Masters of Mastering 2013


Company: Sterling Sound

Clientele: Foo Fighters, Vampire Weekend, Imagine Dragons

Contact: [email protected], 212-604-9433

New York City-based Joe LaPorta began his career by making beats. Ultimately he landed a deal with New York hip-hop label Rawkus Records and worked in production and related fields. LaPorta interned with New York mastering studio The Lodge and stayed on there for eight years, eventually moving to famed mastering house Sterling Sound. Notably, he  co-mastered Foo Fighters' Grammy-winning Wasting Light.

Which mix problems can be addressed in the mastering stage? Which can’t?

Often kick drums and bass lines overlap and one may be dominant. So you need good separation and definition. When I have the stems or they go back to the mix and fix it on their own, that’s a much more beneficial way to do it. Otherwise, you end up digging into the low end and taking away things that can hurt the drums. I often get mixes on the darker side and that’s great because obtaining a high-end tends to have a nicer result than if I receive a bright mix that was done all in the box.

Mastering_WP_JoeLPWhat are the new challenges in mastering today?

Getting mixes that are too hot are a potential problem. It has been compressed and limited too much and it has lost a lot of the bounce, dynamic and punch. Often I’ll ask for a mix that’s quieter, that doesn’t have the stereo buss plug-ins. I’ll have their loud one for a reference and then I’ll take it to the next level.

How closely do you work with mix engineers

Many of the mix engineers I’ve worked with send me mixes while they’re still in the rough draft stages. I’ll point out things that I’m hearing. Having good communication throughout the process is the best way to achieve something that everyone is happy with.

What’s the ideal format for mixes that you receive?

I’m happy to work with any high-res WAV or AIFF formats, but I’m also seeing more 32-bit files since Pro Tools 10.

Do the online mastering forums offer good information?

If I’m in a crunch, I’ll check them. There are a lot of people who hide behind usernames and claim to know it all. Other times I’ve received useful information. We have amazing technicians here, but if they’re stumped I go to the forums as a last resort.

Are there red flags that show a musician that he might be working with a less than reputable mastering engineer

Dealing with a mastering engineer who’s stubborn and/or unwilling to accommodate. This is a customer service industry; we’re here to facilitate what the client wants. You can always chime in with your experience, but it’s up to the client. It’s not always the case, but be cautious if the rates seem too good to be true.

What’s the biggest mastering challenge you’ve faced?

Sometimes you’ll have 80 percent of an album complete and then there are a few things at the end that are strikingly different. Getting those to sit in the same world can be difficult. Another challenge is mastering from digital and tape sources and piecing them together.

What’s the biggest technical challenge/problem you’ve ever gotten out of?

When there have been time constraints, I’ve had a mix and had to fly-in vocals underneath it to raise the vocal volume. It can be tricky because you have to avoid issues such as phasing.

What do you say to fledgling mastering engineers?

Be prepared to work hard. It’s a slow, tedious, detail-oriented process. There’s little room for error, being that it’s the final stage before people send off their babies to be manufactured. The artists and labels want to be sure that they’re in good hands. For that to happen, they look at your body of work and it takes time to build that up.

Any final advice?

As a mastering engineer, you get a variety of material. Taking the same approach doesn’t work all the time. Often it requires rethinking the whole plan. Sometimes minimalism is the most effective approach to mastering.

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