The DnB leg­end shows us how he mas­ters a track and screens a pre­mas­ter for po­ten­tial prob­lems

Computer Music - - Video -

Breaking bad…

In a genre where tech­ni­cal pro­fi­ciency, bass weight and mu­si­cal­ity are top of the agenda, Break (real name Char­lie Bier­man) is widely re­garded as one of the pre­mier drum ’n’ bass pro­duc­ers. With over 15 years of re­leases span­ning pretty much ev­ery de­cent la­bel in the scene, his pro­duc­tions and mix­downs con­sis­tently raise the bar to heights un­achiev­able by mere mor­tals.

read­ers will be no strangers to Break’s mu­sic-mak­ing and mix­ing tal­ents, but this time he’s given us ex­clu­sive in­sight into another sub­ject close to his heart: the art of mas­ter­ing! So to kick off our triple DnB artist spe­cial, we step in­side Char­lie’s Bris­tol home stu­dio for an in-depth chat and ses­sion to co­in­cide with his new role as in-house mas­ter­ing en­gi­neer for dis­trib­u­tor Cygnus Mu­sic.

: How would you de­scribe the mas­ter­ing en­gi­neer’s role? CB: “It’s the fi­nal pass; the last chance to fix any prob­lems or to add the fi­nal pol­ish. For a long time, I hoped mas­ter­ing would fix my mix mis­takes – which it can – but the more you do it, the more you learn how to fix those at the mix stage. So it’s the fi­nal pol­ish rather than a ‘get out of jail free card’.”

: As a pro­ducer, how do you sep­a­rate the cre­ative from the tech­ni­cal? CB: “Mas­ter­ing’s about first im­pres­sions, which is why I don’t gen­er­ally mas­ter my own stuff – it helps to have some­one else’s ears to no­tice prob­lems that you may have missed, be­cause you’re at­tached to it and you’ve heard it so much. That’s the trick – hear it for the first cou­ple of times and spot the prob­lems. That’s the ap­peal to me: fix­ing things and mak­ing tracks bet­ter!”

: So you never mas­ter your own mu­sic? CB: “I have done, and I can do a de­cent mas­ter if I need to, but if it’s an al­bum project that’s go­ing to be around for years to come, I trust some­one else to have a more ob­jec­tive view­point. You can mas­ter your own mu­sic, but given the choice, I’d say use some­one else who can hear it more clearly.”

: What’s your ex­pe­ri­ence with the game’s best mas­ter­ing engi­neers? CB: “The first ses­sion I went to was with Stu­art [Hawkes] at Me­trop­o­lis, who’s been around for years and done all sorts of stuff. Then I met Beau Thomas at Ten Eight Seven, who was in London where I grew up, so I went to count­less ses­sions with him. He of­fered me a mas­ter­ing job about 12 years ago, but also dis­suaded me from do­ing it so I could cap­i­talise on my tunes and spend time do­ing that. But I’ve stayed friends with him for years, and he’s taught me loads of stuff, which has mas­sively helped im­prove my pro­duc­tions.”

: How has this hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence helped your pro­duc­tion and mix­ing? CB: “It all ties in. Once you start mas­ter­ing other peo­ple’s tracks, you see com­mon prob­lems and so­lu­tions to those prob­lems. It’s still a great learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence to take back to pro­duc­tion and mix­ing.

“When you had to cut to vinyl, there were even more rules, and draw­backs of that for­mat you had to be aware of, so that helped me get bet­ter mixes for dig­i­tal in the fu­ture. I still cut vinyl, and mix for vinyl, but those prin­ci­ples still help for dig­i­tal. Se­vere tre­ble and crazy width makes the cut­ting head jump, and you get prob­lems with the lathe, so a smoother mix will sound best on vinyl, and that’s been a big in­spi­ra­tion for my mixes and mas­ters.”

“A smoother mix will sound best on vinyl, and that’s been a big in­spi­ra­tion for my mixes and mas­ters”

: You’ve worked in high-end stu­dios, but you now have a home setup… CB: “My last stu­dio was so treated that it didn’t feel loud, and you’d re­alise you were lis­ten­ing at 100dB, and you’d keep crank­ing it to feel more! So I’m pre­fer­ring work­ing here at home now.”

: What about your mon­i­tor­ing? That’s ob­vi­ously im­por­tant when mas­ter­ing. CB: “Neu­mann KH310s are my pri­mary mon­i­tors, then my lit­tle Yamaha HS5s aren’t quite NS-10s, but sim­i­lar; they’ve got that ‘no bass, harsh mids’ sound – a good cross-ref­er­ence to A/B with. I’ve got a cou­ple of pairs of Audeze cans, and they’re a good ‘safety check’ head­phone ref­er­ence. I like to flick be­tween a few mon­i­tor­ing sources – you can’t hear things in enough dif­fer­ent ways.”

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