Interview of Mark Chalecki February 25th 2015
WHAT ABOUT MARK?
So Mark, Do you want to introduce yourself?
Sure! So, I am Mark Chalecki, owner operator of Little Red Book Mastering in Glassell Park. Los Angeles, California.
Where are you from originally? Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
When did you start getting interested in Audio? Music? Or Sound in general? Were you in a Band?
Well I took piano lessons as a child and played in the high school Band. I learned to play the keyboard after High School and started playing with local New Wave bands in the 80’s
Any band we would know?
No not really (Laughter)... Eventually I started to produce my own music. Much like people work today in home studios , except that back then it wasn’t a common thing to do! … And that’s pretty much what led me into recording professionally!
Your music must have sounded pretty good I imagine already back then for you to become such an accomplished Mastering Engineer?
Well it was a long time before I became a Mastering Engineer (Laughter) but, I actually was listening to some of it recently and, I really liked the creative directions I was experimenting with but… Sonically, I would probably do it very differently today!!!
How did you make the switch to becoming a Mastering Engineer? ... What Happened?
When I moved to Los Angeles in the late 80’s, The music scene was very very commercial... It wasn’t my thing at all, my personal taste in music was already much more an indie, eclectic sound; I loved the whole unsigned band scene but the commercial sound wasn’t my thing at all so… I thought I would get a job in a recording studio and focus on the sonic side of music which was already very interesting to me!
So you ended up working 18 years at Capitol Records “The mastering Mecca” of the record industry… How did you get the Gig?
Actually, I moved on quite quickly from recording to mastering! I was mostly assisting in the studio back then and I got an assistant position at Capitol Records, setting up mics and assisting in the live room. It was Great fun and such a great learning experience. I got to work with amazing people who really knew what they were doing and obviously work with the best equipment available at the time.
I got to work with Al Schmitt who is still working there today, I helped on the first Alice in Chains record. We were also doing a lot of orchestral recording for television commercials, recording choirs and Large vocal ensembles...
So I learned a lot on microphone technique and how different engineers approached a session… It is interesting how there is “sort of ” no wrong way to record something… Everybody had a personal taste and was looking for a particular sound and even if they were using a different technique it always ended up sounding good!
Out of all this amazing learning experience, is there anything in particular you would like to share with us?
Most interestingly I really got to understand the dynamic of time in a session and how important it is to be able to relax so to be able to do your job well !
Wow! This is a big topic!?!?
Yes it is! Of course back then all the stuff we were working on had rather big budgets but it is amazing to see the difference of quality you get when you don’t have someone pressuring you in saving time and eventually money…
So my advice is: take as much time as you can to do something right!
OK, So how did you finally moved on to become officially a Mastering Engineer?
Well, the rate of attrition in Capitol was extremely slow. People love their jobs obviously and moving up the ladder could have taken me a lifetime… A position as production mastering engineer became open and I decided to give it a try!
What is Production Mastering?
In the pre-computer era, everything was done on digital tape and you needed to make several copies of a Master for manufacturing. We had to run them all on digital tapes in reel time which was quite time consuming. The mastering engineer were always mastering and didn’t have time to make all the different production masters for manufacturing… So for instance at that time for a major label release, there was sometimes up to 20 production masters required for one album, one for each country! It could take up to 3 days of production running tapes in reel time just for one release…
But what was the difference between a release say for the US market or the European Market?
Almost nothing… Sometimes, there may be an additional song for the Us or somewhere else but sonically it was exactly the same… They were basically just cloned copies…It’s quite different with todays computers; you just send everyone the same link to a track! There was so much more involved back then!So that’s what production mastering engineers did and it was a great introduction to becoming a Mastering Engineer…
Well sometimes there would be a project that would come in the mastering engineer would not have the time to do or the project had a lower priority or a lower budget so they would allow me to master it you know…
And they would review your work,... Give you pointers?
Yes occasionally but usually the client would tell you whether they accepted the work... Often you would be working with producers who knew exactly what they were going for, so… You know back then the mixes you would get were a lot quieter so in a sense our job was a little easier than it is today!
Yeah there wasn’t all these problems of headroom and volume and distortions…
But you had all kind of other problems to deal with I bet? Like Noise, tape compression, phase problems, bleeding… No?
Yeah of course but, today everything has become so loud... it is very easy to get things to distort!
So interesting! I wish we had more time to talk about this a little deeper! But let’s move on!
What are the top 10 records you’ve mastered?
Well I mastered 40 ounces to freedom by Sublime.
I did 2 Brian Jonestown Massacre Albums
I did the first Fiddler album
I did all the Earlimart albums
Wow this is all very much raw independent Rock n’Roll...?
Yeah that’s pretty much my sound: The Indie Alternative Punk Weirdo groups. (Laughter)
But you did also a lot of Rap, didn’t you?
Thanks for sharing this! Makes me want to listen to “Eazy E” now! (Laughter)
What made you decide to finally go independent?
It’s kind of a cool story because after after 2006 the whole music business went to hell and our parent company EMI was devastated by that and all kind of problems started to happen … So working with a company that is basically going downhill really fast was a bit traumatic and it became harder to service my more modest independent clientele while we were getting more pressure from the company to charge more!
I was really worried that I would loose my clients and incidentally my job security… So I was made an offer to rent the room that we are sitting in now and I build this place and for almost a whole year I was running this in secret!
Luckily it was practically an immediate success… Capitol Records during the day and Little red Book Mastering at night. (Laughter) I didn’t get a lot of sleep during that year!
And how’s business now?
So, Finally Mark! What is Mastering?
Well, That’s kind of a loaded question because there are lots of great answers to that!
Traditionally it’s taking a song or a group of songs and preparing a master for manufacturing, mass duplication and distribution but what we do basically is enhance the sound quality of a recording, usually by balancing the tone we try to make a song prettier sounding. Also correcting a different range of frequencies so it plays properly across a variety of playback format such as a car stereo a portable player, or a proper high fidelity system.
If you do an album you would make sure that all the songs make sense sonically but also within the genre of music, like for Rap music for example you would make sure that it is pretty fat (Laughter).
Mastering is the final touch before releasing the music to the public! There are various school of mastering but I personally try to be discreet in my processing… You know one of the big problems today is that there isn’t any record budgets anymore and a lot of records are mixed in the box a lot of times… For that reason, Unfortunately we often are correcting for all these inadequacies. A lot of mixes we get today are either too bright or too boomy and it’s up to us to fix it!
Thank You Mark!