A Note From Steve ...

News from Steve
17 October 2019

Thank you Simon!

Simon Heyworth, now at Super Audio Mastering in Devon, UK has specialized in the field of mastering following his successful career as a recording engineer (not least of all on Tubular Bells!) It was Bill Bruford who recommended him to me after Simon remastered the King Crimson catalog; he went on to do several Yes releases and has mastered my last six releases.

Unhappily, Simon’s name is erroneously missing from the credits of ‘New Frontier’ by the Steve Howe Trio. His credit will be added on all following pressing, thankfully. Mastering a recording is the final contact one has with the overall sound and inter-track balances. It’s something I’ve taken a keen interest in over the years, as it brings roundness and finality to the whole recording.

I was thinking recently about how Eddie Offord made quite a performance out of this process during the first part of the 1970s… Then it was as much about the bass end and its frequencies than anything else. Everyone was restricted to around 22 minutes per side but it was The Beatles who had some of the best ‘sound-to-level’ ratios. There were some great limiters/compresses at Abbey Road, locked away, for those who knew how to operate them and maximize their results. The magic EMI compression held the sound almost stationary on master level meters. This meant that something in the music was always being featured while the overall sound was constantly held at the peak level! Then from the 80s, digital CDs started up a race for sheer level.

This trend still exists but a more worthy approach has come about to overshadow the ‘level’ issue with the actual ‘quality’ of the sound being the main feature now; mastering becoming specialist by CD, vinyl, streaming and downloads etc. What do you all think?

Steve Howe,
October 2019,
London.

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1 Response

  1. Mark in Atlanta

    As a former sound engineer I agree with much of what you are saying regarding the difference between quality and level. Yet, lately I’ve been thinking more about the limitations to what even the finest engineers can achieve. When I listen to anthologies of artists such as the Beatles that include multiple studio takes, it seems the primary difference between the versions that made it on the final original releases and those that didn’t is not technique. It is a creation and recognition of the spark that united that “band of brothers” into something more magic than mechanism. That “something in the music was always being featured while the overall sound was constantly held at the peak level” had as much to do with the player’s generosity born of love toward one another as it did the deft hands of Geoff Emerick who taped into it. Like other master engineers, Emerick was touched by what the musicians were creating in front of him and his soundboard become an extension of the art.

    I tip my hat to the magicians, such as yourself Steve, who create that spark and Geoff, Simon and other engineers who construct the sound bridges that allow the rest of us to enter into that world.

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