re making EQ choices against an abstract ‘ideal’ sonic footprint, without taking into account the effect on the song’s emotional impact, or they’re compressing something the wrong way and screwing up your carefully-crafted dynamics. You’re so excited to get your record back from mastering, and it just sounds … slightly wrong? “Technically” more correct, but missing some essential magic and soul? That’s the worst feeling in the world. 

I used to get that feeling a lot. That feeling that my intentions weren’t being preserved through the mastering process. And so I learned how to master records, at first, simply so that I could make sure that the records I was so carefully making weren’t getting randomly screwed up at the very end of the process. That was a great starting point; very empowering. And then I kept at it for the better part of a decade! And I started learning some things, and buying some gear. And then I started learning some really esoteric things, and buying some really esoteric gear. And, nine years later, here we are. I’ve mastered a ton of records, I have best-in-class tools, and I’m ready to help you make your record awesome.


While I love working on records that were made in higher-end studio environments, I have a soft spot for independent music, and particularly I love working on records that might be better described as labors of love. Improbable records. Bedroom records. Weird records. Headphone records. Live records. Lo-fi records. Self-produced records. GarageBand records. Records by people with day jobs. The records that people make because they can’t keep them inside.

With one exception, every audio example below was recorded in a home studio. A number of them were made on laptops. One song was recorded on a Tascam 8-track. One song was recorded with a Zoom recorder outdoors; you can hear a plane over the cicadas at one point. I love music like this. I think that independent and homemade music deserves to sound good enough to compete with music that was made on bigger budgets. And I can help with that.


I think of what I do as ‘Activist Mastering.’ And what I mean by this is, I don’t aim necessarily to be transparent in my work. Because I am an artist myself, and a producer, I approach mastering from that point of view. My goal with each project I touch is to enhance it in a creative way that showcases your point of view as an artist, from my perspective as a producer and mixer. I work to do this at the individual song level, and I also work to do this in terms of the narrative arc of the album or EP the songs are on.

First and foremost, as discussed above, my value is to preserve your vision, on an emotional and artistic level. I don’t go in and arbitrarily or accidentally change the intentions of things; I take the time to learn what your intentions are, and then I focus on enhancing and amplifying your intentions. Sometimes dramatically! 

Or, to put this all another way: my goal is to serve as your creative partner, to significantly signal-boost what you’re working to communicate – and to help you finish making a record that you’ll be deeply proud of for the long term.



AUDIO EXAMPLES:

The best way to show you what I do is to let you listen to my work. So, to that end, below you’ll find a whole bunch of examples of my work in different genres. As you’ll hear, some songs are “light touch” in terms of the mastering approach, because that’s what served the material the best. And then some of it is more like restoring an old painting, finding the colors beneath the grime.

Mastering records that were made in good studios is relatively easy; there’s not typically as much that needs doing. I purposefully chose my audio examples from records that were recorded mostly in less-than-ideal situations. When I can help a homemade recording shine, it’s genuinely exciting for me.

The way I’ve organized these listening samples is in pairs; the first player is the master, and the second player is the unmastered song as it came to me. (I’ve level-matched the song pairs to some degree, to facilitate meaningful comparisons; the unmastered versions generally came in to me much quieter.) 

Also, I’ve transcribed the notes that I took when I was listening to the songs before I started making changes. Hopefully this will be informative as you listen. Mastering isn’t a black art; it’s a series of choices made about music, hopefully from an empathetic and heart-forward point of view. I can help make these sorts of choices about your music, too.

(Starting one player will stop any other active player. Left + right arrows = forward / back 10 seconds. You can click or tap in the waveform to navigate around the song.)



The Ampersands – “Wonderful Life”

indie rock / alternative

Listening notes: boomy; too much low end; not enough articulation; vocals are receding; should have more of a feeling of urgency to complement the lyrics; doesn’t sound as vital as it should.

Wonderful Life
MASTER
Wonderful LifeMASTER
Wonderful Life
UNMASTERED
Wonderful LifeUNMASTERED

The Watch List – “Down and Out”

punk / rock

Listening notes: too high-end-y; not quite heavy enough; cymbals sound a little thin.

Down and Out
MASTER
Down and OutMASTER
Down and Out
UNMASTERED
Down and OutUNMASTERED

The Feelings Parade – “Boys With Guns” (live)

acoustic folk singer-songwriter

Listening notes: vocal is boxy; dull-sounding overall; guitars are too quiet; hissing noise in background; uneven vocal volume peaks.

Boys With Guns
MASTER
Boys With GunsMASTER
Boys With Guns
UNMASTERED
Boys With GunsUNMASTERED

Zachman – “Locked Office”

indie / post-punk

Listening notes: too heavy-footed in the low end; not quite glued-together or cohesive enough; not quite urgent enough; the high end isn’t quite as well-defined as it could be.

Locked Office
MASTER
Locked OfficeMASTER
Locked Office
UNMASTERED
Locked OfficeUNMASTERED

The Gibbonses – “Easier”

southern country rock

Listening notes: slightly dull, not present enough; too much low end, taking away energy; not enough “pop.”

Easier
MASTER
EasierMASTER
Easier
UNMASTERED
EasierUNMASTERED

Shannon Curtis – “Flowers and the Flood”

artpop

Listening notes: not present enough; receding into the speakers a bit; a couple of uneven bass notes; interesting information on the sides of the stereo spectrum that could maybe be brought out a little more.

Flowers and the Flood
MASTER
Flowers and the FloodMASTER
Flowers and the Flood
UNMASTERED
Flowers and the FloodUNMASTERED

Ben Shaw – “Feet to the Fire”

acoustic folk singer-songwriter

Listening notes: vocal is ever so slightly cloudy in the midrange; rein in the more poky esses a little bit; try to enhance the intimate & confessional nature if possible.

Feet to the Fire
MASTER
Feet to the FireMASTER
Feet to the Fire
UNMASTERED
Feet to the FireUNMASTERED

Angela Josephine feat. Chris Bathgate – “Go Easy”

folk singer-songwriter

Listening notes: violin gets strident when played hard in last chorus of song; first verse is too quiet in context of the rest of the song; consistently boomy/uneven E note in bass guitar; mix feels slightly dark.

Go Easy
MASTER
Go EasyMASTER
Go Easy
UNMASTERED
Go EasyUNMASTERED

Christen Lien – “Horizon”

classical / avant-garde

Listening notes: a bit muted; receding slightly; not enough presence; not quite enough definition or sense of space; main melody should sound more alive and passionate.

Horizon
MASTER
HorizonMASTER
Horizon
UNMASTERED
HorizonUNMASTERED


Skymelt – “Streetlights”

synthpunk / darkwave

Listening notes: not strong enough in the low end; too much high end; sounds a bit smaller than it should for something this epic; information on the sides of the stereo field feels like it isn’t integrated enough with the body of the song; needs overall to sound more massive and emotionally overwhelming.

Streetlights
MASTER
StreetlightsMASTER
Streetlights
UNMASTERED
StreetlightsUNMASTERED

Trusty Sea Creatures – “Unsuspecting Whispers”

indie rock / alternative

Listening notes: the balance between the share and the hi-hat feels off; try to bring out the interesting textures on the sides of the stereo field while keeping the narrative focus on the vocal; mix slightly receding overall; slightly boxy in the midrange; could feel even a bit more urgent.

Unsuspecting Whispers
MASTER
Unsuspecting WhispersMASTER
Unsuspecting Whispers
UNMASTERED
Unsuspecting WhispersUNMASTERED

Val Blaha – “World on Fire”

acoustic folk singer-songwriter

Listening notes: slightly midrange-y; a little muffled; could use more presence and articulation; esses are a bit out of control; could use slightly more weight; needs to cohere a bit more; try to bring out more magic.

World on Fire
MASTER
World on FireMASTER
World on Fire
UNMASTERED
World on FireUNMASTERED

Shannon Curtis – “Zero”

electropop

Listening notes: slight overbalance in the low end, causing the song to feel sluggish; lacking ‘snap’; receding into the speakers a bit.

Zero
MASTER
ZeroMASTER
Zero
UNMASTERED
ZeroUNMASTERED


RATES:

I charge $75/song; $85/song for long songs (over 5:00). Mostly it’s just $75/song. 

* This includes everything: mastering, sequencing, any revisions you need, any tweaks you want to make, metadata embedding, 16-bit CD-quality WAV files, making a DDP if you need it – it’s all included. 

* 24-bit masters of your individual songs are included at no extra cost. (These are high-resolution files, good for uploading to distribution.)

* Running alternate versions through the same settings is $25 per (e.g., instrumentals to submit for sync placements). 

* High-quality MP3s with embedded artwork and metadata are included at no extra cost, if you have a need for them. 

* Making high-resolution vinyl pre-masters from your masters is $50 per side. 


If you need something particular done that isn’t addressed here, just ask.

I cut deals sometimes, particularly for album- or EP-length projects. If you want me to master your record but can’t afford my rate, tell me what you can afford, and if I can make it work, I will.

If you were hoping I could produce or mix your record, but you don’t have the budget for it, mastering is a great way to get my ears on your record for a fraction of the cost.


I want you to LOVE your record; I know viscerally how it feels to feel like you’re putting out something you’re ‘mostly’ happy with; it’s the most disappointing feeling in the world. It’s why I taught myself how to do this – so I could empower myself and other like-minded artists.

If you’re interested in talking about a project, send me a message; I’d love to hear from you. Let’s make something amazing together.