We explore the illusive mastering engineer, diving into the very best of this creator class who have shaped the musical landscape as we know it today.
The illusive work of the mastering engineer is often considered a dark art within the audio realm. Usually working with just a stereo audio file, they manipulate audio to create consistent and well levelled tracks that aim to sound incredible on any audio system.
Utilising custom built equipment and extremely well treated rooms, mastering engineers are the last step before created music hits the world. Their ability to decide where to apply subtle eq and compression to recorded music is an incredibly delicate art that makes the good ones highly sought after.
Today we’re taking a look at six mastering engineers that you should know, as their work today and in the past has shaped the musical landscape with these experts collectively working on tens of thousands of high profile releases. Let’s dive in!
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Bob’s work within the mastering field, not just as an actual engineer, but an educator cannot be understated. Penning material including Mastering Audio: The Art and the Science which has been the holy grail of understanding the depth of knowledge required to be a mastering engineer.
Starting his career in 1972 as a supervisor for a public television network, Katz honed his craft mixing programs live including music, which became his true pursuit. In 1977 he relocated to New York and embarked on a storied career as a recording, mix and mastering engineer.
Katz engineered the first 96kHz/24bit audio DVD, which was groundbreaking in pushing digital audio quality to high levels in the early days of the format. In addition to this, he also created the worlds first oversampling recording technology with the DBX/UltraAnalog 128x oversampling A/D converter.
Working with a large slew of artists during his tenure as a mastering engineer including three Grammy award winning releases—Ben Kingsley’s The Words of Gandhi, Paquito D’Rivera’s Portraits of Cuba and Olga Tañon’s Olga Viva, Viva Olga.
Even after all these years as a legendary engineer, Bob Katz is still available to master your music, an amazing feat for someone who has been in the industry for such a long period of time. Cheers for all your work Bob.
- Ben Kingsley – The Words of Gandhi
- Paquito D’Rivera – Portraits of Cuba
- Olga Tañon – Olga Viva, Viva Olga
Another name synonymous with Mastering is Bob Ludwig, whose career has spanned work with Beyonce, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Bruce Springsteen and Metallica just to name a few.
Originally a classically trained trumpet player, Ludwig was inspired hearing Phil Ramone teach a summer recording workshop he attended and ended up working with him at A&R Recording. Moving between a few legendary studios including Sterling Sound and Masterdisk, he established Gateway Mastering Studios in 1992 where he still operates as a mastering engineer.
Along with mastering thirteen Grammy award winning records which include a few wins in the Surround Sound category, Ludwig has undertaken mastering entire back catalogues of artists such as Rush, Dire Straits and The Rolling Stones.
Bob Ludwig’s commitment to the industry through the AES (Audio Engineers Society) and Advisory Council of the Producers and Engineer’s Wing of The Recording Academy shows his commitment to mastering as a lifetime endeavour and establishes his place as one of the best mastering engineers to ever do it.
New York based mastering engineer Emily Lazar is a world class talent, working on close to 4000 releases in her career. Founding the Lodge in 1996, Lazar has mastered works for Sia, Foo Fighters and Beck, with the latter awarding her the 2019 Grammy award for Best Engineered Album (Non-Classical) being the first female mastering engineer to do so.
Lazar studied at Skidmore College, studying Creative Writing and Music before completing a masters of music from New York University. Through her hard work studying and freelance as an engineer she was offered a position at Masterdisk, one of the best mastering facilities on the planet.
Leaving Masterdisk in 1997 to establish The Lodge, Lazar went on to master records by David Bowie, Lou Reed, Paul McCartney, Madonna and even work on the sound track for American Psycho.
Early in 2021, Emily established the We Are Moving The Needle foundation which supports women recording industry professionals, audio engineers and producers through scholarships, internships, education and mentoring. This much needed foundation was created after a study revealed that only 2% of producers and audio engineers within the top 900 songs of the year were female.
Don Bartley is an Australian based mastering engineer who worked with both RCA and EMI before establishing his own studio, Benchmark Mastering, in 2006.
Working with EMI at their cutting plant working directly with large artists, Bartley was able to use their 1:1 copy of the Abbey Road studios mastering and vinyl cutting setup. With ten years experience behind him at the point he started working there, he utilised the equipment to cut masters for high profile artists including Alanis Morissette, Icehouse and even the ubiquitous track John Farnham’s You’re the Voice.
Don cut vinyl masters for large international releases to be produced in Australia from as early as the 70’s, including a highly sought after re-release of The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which was released in limited numbers, sold at a HiFi convention and is considered to be the best sounding version of the album available.
- John Farnham – You’re The Voice
- The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Australian limited Reissue)
- Icehouse – Man of Colours
If you’re looking for a mastering engineer who has worked with successful dance music artists, look no further than Mandy Parnell. Her work with critically acclaimed artists Aphex Twin, Bjork, Jamie xx and Brian Eno (!) have pushed Parnell into the conversation of one of the best.
The British based Parnell was one of the first graduates from the UK branch of SAE when they expanded globally from their home base in Australia and cut her teeth working at The Exchange—first as a trainee, then as a fully fledged mastering engineer in later years.
Parnell currently runs her own mastering space, Black Saloon Studios, from her converted warehouse home in the UK. The operation is run off green energy courtesy of solar power in which she leads the way within the recording industry.
Brian ‘Big Bass’ Gardner
If you’re looking for a big bass sound, look no further than this legendary mastering engineer. Brian Gardner has been around since the mid-’60s, working on a large range of recordings. He was given the nickname ‘Big Bass’ by the one and only Dr. Dre who connected with him through Bernie Grundman mastering studios.
Working for RCA in the ’60s cutting lathes, as was common for mastering engineers of the time, Creedence Clearwater came through his studio and they couldn’t get the mix to sound right once it was cut. Gardner immediately got onto the Pultec and Fairchild and produced a fantastic sounding record. After a few years of cutting Clearwater’s records he got hired by him exclusively at Fantasy Studios and the rest is history.
Records mr. ‘Big Bass’ has mastered include Michael Jackson’s Bad, Eminem’s The Slim Shady LP and Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter IV. Potentially the highlight of his career was mastering the second half of the double-lp Speakerboxx/The Love Below which was granted a Grammy award. Although getting his nickname through the hip-hop and R&B scene, Gardner also worked with artists of other genres including Linkin Park, Madonna and David Bowie solidifying his position as one of the best mastering engineers going.
For more on mastering, check out our interview with Simon Moro.