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This Mastering Engineer’s Secret Weapon

November 15, 2013

Ear!If you thought this article would be about a particular piece of gear, then I’m sorry to disappoint you. At a certain point, seasoned Mastering Engineers will acquire a set of tools and a monitoring system that allow you to shape and analyze audio in whatever way necessary to accomplish the task of having great playback over a wide variety of audio systems. There isn’t one particular tool that goes on everything, often times it’s really all about having enough experience to know what combination of tools will do the trick.

When you have an advanced technical knowledge of audio, the thoughts of fellow Audio Engineers are simply different ideas that eventually lead to the same place. Over time, I’ve come to realize that sometimes, we lose sight of what is most important on this mission of audio excellence: Pleasing the customer. Having realized this a few years ago, I decided to study the few people I know in my life that still buy music regularly and who aren’t making music themselves. This group of people, who I appreciate as much as the gear and experience I’ve gained over the years is what I consider my secret weapon. I simply could not do what I do with audio without the observations I’ve gathered on their love for music and listening habits (and they don’t even know I’ve been studying them for years).

The customer, a rare breed these days, is someone who still buys records simply because they love music. Here are some valuable observations I’ve put together from random comments they’ve made:

  • They love music so much that they don’t really care how it’s made. Some of them are actually put off when they listen to an artist whose music they like brag about how creative their music making process is.
  • They want to be moved within the first few moments of listening and will move past a particular piece of music or tune it out if it doesn’t grab them in those first crucial moments (I’m looking at you, tracks with a long ass intro).
  • Sometimes, they buy an album from an artist they like and won’t listen to it until they have enough free time to really give it a listen. If you didn’t drop a CD or Vinyl, something they can sit back and unwrap, it’s likely they won’t buy your next album if it’s only a digital release.
  • They reach for the volume knob to increase the intensity of the track because it grabbed them, not because they think it’s “too low”.
  • They don’t consider it a flaw if they have to adjust the volume every now and then to hear a track louder than others in the same album, they’ve been doing that with every album they’ve owned since they can remember, as well as with used “classic” releases on CDs and LPs that they buy. A few of them often purchase older music on CD and vinyl as opposed to new releases (and that’s f-ing alarming if you ask me).
  • They don’t know what dynamics in music are, but respond more to music that has more dynamic content; they feel that music with varying dynamics has more “character” than music that doesn’t.
  • Thirteen tracks or less is good enough for them to spend an average of $12 on your album; around thirty minutes of solid tracks with varying content is considered a tight album.

Like all secret weapons, there are sensitive components you don’t want to mess with. Don’t let your “secret weapons” know you’re studying their listening habits, you’ll ruin them by transforming them into critics.

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