Up Close: Black Matter Mastering

From Recording Studio to Mastering Facility: The story of how Nashville based veteran musician and producer Dan Emery shifted from co-owner of a studio collective to mastering engineer shows how even the worst of calamities can ultimately lead to bigger, better things. By 2010, Emery’s McAlpine House Studios—which filled the rooms of a large home—had been humming along, hosting sessions for artists for six years. Then the 2010 Tennessee Floods hit. While Emery and his staff salvaged most of their equipment—including its vintage Soundcraft 500 console—the space was rendered useless. Regrouping in the wake of the disaster, his original plan was to open a similar facility in his new home, but his desire to work more independently and on his own clock—combined with his longtime fascination with the “dark arts of mastering”—led him instead to launch Black Matter Mastering.

Building BMM: Drawing from the network he had cultivated with his previous studio, Emery started out mastering mostly punk and metal bands. Though BMM is focused primarily on post-production (mixing and mastering), it also has recording capabilities and he has edited many podcasts and audiobooks as well. His expansive background in so many areas of production—recording, mixing, mastering, electroplating for vinyl, manufacturing all formats of media, live production—he intentionally keeps his business model loose and non-traditional. One of his unique offerings is remastering old acetates and demo cassettes, including some of the earliest rare 80’s material from GWAR.

Vinyl Etching Services: Emery has secured many of his larger clients and projects by offering his expertise in vinyl etching, which is an image pressed into an unplayable side of an album and has a frosted appearance. Generally, the etched side doesn’t contain any grooves or music. Emery, however, can etch images onto playable sides as well. Emery takes the blank lacquer and uses chemicals to etch visual images onto them. The process adds a touch of visual style and is a way to enhance the artistic aesthetic of the album.

Anti-Corp: In 2001, Emery—who still plays in a punk band—launched an indie label for local metal and punk bands. Over the years, even as he built his other businesses, the label’s roster has grown to include hip-hop (including Kool Keith) and, these past years, Americana, folk and bluegrass alongside the metal and punk. The label has recently begun releasing albums of live performances by acoustic bands, who perform outdoors at night under a huge magnolia tree behind the studio. In addition to mic’ing every instrument, Emery built a binaural mic for these sessions to pick up the details of every ambient sound, which creates an almost 3-D audio effect.