Mastering Analysis: Vlado Meller – “Security” by Stop Light Observations

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Take a mastering man out of the big city, and what happens? He raises his game yet again.

After decades of working his magic in Gotham a.k.a. New York City, audio icon Vlado Meller was ready for a change. When he transplanted from NYC to a most unlikely new home in Charleston, South Carolina, even Meller didn’t know how it would go.

But with his suite firmly ensconced at Truphonic Recording Studios, it’s safe to say the operation was a success. Not only did he find new inspiration in the historic city’s architecture, cuisine and culture, but he found a fresh client base waiting for him in the form of Charleston’s vibrant music scene.

Coming on 45 years in the business, Meller’s discography is massive, with credits that include the Beastie Boys, Andrea Bocelli, Johnny Cash, Charlotte Church, Celine Dion, Duran Duran, Kenny G, Kenny Loggins, Julio Iglesias, Michael Jackson, Lil Wayne, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Kanye West, Kenny Loggins, Paul McCartney, Metallica, George Michael, Oasis, Pink Floyd, Public Enemy, Rage Against The Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Shakira, Barbra Streisand, System Of A Down, Weezer, and Jack White. He’s kept his platinum clientele, and now he’s adding a slew of Southern bands that want his sound to finish their records.

One such artist is Stop Light Observations, a forward-looking rock four piece who’s new album Toogoodoo bowed on August 26th. Their left-of-center single “Security” is the focus of Meller’s hugely insightful Mastering Analysis here, a 5:10 anthem that plays out like a mini-movie from your speakers.

Why is an all-digital signal path the only way Meller does things in the mastering realm? How was he part of the production process long before they delivered him the two-tracks? What is his own pre-pro process that allows him to make the most out of his master?

Plus find out the highly effective old school interaction that benefited Meller and the band at Truphonic, the single most important component in the mastering chain, and his perspective on when the mastering process is truly complete. Don’t miss The Big Tip from this incredibly seasoned mastering engineer that’s here in black and white — mixers listen up! It WILL make you better.

And above all, how can you confirm for a fact that your mastering job was done right? The Vlado knows…

Vlado Meller moved his practice from NYC to Charleston, SC after decades, and landed in a very good place.

Vlado Meller moved his practice from NYC to Charleston, SC after decades, and landed in a very good place.

Mastering Engineer: Vlado Meller, assistant engineer: Jeremy Lubsey

Mastering facility: Vlado Meller Mastering, Charleston, South Carolina

Artist and Song: Stop Light Observations – “Security”

Album Release Date: Their album TOOGOODOO is out August 26th.

Produced by: Cubby

Engineered and mixed by: Joey Cox

Stop Light Observations is a rising rock ‘n roll group based out of Charleston, South Carolina who have been writing and playing together since middle school. Their songs consist of Southern-influenced storytelling with anthemic vocals, a wall of progressive guitars and synthesizers, and rock and hip-hop infused drums – sort of a cross between Jack White, Alt-J and Robert Plant.

From NYC to South Carolina: After working for major labels my whole life, reality hit hard when Sony decided to close their premier studio facility in New York City, followed by Universal Mastering East.

Corporate downsizing was getting to me. I needed a change. I’d had a long career in which I built up a diverse, solid client base, and since I had all of the necessary gear, the question was where I’d finally set up my own mastering studio. With New York rent prices skyrocketing, the city was not an option.

After talking to my friends in the industry – especially my current partner Paul West – I decided on Charleston, South Carolina. Paul owns a house in Charleston, so his input and knowledge about the geographic location, music scene and existing studio was very valuable.

His contacts led me to a beautiful local studio called Truphonic, and the rest is history. The studio was already built and it was a real Southern gem, with a tracking room, mixing room and now a state-of-the-art mastering room.  This facility was designed by a recording studio architect, and it was already treated with diffusers and fabrics and padding and polished concrete. It was designed as a studio, not an empty space to come in and set up your equipment.

The owner and my third partner Bruce Freshley was very excited about adding the mastering room, and allocating all of the necessary space needed to create a perfect mastering studio.

Setting Up The Studio:

The biggest challenge was moving all of my gear to Charleston and setting up the room again. My former tech people at Sony, who originally built and set up my room in New York, made it as easy and seamless as possible.

The recording and mixing facilities at Truphonic, like Studio A shown here, make it a world-class Southern homestead for Meller.

The recording and mixing facilities at Truphonic, like Studio A shown here, make it a world-class Southern homestead for Meller.

As mentioned, the studio and infrastructure were there, with acoustic treatments, wiring, high-speed Internet, air conditioning, kitchen, lounge, parking – everything. Try to do that in NYC or LA, and if you can, try to make it as sustainable as this!

It was also perfect because Charleston is such a music hub in the south, and many of my new clients were going to be local bands from Charleston and surrounding areas, in addition to all of the big national clients we were already working with.

100% Digital: The majority of my clients deliver hi-res digital files for mastering. With these files I stay in the digital domain. I master in hi-res and keep my mastering chain in the client’s native resolution and bit-rate until the end. Only the CD production master will be converted to 44.1Khz/16 bit. The client already created the sound he or she likes, either through analog mixing or a combination of analog/digital processing, so my job is to stay as close as possible to the original master.

In my extensive experience with analog and digital gear, digital processing allows me to deliver to my clients the best possible sounding master, with more creative options available. I know this because the feedback coming back from my clients is overwhelmingly positive. And because the master files are kept in their original sample and bit rate, any corrections (if needed at all) are a breeze. Multiple conversions in mastering will degrade the signal.

My experience in cutting and analog mastering for vinyl is second to none. Many of my biggest records in ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s were on vinyl. I started as a cutting engineer and transitioned in to digital mastering in the early ‘90s.

If the album is also coming out on vinyl, we can supply the client with a 30 IPS, 1/2 inch tape master, specifically EQ’d for vinyl. Since the vinyl is very much program and length-dependent, the EQ and levels will be different for that format.

Why They Mastered It With Me: Don’t take it from mehere’s the quote from Stop Light Observations’ versatile singer and keyboardist John-Keith Culbreth about why they choose me for their project:

"TOOGOODOO" by Stop Light Observations launched on August 26th.

“TOOGOODOO” by Stop Light Observations launched on August 26th.

 “Rock ‘n roll is an attitude not a genre or sound. For example, Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis were “rock ‘n roll” in the 50’s, just like The Beatles and Stones were in the 60’s, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath in the 70’s, Van Halen and Def Leopard in the 80’s, Rage Against The Machine and Oasis in the 90’s, Jack White and Kanye in the 2000’s.

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