The name of Hans DeKline’s mastering studio, Sound Bites Dog (http://soundbitesdog.com), comes from a line in a lyric he wrote when he was the frontman of Maypole—which signed to Sony in the mid ‘90s and toured with the Wallflowers, the Jayhawks and Our Lady Peace. It’s also an ode to his love of canines. But it could apply equally to the crazy-sharp sense of hearing he has brought to thousands of indie and major label projects in all genres—from Tim Finn (Crowded House) and Lisa Loeb to hip-hop projects featuring Snoop Dogg—since launching his facility in late 2005.
Using a combination of high-end digital and analog technology, DeKline has meticulously researched and designed a mastering studio that balances function and fidelity, offering high quality and affordable mastering via the Internet. Though he has plenty of name brand boutique gear in his sonic arsenal (Manley, Crane Song, NTI), his focus is less on the bells and whistles and more on flexible scheduling and highly personalized customer service. DeKline’s extensive background as a musician and artist helps him connect with his clients in a way that strictly tech-oriented mastering engineers can’t.
But prospective clients need not simply take DeKline’s word for it. True to the Sound Bites Dog aesthetic, and his desire to build long lasting relationships with clients who are good matches, DeKline encourages clients to let him have a crack at a sample track before officially doing business. “I want the artists and producers I work with to feel 100 percent about my work before any money’s changed hands,” he says. “I do this for both old and new clients because every album is different. It’s an opportunity to hear my voodoo in the comfort of your own home or wherever you do the most music listening. The proof is always in the pudding.
“Besides working on over 2,000 recordings over the past seven years, I really bring a passion for music into every project I work on,” DeKline adds. “Being a fan is first and foremost for me, and I appreciate the opportunity to work on so many different projects. I love thinking about how much better a record can be and then doing what it takes to get it there. Every recording is different. Something can be technically correct, and still be the wrong approach musically speaking. Mastering is sorting out the forest for the trees, striking a balance between what’s not working frequency-wise and what’s ultimately best for the song.”
On the Sound Bites Dog website, DeKline breaks down the importance of mastering in creating a superior recording, promising that “we don’t let the lack of a big budget and a lame A&R guy stand in the way of making your music sound great.” He adds, “The difference between a mastered and unmastered song can be quite profound, dramatically improving the overall sound quality, clarity, consistency, stereo image, spatial depth, portability and volume of your mixes. It is both a technical process and an art form that relies on an individual’s skill, experience and good taste.
“Most of the heavy lifting I do in terms of processing is analog,” he continues. “Digital is great for anticipating peaks and instant recall but analog still has a superior dimensionality and richness unequaled on the plug-in side of things. It’s why every plug-in is still an emulation of analog and not the other way around.”
Establishing his business during the digital, social media age has helped DeKline build Sound Bites Dog via guerilla and viral marketing, including Myspace (in the early days) and even Craigslist, in addition to connections he had from his days as an artist. He feels that the key to establishing long-term relationships with clients is in cultivating strong people skills.
“Expertise is a factor, but if nobody wants to deal with you, or you can’t deal with others, you won’t have clients for long,” he explains. “I answer emails, texts and phone calls 24 hours a day. I make the rules for the 98 percent of people out there who are cool, and believe that when you give people a little bit of credit they will rise to the occasion. When most people, engineers and studio owners included, say things like ‘That’s stupid, I won’t do that,’ I tend to do the opposite.”
Contact Sound Bites Dog, 310-621-1896