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RECORDING

Mastering Engineer

JOB OVERVIEW

Mastering is the final creative step in the recording process before the manufacture of a CD, DVD, cassette, record, or any other format that is released to the public. It is the process of transferring recorded sounds that are stored on a master tape, to a lacquer disc (or master disc) for the purpose of manufacturing recordings. “Imagine being in the studio, mixing, being finished with the recording and listening back to your mixes,” says Denny Purcell. “The producer and artist have a picture in their minds of how they want the recording to sound to the public, which they lined up song by song. The mastering engineer makes that possible. The sound, time between songs, the volume of each song; we make the record palatable for the public.”

CAREER TIPS

“If money is your goal, your career will be short lived. Music is an art form. The most important things in music are the song, the performance, and the production.”

SPECIAL SKILLS

“I think people skills helped me the most to become successful. That and diplomacy and patience.”

POINTERS FOR THE JOB SEARCH

“When I started out, there weren't any schools that taught mastering. You had to find someone and become an apprentice. I don't know how much schooling you need, but I don't know if there is an engineer who would let you in the door if you didn't have some schooling.”

DENNY PURCELL, MASTER ENGINEER, PRESIDENT OF GEORGETOWN MASTERS

Growing up in a musical family in Indiana, Denny Purcell fell in love with songs through the lyrics of Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. “I had three Bob Dylan records: one to listen to and figure out what he said, one to play after that, and one to keep.” Early on, he knew that he wanted to be involved in the creative process of music. A musician in the late 1960s, Purcell moved to Nashville in the early 1970s after gaining some initial engineering experience in New York. He drove an ice cream truck until he landed a job as second engineer at Quadrafonic Sound Studios. There he worked with artists like Jimmy Buffett, Dan Fogelberg, Linda Ronstadt, Joe Walsh, Neil Young, and many others. When Young's producer, Elliot Mazer, wanted to record the artist's Time Fades Away Tour, Purcell and Gene Eichelberger built Masters Wheels and Purcell manned the mobile studio for the next two years.

THE LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT THIS JOB:

“Running the business. I like to come to work and play. I haven't grown up yet.”

THE BEST THING ABOUT THIS JOB:

“Getting to share a day or two with some of the most well-known people in the music business on a one-to-one level.”

Purcell returned to Nashville in 1974. “I worked at a gas station trying to figure out how to get a job [engineering]. I remember washing the windshields of people I knew. They would ask me what I was doing and I told them I was getting back in the business. One fellow looked at me and said, ‘It's nice to see people with goals.’” Persistence paid off and although he didn't find work as a producer, Purcell landed a job as a mastering engineer at Woodland Mastering, which forever changed the course of his career. He began mastering gospel music, later mastered Kansas’ legendary Masque album, and eventually ended up running the facility. “If you're a studio engineer, you might work two or three months on an album,” says Purcell. “I work on a different album every day. I'm the type of person who wants to see the end of his work. It ended up that the job I found, which fed my family, is the one that is much more attractive to me than studio engineering.”

In 1985 he founded his own company, Georgetown Masters, where he has mastered more than 500 gold and platinum albums for such diverse artists as Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Yo-Yo Ma, Tom Petty, Phish, Keith Richards, Paul Simon, Trisha Yearwood, and Neil Young. In 1998, he won Billboard magazine's Mastering Facility of the Year award. One of only ten people worldwide who is capable of operating at this level of success, Purcell founded Mastering Engineers Guild of the Americas (MEGA) in 1998 with the mission to assist the music industry with technological issues, and to deliver to consumers accurate renderings of artist's works.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCareers in the Music BusinessRECORDING - Production: Producer • Record Producer, Recording Engineer And Mixer, Engineer • Second Engineer, Mastering Engineer