The music MASTERS
Some of the greatest pop and rock acts of the century share a link with a Taunton studio and the small team of perfectionists who work there
What connects Taunton, Ultravox and noisy shirts? You’d be forgiven for not knowing. The answer is LOUD Mastering.
Remember the 1990s? It was a time when music production was becoming increasingly digitised, losing the purity of sound available with analogue. At that time highly-acclaimed music engineer, John Dent, was travelling between his West Country home and work at The Exchange Studio in London. Life was vibrant but hectic and John had the vision of setting up his own studio. Getting off the train in Taunton he chanced upon the newly-built premises which were to become his studio: LOUD Mastering was born, named for his favoured extreme shirts.
Working with bands such as Dire Straits, U2 and Bob Marley, John was renowned in the industry to the point of reverence. At one time every act on Top of the Pops was a client. People collected his work, wanting music mastered by John. His lectures were translated into umpteen languages, becoming part of the syllabus for music engineering students.
They say that ‘behind every great record is a great mastering engineer’ and John’s was the industry standard; his work legendary. His Taunton studio grew in eminence as his phenomenal expertise in music mastering created a highly sought-after sound, majoring on the analogue technique. In 2014 John won the Music Producers’ Guild ‘Mastering Engineer of the
Year’ award. But tragedy struck. In December 2017, after a long battle with illness, John died.
This could have been a loss too great to bear, but it is a testament to the legacy of John’s inspirational skills and teaching that LOUD continues from strength to strength.
Arriving at the studio I am greeted by Anna, John’s wife. Originally from Russia, Anna’s determination to ensure that all John’s achievements continue and are built on is admirable.
She takes me into Studio 1 with its mind-boggling array of equipment, where Jason Mitchell is working on a Levellers album.
I freely admit that my knowledge of music technology was non-existent. I say ‘was’ because after a chat with Jason it suddenly makes sense. Jason worked alongside John Dent for more than 20 years, absorbing knowledge and skills from John to the point that what Jason doesn’t know about music mastering isn’t worth knowing.
So what exactly is it? He explains: “If someone wants to release a record, whether as a
CD, on the internet or as a vinyl record, then the best way to have that music presented to the public is to bring it to a studio like this and have it professionally ‘mastered’. This ‘finishes off’ the record, making sure there are no technical errors, that the sound is right. It’s considered to be the last creative stage for the record, like editing a piece of writing. We make sure it’s in the best shape it can possibly be.”
It felt like a bit of a lightbulb moment, not inappropriate given that the majority of the equipment in Studio 1 utilises
‘The best thing I see in here is the creativity, people’s passion for their music’
John’s much-loved, and often customised, analogue technology, although there is also digital equipment. Studio 2 at LOUD is more equipped for digital.
Jason’s enthusiasm is palpable. “The best thing I see in here is the creativity, people’s passion for their music. The job is technical, but it’s very instinctual as well, getting into a client’s mindset and delivering what they want.” He tells me of his work with Midge Ure. “Working on the Orchestrated album was amazing. An incredible album. It was fantastic to hear Midge
Ure re-singing the vocals for new arrangements of original Ultravox tracks.”
Music arrives at LOUD in various formats: on USB sticks, over the internet, on
CDs, sometimes on tape. After mastering it will be delivered as an internet file to the artist or to their record label, such as Universal, for production into whatever platform is required, be that CDs, iTunes etc. LOUD also has a vinyl cutting lathe so that a ‘real’ record, known as a ‘master lacquer’, can be created.
“From this original vinyl master lacquer,” Anna explains, “the commercial vinyl records are produced in a pressing factory.” And you don’t have to be a big name to be a client; LOUD works with local people, such as the builder whose dream had always been to make a record.
Since John’s untimely demise a new engineer has joined the
‘My job is to make sure that the amazing things John achieved continue’
team: Richard Willan now works alongside Jason and brings a fresh approach and new angles. He has recently been working with rapper Bugzy Malone.
From all corners of the planet, artists flock to LOUD Mastering, relishing their approachable expertise and the purity of sound that they create. And in the essence of every note they make John lives on. A heritage of skill and sound that will never die.
ABOVE: Mastering engineer Jason Mitchell cutting vinyl
ABOVE:Studio 1 equipment, customised for John Dent