eq #7 interview w mastering engr david cheppa / 2000

do you have to do a lot of mastering in the sense of having to do a lot of eq and compression, or do you just do a lot of straight transfers?

my goal is to take someone's work and keep it faithful and not touch it, but there's very few engineers that i don't have to do anything with their program. the problem is taking something that's now in the digital domain and putting it in the physical realm. you're basically making that little stylus accelerate sometimes as much as 5,000 times the force of gravity at times, especially when you have program with a lot of percussive brilliance or sibilance sounds created by s's.

by the way, that's where all the power is required in cutting. in the physical world with sound systems, all the energy is in the low end. but in cutting, it's the exact opposite. all of the energy is in the upper spectrum, so everything from about 5khz on up begins to require a great amount of energy. this is why our cutting systems are so powerful. one lathe has 3,600 watts of power and our least powerful one is about 2,200 watts. it's devastating if something goes wrong at that power. if i get a master that's raw and hasn't been handled at all, and there is something that just tweaks out of nowhere, it can take the cutter head out. so that's always a big concern.

we do everybody's work here - mca, sony, warner - but i treat every project as though i'm doing babyface's album. even when it's somebody's garage band, i'll give it the same care and interest because, to me, every project is important. but that project may be a mess. if it's beyond anything i think i should be messing with, i'll call them and say, "listen, this hasn't been premastered for vinyl." "what do you mean by that?" "well, there's percussive brilliance that's out of control. "this is the problem in almost every case because sibilant distortion can occur on vinyl that doesn't occur anywhere else. it's because the velocities are so high and so quick that the person's playback stylus will literally chatter in the groove. and that chattering sound seems to be a distortion, when, in truth, the record might not have any distortion, but nobody can track it. i can actually cut records that nobody can track, which is useless.

with a lot of rap and hiphop, do you have problems with the low end?

the answer is yes and no. it's almost always no good if they haven't really mastered it because the kick may be boosted so severely that there's no way that you can get any apparent volume.

where does most of the vinyl go?

today there's so many markets; the dj market, or the dance/rap/hiphop market, is probably the greatest number. i think 80% of it goes there. the others are really only a few percent, like classical music. a lot of music that we're remastering was done in the '60s and '70s. everything that polygram ever did and everything that motown ever did, they're being re-mastered and we're recutting them.

we're actually getting a better record now than they had back then because you're hearing things that they couldn't hear on their original masters. also, the cutting systems weren't that evolved back then either. everything's been improved so much.

it really must take a lot of experience to cut a good record.

if you just want to cut a mediocre record, you don't need to know a lot of anything. if you want to cut a better record, it's good to know something. if you want to cut an incredible record, you need to have an understanding of the physical world and the laws that govern it. you have to know what the limits really are. physically and electronically, it's a balance of art, science, and technology.