Need to get away? There’s a planet just for you in New Paltz, New York.
A little patch of utopia upstate, New Paltz has been a college town since 1828, but the latest learning experience there comes from Rogue Planet Mastering. Founded by Mike Kalajian, the facility is all about finding focus for an audio pro who used to do it all – producing, engineering and mixing.
The switch to something singular in sound has paid off. In just the third year in his New Paltz mastering suite, Kalajian has already hit 200 projects for 2015. Word is spreading not just for the sound, but for the experience: attended sessions in this countrified getaway are highly encouraged, and his clients are coming over every chance they get.
While the expansive outdoors await just outside, Kalajian runs a tight ship inside. Best of all, you don’t have to hit the highway to benefit from his sonic wisdom – just read on.
Facility Name: Rogue Planet Mastering
Location: New Paltz, NY
Clients/Credits: Moving Mountains, Prawn, Against The Current, Black Coast, Ace Enders, Alex Goot. Allmusic discography here.
When it All Began: Although I’ve been mastering for several years, “Rogue Planet Mastering” is a fairly new venture marking my switch from “do-it-all” production/engineering/mixing/ mastering to a focus on just mastering. We started construction on our current space in November of 2013 and moved in the following May.
Wish You Were Here: I chose New Paltz for several reasons. It’s a small college town with a great artistic vibe and a ton of great places to eat. It’s right at the base of the Shawangunk Mountains, making for great hiking and swimming. When we decided to relocate the studio it was the obvious choice (since I also live here). I was fortunate to find a spot that fit our needs just 5 miles from my home.
Since we do attended sessions, it’s nice that we’re a straight shot out of New York City in a spot that offers a nice change of pace from the city life.
The space we chose was the entire 2500 square-foot second floor of a warehouse just outside of the village. It was a completely blank canvas. The original design was done by myself and another engineer, later getting assistance from the Walters/Storyk Design Group.
Master Mind: My father was a technician and an audiophile, so we always had great sound in our house. He was a huge Roger Waters and Peter Gabriel fan, and some of those records were so groundbreaking sonically. I remember being captivated by the sounds on those albums, and the different textures from one recording to the next.
He also has a terrible case of Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS), so I was equally fascinated with how different speakers or a different amp would change the presentation of an album. I think that just stuck with me, because even as an engineer (which I did for a living for over 10 years successfully) I was obsessed with sound, texture, and motion, sometimes more than the artistic qualities of the music! Over that time mastering crept into my MO and slowly took over.
How I Hear It: Usually after a client submits their tracks, I’ll chat with them and collect some basic info like track order etc., but I’ll also talk about how they envision their record. I find that asking them for a few relevant reference tunes is a huge help. If an artist or producer really loves the way a certain record sounds I’ll listen to a few tracks from that album before I start working. It really helps me approach their songs from the right angle.
I think another thing that helps me is the fact that I made albums as a producer/engineer/mixer /musician for so long. More often than not I can quickly develop a pretty clear picture of what the client intended from certain cues within the mix. Clients sometimes spend months in the studio carefully crafting these songs. It’s an incredible amount of work, and I have the ability to elevate it or mess it all up – usually in one afternoon. That’s a huge responsibility, one I’ll never take for granted because I was that guy pressing record and editing for days on end.
As a mix engineer I had some great, and some not-so-great experiences with mastering. I remember the feeling of getting back an incredible master and thinking, “I was already happy with this mix, and I can’t believe how much better it sounds now!” That’s the kind of response I try to elicit with every song I master.
Key Personnel: I have a Project Manager, Steve Kondracki, who handles most of the backend stuff for me, allowing me to focus more on the music. He’s as fanatical about organization as I am about sound, so it’s nice to have him making sure all of the projects are organized and delivered correctly and on time.
The focus is always on the sonics of mastering, but there’s a whole other side to it that’s equally important: Delivering the right files to the right people, on time. Making sure the right revisions are sent to the pressing plant – Steve takes all the worry out of that. He’s developed a great system to manage jobs, track client requests, and a lot more. At the time of writing this on our 200th project of the year, so keeping everything in order is key.
Top Gear: I monitor through B&W 802n’s and they’re easily the most important part of my setup. Once I got my room tuned and the speakers in the right spot everything else fell into place.
Lately I’ve been loving the EQ tandem of my Hendyamps Michelangelo and Bettermaker 232p Mk2. The Michelangelo is so sweet and broad, while the Bettermaker is super precise. Between the two of those and Equilibrium I’m pretty well covered in that department.
Another new toy I’m excited about is the Mammoth Cave Audio Wooly Mammoth Deluxe (passive harmonic generator). It’s basically a box with a LOT of transformers in it that can be switched into the chain. Totally passive. I had my unit customized with some vintage transformers I had laying around, so it offers some cool “finish” at the end of my analog chain.
I love to look off the beaten path for new exciting gear. There’s so much out there and the web has given so many talented designers an audience for their products. There are certainly “staple” mastering tools, and I appreciate that – but I enjoy the search for cool new boxes that can do things the standard pieces can’t.
Off Duty: Aside from the baseball on the radio? Hahaha. Lately I’ve been listening to artists like Tycho, Mutemath, Polyenso, and Daughter. I’m definitely a sucker for big reverb soundscapes and cool ambiences.
Unforgettable: I recently re-mastered Moving Mountains‘ “Pneuma” for vinyl re-release on Top Shelf Records. It was kind of surreal because I’d actually engineered the drum session for that album in my bands garage practice space years ago. It put some perspective on my growth as an engineer in the decade or so since that original release.
Listen in on some Rogue Planet Mastering examples here:
What I Wish Everyone Understood About Mastering: That great mastering is absolutely worth the expense, and that you don’t need to spend a fortune to get it. At the same time, putting a limiter on your mix and calling it a day is probably doing a disservice to something you’ve worked very hard on. Building a relationship with a mastering engineer you trust, including an open channel for feedback — both ways — goes a long way toward creating great sounding music.