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What Do Madonna, Moby and Ministry of Sound Have in Common?

Andy Bolleshon, founder of Time Tools Mastering & Publishing, has devoted his life to music, working as a producer, musician, mastering engineer, label owner and music publisher for over 15 years in the music industry. In 1988, Bolleshon joined the Canadian electro-pop band Psyche as their live keyboardist only soon after to go on world tour with Anne Clarke. After completing his training as studio assistant, he worked at several renowned London-based music studios, later returning to Germany with a vision to establish mastering on an international level straight out of the heart of Hanover. Since then, many internationally acclaimed musicians, including Fat Boy Slim, Moby, Timo Maas and Mousse T., and superstars like Madonna and Tom Jones have turned to him.

Steinberg had the chance to talk to Bolleshon about professional mastering techniques, his daily work with Steinberg products and the new Peter Fox album.

Hi Andy! The fascination for music is sometimes stimulated by the school’s band practice, other times it’s the artists one listens to. How were you introduced to music?
Since a very young age, I’ve been into electronic music, especially the more unusual sounds get me all excited. Some time in the '80s I was listening to a radio show going on about synthesizers and that they could virtually generate any sound. And somehow that stuck with me. I got my first synthesizer in 1987, but reached its limits rather quickly.

From then on, I delved into electronic music and built myself a small home recording studio. Hitting it lucky in 1989, I got the chance to play live keyboard for the Canadian band Psyche who had quite a good reputation throughout the indie scene. By playing for Psyche, I was able to make many interesting contacts that were to help me in the following years. At the same time, I began doing small mixing and producing jobs as well as producing my own albums. And so I decided to earn my living by means of music.

Which aspects of your job do you enjoy the most? And how is it to work together with international stars the likes of Madonna?
At some stage I recognized that I enjoyed helping artists get the most out of their music, being the producer, mixer or mastering engineer that I am today. It pleases me when an artist comes to us after months and months of hard work in order for us to give the music an assertive sound and our special touch so that our customer can happily pass on the finalized album to the press plant. Working with artists is very matter of fact when it comes to mastering. Since all stars have a tight schedule and many people working for them, I mostly correspond with the record companies or the producers. In Madonna’s case, actually everything went through the record company and management.

On the other hand, there are many artists who want to get personally involved. Peter Fox, who doesn’t want to leave anything to chance, is a really good example. First, he requested test masters from various mastering studios before my studio and another studio finally got the job for mastering his album. And it didn’t end here: the first single release Alles Neu from the album was mastered by both studios. Then, the two masters were edited together and premiered on a Monday’s radio show, each being played for about 30 seconds. The song was recorded from the home radio at home and analysed. Finally, the song was mixed and mastered all over again and broadcasted a second time on the Friday. I thought that was pretty insane, but then again, these are the moments you still learn new things, even with more than 20 years of experience.

What Steinberg tools do you work with at Time Tools? And why do you use our software?
We work with Nuendo and WaveLab. Nuendo is used for playing back and recording within the analog signal chain. We employ WaveLab to finalize projects and create the final CD or DDP master. Both programs allow for a workflow that is very time-saving and efficient. This is a decisive factor since we are continuously required to meet deadlines.

What equipment do you have to achieve ideal mastering results?
Our mastering chain consists of high quality analog and digital equipment, a state-of-the-art signal converter and a handful of plug-ins, some of which are rather out of the ordinary. The much-used analog/digital setup is made up of the Manley Massive Passive, the GML 8200 EQ, Manley Vari-Mu, Elysia Alpha Compressor, Weiss Digital EQ and various other high end EQs and compressors that are readily available. Most of the analog gear has extensively been modified in order to squeeze out that last drop of sound quality. A modified Digital Audio Denmark Adda 2404 is our converter of choice. This might seem to be an uncommon converter for mastering, yet sounds far better with its modifications than the usual suspects the likes of Lavry and Prism. As for software, we continue to keep our eyes open for new plug-ins and tools. However, we are very fussy owing to the fact that many highly acclaimed products from well-known manufacturers have disappointed us in the past. This is why we only use a small number of plug-ins which sound really great and are rather exotic. We continuously enhance our setup: starting with the cabling, tubes, condensers and so forth for the analog hardware and ending with the algorithm for the sample-rate conversion and dithering. We don’t usually change our setup on a day-to-day basis, but frequently check our gear involving listening tests to ensure that we maintain the highest level of sound quality.

What features of Nuendo and WaveLab do you especially like? And do you have any ideas that would further improve the workflow?
As I already said, the workflow in Nuendo and WaveLab works pretty well for us. However, we would welcome a single program that fuses all the features we use. The playback, recording and routing capabilities in Nuendo are brilliant. For our purposes WaveLab seems to lag behind. And WaveLab’s plug-in management of regions in an audio montage could also be made easier to handle.

The possibilities of home recording have continuously improved over the past years. Do you have a useful recording tip for the Steinberg home recording users?
The most important thing is to ensure a good monitoring system before spending lots of money on other equipment. A good acoustic space and the right loudspeakers are the foundation of a good mix. This knowledge is based on our daily business: customers with a superior monitoring system usually provide the best mixes, even when working with only a couple audio tools. I am sorry to say many people think that using 20 plug-ins per channel only achieves a great mix. Actually, our experience shows time and again that less is more. When mastering, we have the means to affect the sound and “punch” to a significant degree which our customers are unable to achieve. Hence, it is usually easier to work on untouched mixes in order for us to work to the full extent of our abilities.

Would you say there are more private customers nowadays that like to have their recordings professionally mastered?

Yes, this is certainly the case. Today we have more private customers who require our service. We even assist a number of customers during the mixing process, making suggestions in order for them to achieve a better result. Keep in mind, when it gets down to it the master can only be as good as the customer’s mix.

Meanwhile many bands record and mix their albums in their rehearsal rooms. It’s very similar with hip hop and dance music where most productions are home-made.

Due to bad monitoring conditions and the lack of experience, I can’t emphasize the importance of professional mastering enough. Just imagine a band producing that dream-come-true album which will be played to their grandchildren 30 years down the line. Now this album is going to be mastered by someone who doesn’t cost much but also has no experience. Sadly, the result won’t meet expectations — only to have saved a couple hundred. And that’s why many private customers are truly happy to entrust us with their projects.

Are you allowed to tell us on which productions you are working at the moment
We master a wide range of music styles. There’s the album of Peter Fox, and we’ve just completed several soundtracks, such as Mord ist mein Geschaeft, Liebling, Contact High (both Ministry of Sound) and Dorfpunks (PIAS). In addition, we've mastered several new releases for labels the likes of Desolat (Loco Dice & Martin Buttrich), SCI + TEC (Dubfire) and Datapunk (Antony Rother). Lately, we’ve also worked with Juliano Rossi, a swing artist who has recently been signed to the legendary Blue Note Jazz label.

Andy, thank you so much for this interview!

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