In approximately 4,000,000,000 years, the Milky Way galaxy we call home will collide with the Andromeda galaxy. No one will be injured in this slow-motion crash, but the interaction of all the spiral arms will fling every visible star hither and yon, transforming our night sky forever.
Too impatient to wait for this exciting phenomenon? Well, a parallel remapping has occurred recently in the mastering realm. It all began when the forces of New York real estate and music industry economics set a collision course with Manhattan’s globally respected Masterdisk.
Everything smashed together, scattering elite mastering engineers and their assistants across the country, with new rooms to call home.
Setting Things in Motion
It all began in January of 2014, when Scott Hull, the owner of Masterdisk, received some unwelcome news: Masterdisk’s lease would not be renewed, and the occupants of one of New York City’s most respected mastering facilities, located at 545 W. 45th Street for over two decades, would have 60 days to vacate.
Hull had already been seriously considering a move from the classic rooms of 545 for a while. Mastering has not been immune to the ongoing financial pressures facing the recording industry, and perhaps no link in the chain was more susceptible to a shakeout then a Manhattan multi-room mastering facility.
Now Masterdisk resides at 260 West 36th Street, Suite 801. It’s the latest of a few addresses in the company’s history, which dates back to 1973 when it launched as a spinoff of the recording, editing and mastering arm of Mercury Records.
The Latest Evolution
Hull had to move Masterdisk under a deadline, but according to the veteran mastering engineer – whose lengthy credits include Uncle Tupelo, Herbie Hancock, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Panic! At the Disco, John Zorn, Laurie Anderson, and The Book of Mormon: Original Broadway Cast Recording – the idea to relocate had already been brewing for months in his mind.
“It was in the middle of last year that I finally saw a new vision for Masterdisk that didn’t include a large group of engineers,” Hull says. “The business has changed and musicians are looking for a singular voice that aligns with their perspective. I came to believe I could serve them better on my own. Once I made that decision, the move was an obvious next step.”
Anyone who visited Masterdisk at the 545 W. 45th Street location, which featured multiple rooms designed by Fran Manzella, likely recalls a buzzing atmosphere where senior engineers, their assistants, and no shortage of major label and indie artists circulated constantly. Over the years, countless thousands of albums – including hundreds of GRAMMY award-winning gold and platinum records — issued from the suites of star engineers that worked at the location including Greg Calbi, Bob Ludwig, Howie Weinberg and Leon Zervos.
Hull, who himself served as Ludwig’s assistant from 1984-1993, doubtless enjoyed the collegial atmosphere as much as anyone. But for the moment, Hull is choosing to work with a streamlined team at 260 W 36th Street, where he’s been in operation since mid-March.
There, he’s recently mastered projects for Tom Scholz (Boston), William Onyeabor, Anna Gastier (SNL), Joshua Redman and James Farm, Eric Harland Voyager – Vipassana, Bobby Previte’s SO PERCUSSION, and Dave Matthews – the latter two for vinyl and using his prized Neumann VMS-82 lathe.
“Right now it’s a single studio operation with a wonderful support staff,” Hull says. “I’m also constructing the perfect space for our lathe, a hugely important aspect of Masterdisk. Vinyl is part of the new frontier of mastering and we’re highly focused on cutting the best records in the world.
“My plan is for a three-room mastering studio, and I’m still looking for the right individuals to fill out the Masterdisk team,” Hull continues. “I’ve been in discussions with several high-quality mastering engineers. We are trying to work out the details.
“So – in the meantime – I am mastering some of my best work ever. Listen and see for yourself: Organic, live in the studio, direct-to-analog, and vinyl projects are what I’m finding the most satisfying.”
The Latest Locations of Masterdisk Engineers
This is certainly not the first time that a shakeup has redrawn the mastering lines in and around Manhattan. Mix magazine in 2008 called that year a “maelstrom of rearranging”, as multiple facilities shut down, were sold, and opened.
So it’s a little bit of history repeating itself now, as the constellation of elite mastering engineers that occupied 545 W. 45th Street at the time of, or within several months of, the move has scattered into a freshly distributed set of pros. As many as could be tracked down at the time of publication are listed below.
Tony Dawsey now operates Phantom Mastering in the hamlet of Mahopac, NY. The former Masterdisk Senior Mastering Engineer started there on Oct. 15th 1980, a journey launched in the mail room.
In the decades that ensued, Dawsey built up a massive discography that includes Jay-Z, French Montana, Diddy, RZA, DMX, Moby, Prefuse 73, Nine Inch Nails, Guru, Al Green, and King’s X, to name just a very few. “I have been very busy lately,” reports Dawsey, who is booked by Peter Cho http://belikewaterproductions.com/. “I’ve completed work on The D.I.T.C. Remix Project for Slice of Spice, along with the SP1200 Project: A Re-AWakening for Lord Finesse also for Slice of Spice. I’m very excited about the project for Sean C & LV called Loud Dreams a compilation of many top Hip Hop artist.
“Wakeem Dean, founder of Ruff Ryders Records is putting out a mixtape on his son LiL Waah called Playtime Is Over hosted by Swizz Beats,” Dawsey continues. “I’m even more excited about Pilz4Jazz a very refreshing Jazz project for Al Mack.” Other notable recent credits for Dawsey include The Notorious B.I.G. Life After Death, Puff Daddy & Family No Way Out, Ratking’s “So It Goes” (mixed by Young Guru), and the debut album for Crown mixed by Dana Nielsen.
Roger Lian, a Senior Mastering Engineer at 545 W. 45th, is based out of the new Masterdisk. A veteran of the company since 1989, he was Bob Ludwig’s last digital editor before the latter headed north to Maine to launch Gateway Mastering. His lengthy credit list includes the likes of Rush, Paul Oakenfold, Violent Femmes, The Smashing Pumpkins, and New York Dolls.
New additions to Lian’s discography include Mushroomhead’s The Righteous & the Butterfly, Sleep from A Bad Think (which is former A Flock of Seagulls drummer/GRAMMY winner Michael Marquart), and the actor Leslie Odom Jr., set to release his first jazz solo album on Borderlight Entertainment in August.
Former Masterdisk Senior Mastering Engineer Vlado Meller went much further afield, relocating his practice to Truphonic studio in Charleston, South Carolina. Meller’s platinum-plated, 43-year career includes credits with the Beastie Boys, Andrea Bocelli, Johnny Cash, Celine Dion, Duran Duran, Julio Iglesias, Michael Jackson, Lil Wayne, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Kanye West, 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. His two-time GRAMMY-winning journey also included stays at Sony Music Studios and Universal Mastering Studios.