Spend over fourty years committed to any activity and you’re going to become an expert. By then you’ve mastered the breadth of your discipline, but what elevates you from others isn’t your technical wizardry – it’s the passion for what you do, and what you hear when people come to you with their musical heart on their sleeve. That’s what has made Don Bartley at Benchmark Mastering so respected and, contrary to envious reports, he’s still kicking.
“I haven’t retired,” Bartley chuckles. “The rumourmongers have been busy. I often have people ringing up and sounding surprised; they were told I’d retired. No, no. I’m still going strong.”
Part of that strength is the individual approach he has taken from artists as renowned (and disparate) as Alanis Morissette, Metallica, and Regurgitator.
“Because of my experience working with those kinds of people, I’ve learnt a lot,” says Bartley. “They’ve taught me not just what they want to hear, but the reasons for it. They might talk in colours, totally non-technical terminology, but I know what they mean. I remember working on something with Regurgitator, and Quan said to me, ‘Can you make it sound like a big, fat, soggy marshmallow?’ I knew exactly what he meant. It’s what you’ve got to do if you’re a mastering engineer. You’ve got to listen to why they wrote the song, what they expect to get out of it. Knowing what’s required – that’s the thing I’m most proud of.”
It isn’t just knowledge that Bartley has accumulated over the decades. He also has some fairly enviable gear at his (and your) disposal.
“I’m about analogue processing, which I believe is the only way to master,” Bartley says. “I’ve got top of the range compressors and equalisers, I’ve got very nice analogue to digital converters. I use tape a lot. It goes back to art. I don’t let technology tell me what to do – that’s my approach. I’m not a musician, I’m a listener, and that’s what people seem to appreciate about me the most - that I’m listening to the whole thing.”
Benchmark Mastering are located at 4 Maxwell Place, Blaxland, New South Wales. For more information visit benchmarkmastering.com.