Hey Sunny, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
I’ve been well. How are you?
What draw you into music production?
I studied music composition and music theory at the graduate school. Yet I found myself being much more interested in sound rather than music. I had published numerous review articles on audio equipment and recordings in Korean hi-fi magazines. While having listening sessions for the reviews, I was able to develop the listening skills to judge the right balance of the recordings and the reproduction system.
After graduating the school, I decided to set my career to work on sound rather being in academia, then started to work in the studio as a recording engineer.
From all the fields, how did you got into mastering?
I began my career as a recording engineer. Then, I had established myself as a top producer for classical music recordings and an engineer for audiophile recordings. As an engineer for the audiophile recordings, I also got involved in mastering process to keep the quality of my recordings. Then, I realized that the mastering fits much better to my personality than the other fields of music production.
Other fields such as recording or mixing would make you work on the same music for some period of time. You will listen to the same music over and over to complete it. And you will have to work with a same group of people for some time.
However, if you master music, you will get to work on different styles of music, meet and work with different clients every day. For me, that really worked.
Then I was able to enjoy a great fortune to receive the mentorship from a legendary mastering engineer Doug Sax, who founded the Mastering Lab 1967, the first independent mastering studio in the history learning all the artistries and philosophies of the mastering.
For those who aren’t familiar with mastering duties and what not, can you tell us a bit about your job?
Lots of people think that the mastering is a process to make the music loud in order to compete with other similar music. However, the term “mastering” means the process needed to convert the content in a particular media(usually the media used in the professional world) to a different media(usually the media that is used for the consumer. Because each media has its own characteristic including the environment at which the media is used and consumed, when the media is converted into other media, the mastering process would be required to represent the idea of the artist or the producer at its best on a different media.
For example, a song will be made in a quite different environment than the one in which a normal listener would listen to it. In other words, a song will be produced and mixed in a quiet and acoustically treated room with speakers/headphones designed for a professional use. The final mix will be recorded on a high-quality media format. Yet one would listen to the music at a street, in a car or even at the Gym with small ear buds. The media being used would be the one that compromises the quality to reduce the cost.
On this different media, a nice full orchestra intro of the song for which the artist spent a fortune, might not be heard as intended unless the mastering engineer would do something to make sure it would be represented well on that low-quality media with a very noisy environment.
In the same logic, a different mastering process would be required when the same music is ported to a different media, for example, Vinyl which is consumed in a much different environment and equipment as well as has very distinct characters compared to other digital media.
I understand those who are in charge of the mastering need to have an extremely good ear?
Well, every engineer needs to have a well-trained ear/brain. But the mastering engineers have to have a keen ear/brain to be able to evaluate a forest rather than each tree. It can be called objectivity in some senses.
The mastering engineers don’t have a way or have very limited tools to address the imperfections of separate tracks. Yet we can, and should evaluate the overall balance of the song and the whole project to see if it would be represented as intended. Then if not, we need to figure out which sonic elements of the song/project would hinder them from represented at their best.
In order to have that objectivity, you need to have experience and particular listening abilities.
Do you have any rituals or things you do to protect your ears from damaging?
As other engineers would do, I would wear a pair of ear pads when I go to the concerts and or any events that have a loud sound system. Other than that, I don’t do any special things to protect the hearing.
You have had the chance to work alongside some really iconic names in music – what have you learned from these experiences?
The first thing that I noticed from them is the passion. After 20-30 years, even more than 40 years of their career in music, they still have a great passion for music and sound. This really has amazed me and becomes my dream to keep the same passion and energy on what I am doing at the 40th anniversary of my career(made it to the half way!!)
You have also moved to New Hampshire – was it a financial thing or does the state had a better surrounding for you to make your work better?
The reason for the move was that my wife was hired by Dartmouth college a faculty. After commuting to LA for about a year I decided to stay on the East coast hoping to support my family to settle on a new place. It was pretty hard for me to leave The Mastering Lab which is the legendary mastering studio I worked at in LA and Doug who was the found of the studio and the mentor of mine, but my priority lies in my family.
What would you say has been one of the biggest challenges for you?
That might be to have the courage to keep the objectivity on your work. As other fields, the competition in the field tends to let you over-master the tracks. It’s like a chef trying to make a dish a little more aggressive than it needs. You always want to put little more salt and pepper hoping that the dish sticks out among others.
This will do harm on your patronage as well as your dish because that line of thought won’t be a onetime deal, falling into never ending loop competing not only against your colleagues but also your own dish.
Keeping the courage to come out of that seduction and keep the objectivity to discern what would serve the client’s best interest, not yours has been the biggest challenge to me.
What else is happening next in Jacob’s Well Mastering Studio’s world?