Company: Howie Weinberg Mastering
Clientele: U2, Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Coheed and Cambria
Howie Weinberg got his start under the tutelage of famed mastering engineer Bob Ludwig. He began as a studio jack-of-all-trades, but as his skills sharpened Ludwig built him his own room and things quickly mushroomed. In time, Weinberg has relocated to the West Coast, established his own studio and continues to expand his client roster. He has mastered more than 2,500 records, notably the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.
Which mix problems can be addressed in the mastering stage? Which can’t?
I can fix anything—if it’s too much bottom, too little bottom, too much top. I can change the whole characteristics of the recording, if need be. I work with a lot of well-known mixers and their mixes are pretty much dead-on. Much of what I do is take their work and make sure that it transfers and feels nice.
What are the new challenges in mastering today, something that wouldn’t have been an issue five years ago?
Equipment gets better every year but it doesn’t mean that mixes are getting better. There are still a lot of amateurs out there. Right now everyone uses a lot of the same workstations, a lot of the same plug-ins. So it comes down to skills.
How closely do you work with mix engineers?
Pretty closely, since they’re the ones who usually filter me the gigs. Often they just send me the files and I don’t hear from them, because they know I’ll take care of them.
It’s always a good idea to have a chat with the client, or get their notes, before I master because some people like it super loud, some people like it dynamic.
What’s the ideal format for mixes that you receive?
24-bit, anywhere from 44.1 to 96 [kHz]. But to be honest, bit formats are useless. If you record something at 96 kHz, that’s a crappy mix––sample rates aren’t going to make it sound better.
Have you ever mastered a 24-carat gold CD? It’s been said that gold discs sound closer to the original recordings.
That’s probably a bunch of bunk. It may have a lower error rate, but I’m not sure that anyone can actually hear it.
Generally, are the online mastering forums a good resource?
They’re pretty accurate. You have to sift through who’s giving the information. Is it someone who has a lot of experience or is it a newcomer? A lot of kids do their homework these days and it shows in their work.
Are there red flags that tell a musician that might be working with a less than reputable mastering engineer?
There are some cases where new guys are qualified, but why would you want to have someone who’s worked on 50 or 100 records instead of someone who’s worked on 2,000? Maybe the [less experienced] guy is cheaper, but the bottom line is that you get what you pay for.
What’s the biggest mastering challenge you’ve ever faced?
I spent two and a half weeks mastering a U2 record in the ‘90s. Everybody showed up and they weren’t even finished mixing. There were four different producers, four engineers and the band was hitting the road soon. But when we finally finished and pushed “play,” damn but didn’t it sound great.
What’s the biggest technical challenge/problem you’ve ever gotten out of?
Half the time when I make records too loud, the client complains. If you make them too soft, they complain that they’re not loud enough. But as long as my gear works, I’m happy. I don’t really have technical problems.
What do you say to fledgling mastering engineers?
It’s a tough gig. How do you get credits if you don’t have any? Just follow your dreams and one day a project will show up that will put you on the map.