Interview Alex Psaroudakis – Mastering Engineer in Brooklyn – 15/04/2019
Recording the Masters sat down with esteemed mastering engineer Alex Psaroudakis at his new studio in Brooklyn, New York to find out more about his decades-long experience as a mastering engineer. We asked him about his opinions on analog mastering techniques, how things have changed since he first started, and if he had any advice for young people seeking to join the world of professional mastering.
Tell us a little bit about yourself; what got you into sound mastering in the first place?
I’m Greek and French; I started out as an assistant at a studio in Bordeaux, which is where I went to university. Basically, I was a DJ: I had mini turntables, a mixer with a mic, and a cassette deck. Because I had two cassette decks, we could use one to play the beats and one to record voices to the beats. The DJ-ing is what brought me to the studio, and after assisting for six months, the guy gave me a few projects to do, and it went well, and he gave me more, and here I am.
You’ve been doing this for 20+ years, would you say it’s changed at all?
I hear a lot about how this industry has changed, that “there’s no more money”. While it’s true that a lot of big structures have closed due to a shift in the business model, a lot of new artists, smaller labels and studios have popped up lately re-inventing themselves or simply adapting to the “new ways “ of doing things. We do have to stay on the edge and not be afraid to try new tools and methods, whether it’s in the studio or business oriented in order to make the process more efficient and a better experience for the client. Those who refused to change faced hard times for sure and a lot of the “big boys” at every stage of the production process started to not make as much money in the 2005/2015ish as they used to do back in the 90’s, money that went instead towards a bigger group of people or just new Artists, Producers, A&R, bookers, engineers, service providers etc.
Do artists or producers get involved in the technical process? Do they ask you to do it a certain way?
I have very few artists that ask me technical things, the majority want “clean and loud” however I do have a bunch of artists that ask me for tape. The setup is always hybrid, never just in the box, I’m never interested in doing it just in the box, to stop using all the analog gear completely. But, by far the most demanded thing is to be “loud”, if it’s not loud enough when they press play, they are not going to approve the master.
When you got your start, was it in analog mastering?
Yeah, it was all analog at the place where I started; There was no digital, they introduced it about six years later.
How about digital mastering?
’96 to ’98 I went into pro tools because everyone was using pro tools, but I hated it, so I bought digital performer which is another mac software, and I stayed on digital performer until 2003, using a few pieces of hardware, Neve, Avalon, GML, Summit and a L2 for the last part, in 2003 I got Sequoia because I wasn’t mixing anymore and added a few Maselec, and Manley to the console so yeah analog was a big part of the process, when I was in Boston later on I had three tape machines, Atr102, StuderA80, Studer A807, I was doing a lot of electronic music at this time on those decks almost daily.
Is it possible to emulate the advantages of analog mastering with digital plugins?
I believe it’s not there yet, some software designers were using the same decks we had in the studio trying to emulate the sound of analog and while they came up with a very good plugin it’s quite not the same as the real deal, it’s a very cool one but just different. It is unpredictable the way it reacts to the sound of information, the digital can’t cope with that because it’s not linear, it’s going to respond differently if there is three frequencies and all of a sudden you add a fourth one, it’s unpredictable and therefore you can’t do it in digital, no way. I’ve experimented all my life with the best plugins, and it’s not the same as my tape that I use every day. I know a lot of mastering engineers and especially mixing engineers have gone full in the box way, and they claim it’s the same and it’s not, it’s not better nor worst it’s just different. We can pull out a lot of releases done on tape and the vibe and energy is different, more of my taste.
Does it still benefit someone who wants to become a sound engineer today to start out with analog techniques?
Yes, of course, because then they can learn the real techniques, that they can then apply to the plugins.
Do you have any other advice for young people who are interested in becoming sound engineers the proper way?
Find someone that you like the sound of to be an intern or assistant too, and just go, keep the ego low, be prepared to help the engineer out in any way possible, stay off your phones and be there on time. Time is everything in this industry. Be mindful of who you are and what you can bring to the table, be there to help and don’t expect anything, that’s how people I know who made it in the music industry were at the beginning.
Do you enjoy your work more now or when you first started over 20 years ago?
I believe I preferred the way of life in Spain, less stress, more time for oneself, and lower life expenses.
Deadlines were tight, and big projects were given months to complete, whereas here you can get calls for a big project in the afternoon to be completed by that same evening. I moved from Bordeaux to Barcelona in 2003, where I opened a mastering studio and it was a good time for me, those years. I felt it was a very good time for music because a lot of people were interested in doing new stuff and labels were starting to lose a little bit of grip on the artists who were popping up, doing their own stuff, and I had kind of a niche market where I was mostly doing Indie stuff instead of commercial stuff. Barcelona is this special kind of city where you can go to a concert every night, you know, Monday, Tuesday, Sunday, like here in NYC.
Tell us about some of the recent projects you’ve worked on.
I usually work on a few different genres each month, a lot of Caribbean music like Soca, Reggae or dancehall, Jemere Morgan, Jessy Royal and Protoje, Burning Spear, Dre Island with Chronixx and Popcaan, Rupee, Bunji Garlin with Busta Rhyme, Machel Montano, etc.
Also quite a few from Hong Kong where a project I mastered is nominated for album of the year and song of the year in the Taiwanese Melody Golden Awards, Mrs. Eason Chan, SupperMoment, Lam2, Vinida Weng.
Spain is a big market such as Tote King, Latin Grammy Nominated for best Hiphop album last year, Rosalia, El Niño De Elche, Las Planetas, Green valley, Falsalarma, Itaca Band, etc etc..
Some electronic like those Rework by Agent Orange of a bunch of legendary tunes from the 80/90’ such as Josh Wink – Higher State of Consciousness, Todd Terry – Sum Sigh Say, House of Gypsies Samba, Richie Hawtin, Minus Orange.
And then a lot of Latin projects like Aymee Nuviola with Chucho Valdés, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Mayito Rivera, Omara Portuondo, Septeto Santiaguero and La Conga de los Hoyos – A Journey Thru Cuban Music, Juan Magan with Pitbull, Don Omar, Rich The Kid, Mike Bahia… others like Ismael Miranda, Luis Enrique, Jay Maly, Osmani Garcia, Rolf Sánchez, Shambayah, Samuel Perez.