Karl Klaseie and Øra Mastering

Photo: Olga Bushueva/IHTLNY

And the first question. Why mastering?

I started with recording, producing and mixing. In sort of learning how to work with sound through working with other bands, other artists. And together with my good buddy Simen who I started the studio Greener Productions with. If there was a problem in the studio we put our heads together and figure out how to fix it. So in that sense we were teaching ourselves at the same time I was studying Music Technology at NTNU.

The reason I started with mastering in the first place was we came to the point where we had been running the studio for so long, but we never got to the point where we were able to make a living of just running the studio. So I was working as a part time in the different kindergartens around Trondheim. But one day I just decided that I wanted to find something audio related to be my second income. I started doing some live sound and tried to do some teaching at Trøndertun Folkehøgskole where I have gone myself. After a while I got a tip that Redroom Studio was looking for someone to help a little bit with mastering work. And my only experience with mastering before that was I’d attended one or two mastering sessions before with stuff I produced and mixed. I just sat in the back of the room and tried to look over the shoulders at what they were really doing. I read in different magazines about mastering stuff. But at that moment I really had no idea what they were doing.

So I contacted the chief engineer Morten Stendahl at Redroom Studio. He was positive and said “just come over”. And I started to learn to work with mastering there. It was a really new way of thinking. Because it’s a different mindset when you do producing and mixing, especially mixing.
When you are mixing you are always thinking “Is a vocal loud enough..? Can you hear that guitar part..?” If you don’t hear that guitar part you just turn the guitar part up. With mastering it’s more like you take a step back and you look at the whole picture.

I just heard an interview of a really cool mastering engineer, Heba Kadry. She’s in Brooklyn. She gave a good analogy on what mastering is. That the artist and the mixer and producer, they are the people who paint a picture. A mastering engineer is the person at the gallery who is hanging up the pictures and making sure that they hang in the right place in the right order and the lighting is correct to get out all the nice stuff from these artworks. You’re not actually painting a picture but you are certainly making sure that the picture looks its best.

A lot of people think that mastering is very boring. What can you reply to this?

Yeah… I can tell you why I don’t think it’s boring. I get to listen to so much music, different music… compared to when I was recording and mixing and I was listening to the same music for days… To master an album takes about a day. A single no more than an hour. So you have a lot of different projects coming through and you get to listen to tons of music. And that’s cool. That’s interesting. That’s not boring.

And also there is something really satisfying with getting a great mix and then trying to do your best to make it sound even a little bit better. And if you make it it’s really fun. I enjoy working with people, so I enjoy when people attend sessions, but I also really like to dive deeply into focus mode and just work on my own. Which is what I do maybe ninety percent of the time.
I think a lot of people think mastering is boring because they don’t find the same joy as me in getting things right. It’s like organizing a bookshelf. Some people think is boring, others think it’s really satisfying when it’s perfectly organized, because then it looks really good.

Do you remember your first mastering job?

It was when I had the studio that I was talking about in the start of this… With Simen Hallset at Greener Productions.
It’s typical for at least new bands and new artists that they don’t even know that they need mastering. They don’t even know that it exists. So when we’re recording the band, producing the band and then we’re saying “Well, now you need to send it to the mastering engineer”. And then they’re like “But now we don’t have any more money. Can you do it for free?” That’s the typical question. I think every producer and mixer who ever lived and walked on this earth has gotten that question. Can you do it for free?

So how difficult is it to explain to artists what the mastering is for and why they need it?

Yeah. We struggle with it every day. I think people who have experienced good mastering, they understand why it’s a good thing. People who have just sent off a record to mastering and gotten back something they don’t really like, they…they don’t have the language and the knowledge to know what to respond. So they just accept it and they have a bad relationship to mastering. They don’t really like what they got back and they don’t know what they don’t like. They don’t know what the possibilities are and what you actually can do in mastering. The result is disappointment. If you don’t ask the mastering engineer, just accept, then you end up as the loser because you have a project that you’re not happy with. One of the main reasons why it’s a good thing to send a record to mastering is that you as an artist have heard the song a million times. A person who has worked with mixing has heard the song a million times. It’s a very good thing to get a fresh set of ears that is used to listen to tons of different projects and they know how music is supposed to sound good in their own environment, in their room. And can do the necessary tweaks if needed. It’s just a good quality control.

Maybe your favourite question. What do you think about the classic dilemma – digital vs analog?

Digital vs analog. It’s a hot topic in a studio and in the mastering community. As well as a really well discussed topic. To say the least.

And on your personal opinion..?

My personal opinion is the digital tools we have access to today are great and you can make great results with working “in the box” as we call it. We just need to work within the computer. My personal opinion is that I find it a lot more inspiring to twist actual knobs. Instead of just using a mouse and keyboard to sort of tweak a little thing on the screen. Maybe just cause I haven’t worked with the plugins in the computer as much and the same way as with my analog equalizers for example. But I know exactly how the different tools I have in my chain sound. What their qualities are, what their weaknesses are and how they work together.

And that is maybe my philosophy. To have few tools that do different things, but you know these tools really well instead of to have probably one hundred different eq’s in the computer and then you have to start to go through the list every time…Choose, maybe I try this one today. That’s cool enough, but I think it’s a lot better to know your tools really well and know how they work. So when you hear something in the song, you’re not starting to think “ok, which eq should I use now..?”. You just grab the one you know does this little thing really well, and then you get to where you want to go as quickly as possible.
So I can say I love using analog tools for the sound and for the ergonomics where you actually use your hands to dial in knobs quickly to get the results, but I also use a lot of digital tools in the box.

Are you happy with all the gear you have now?

I just got that last equalizer from a danish guy, Gustav from GOLY, who handmakes it.
When that piece came in the chain everything for me just fell into place. I know the two other eq’s I have really well. And now they got a new life. This new eq can do things that my previous eq couldn’t do, but my previous eq does this thing that I’ve been doing a lot really well. So in combination they create the best combo I’m really happy with. This is the first time all the pieces of gear feel like one console. Feels like one piece of big gear because they complete each other. It’s a very romantic way of talking about gear.

Can we talk a little about the room? It was built by a professional acoustician, isn’t it?

Yes. I began to work here when we started Øra Mastering. It’s a really good room and I know the room really well. I usually start the day with listening to different tracks from either music I like or some new releases. So I’m not listening to it on the radio or something, but listening in the environment I’m working in.

An amateur’s question: So you can’t just put all the gear in an ordinary room to start with mastering..?

No. You should have a room that is flat basically. “Flat” means that you can hear all frequencies at the same level. Normal rooms, they have a lot of surfaces in the construction that can create reverberation, standing waves, bumps, dips… I’m not an acoustician at all. And I’m not really good at this technical stuff. I just know that the way this room is built makes things sound precise here.

You can hear a lot of things that you might not hear in your home studio. A typical thing that occurs when you get the mix in for mastering is a lot of low end build up. There’s too much low end. That’s basically because either if you had speakers that don’t actually play down to 40-30 Hz. They stop at that point because they are not big enough. And also your room can have some problems. Like you are working at a home studio or control room that just is not really well-built. You might have a dip somewhere… Say you have a large dip where everything around 200 Hz… it’s really getting eaten by the room and you can’t hear it. So what happens – you want to hear 200 Hz in your vocals so you turn 200 Hz way up to compensate for your room. And when we get it in the room where we can hear everything you can hear… wow… It’s a lot of “200 Hz” going on here. And that is your job, to get it sounding good on all different kinds of platforms.

And the perfect last question. What is perfect mastering?

What is perfect mastering..? Perfect mastering for me is where you take the artist’s and the producer’s vision and you just wanna to push it a little bit further. You wanna get out more of the good stuff. Because people don’t sit in this kind of room. They listen to music on ipods, on the radio, in their car, on their really expensive hi-fi system in the living room. And you wanna it to sound really good wherever they listen to music. That’s the main goal.

And of course the main goal also is that the artist is really happy with their product. Because the mastering industry is a service industry. It’s not my ego, my sound, my taste that is important. It’s important that the artist is really happy with the end result because it’s their music. So they have to be proud, they have to feel “this is the way I wanna my music to sound”.

If the client is not happy, then it doesn’t really matter if I’m happy. I want the client to be happy with their project so they want to promote their music. And that is of course the main goal. We serve the music.