Sonicscoop Interview with Colin Leonard and SING Mastering

Sonicscoop Magazine Article with Colin Leonard

Master Plan: SING Mastering - Atlanta

In the Wiki for Atlanta, you see it is considered an “alpha-” or “world city”, ranking 15th among world cities and sixth in the nation with a gross domestic product of $270 billion. Colin Leonard heads up SING Mastering in ATL. These are impressive statistics, and it’s logical that the entertainment and media industries are part of that. For Atlanta-connected names that know music and video, include Turner Broadcasting, CNN, Cox Enterprises, and the Weather Channel. Artists? On the rock and pop side, think Indigo Girls, the Black Crowes, Sevendust, Mastodon, Justin Bieber, Deer Hunter, Man or Astro man. And hip hop – it’s a world beacon, starring the likes of Usher, Ludacris, Outkast, T.I. Soulstresses Tony Braxton and India Arie call it home, along with a whole stadium full of stars far too lengthy to list. In this lush SouthEast cultural ecosystem, it’s no surprise that you’ll find some elite mastering houses. In our first “Master Plan” we pay a visit to SING Mastering, where owner and mastering engineer Colin Leonard has built up a megastar credit list and proprietary all-analog processes for his craft. What drives this audio pro to make his masters one better? Read on to find out. Master Plan Facility Name: SING Mastering Website http://www.singmastering.com Location Atlanta, GA Clients/Credits Echosmith, Kimbra, Icona Pop, Leona Lewis, Justin Bieber, Mastodon and Mystery Skulls to name a few, working with record labels such as Warner Bros., Sony Music, Atlantic Records, Republic Records and Universal Records. When it All Began We built the new facility in 2012 but I’ve been mastering professionally for about 10 years. Room for the music to SING out. Atlanta Angle It was kind of an accident. I moved to Atlanta after college with a couple of guys that I played in a Fusion Jazz band with. I was trying to make some extra money, so I bought a Pro Tools rig in 1998 and started producing and mixing. Mastering had always interested me and an opportunity kind of fell in my lap. It was a “right place at the right time” situation. We have a no-compromise commercial facility and encourage clients to attend the mastering session if they can. A lot of projects these days are from national and international clientele. Master Mind When I started making my own recordings back in 1996 or so I would always try some mastering myself. I would also do some mastering for artists that I produced back in the late 90’s. Sometimes I would spend more time on the mastering than the mixing. That’s when I really knew it was something that was a great fit for me. I really like focusing on “the big picture.” I focus on the feel and vibe of a song as a whole and how small changes can make a big difference in how a song emotes. How I Hear It When starting on a song I listen to the whole song all the way through at least once. I try not to think about technical things, but more from a musical perspective. I’m more of a simplicity guy and less-is-more a lot of times in mastering. I have six different analog EQs and a couple of analog compressors. I don’t do a lot of compression, I am more of an EQ person, especially these days when mixes are usually compressed already! (laughs) But I have a lot of EQ flavors. I almost always do all of my processing in the analog domain, I just prefer the sound. I actually have some proprietary analog processes so that I don’t have to use digital limiters for loudness. To me it sounds more natural, and the transient energy from the mix stays intact. I think one of the hardest parts of mastering is anticipating where a song/album needs to be. I always encourage input from the client but often they just say “do your thing!” We work on a lot of different genres so staying on top of what production styles are popular and studying different genres is important to me. That way I can better anticipate where the song or album needs to be. Customer service is also very important to me so we do everything we can to make sure the customer has the best quality product and any format they may need for distribution. Top Gear The heart of the system is a Dangerous Master insert console and Dangerous Monitor. These pieces were designed by Chris Muth and are extremely reliable and transparent. A few mods and some unbalancing have been done but nothing major. I have a couple of custom Neumann W495B units that have a really nice linear power supply, and they actually have transformers too, plus they have been modified for half dB steps. Those are from the old Neumann vinyl record cutting consoles. I also have a set of modified Neumann OE-Duo EQs, which are transformer-less, so they are a little bit more transparent. Those are really cool, the midrange is some of the best that I’ve heard. I have some old Motown-style inductor EQs that are customized Electrodyne circuits with original Reichenbach transformers that are heavily modded with switches. I have some really transparent stuff too, like a Fred Forssell Millennia NSEQ-2, and an SPL “PQ” which is the big mastering version, and normal stuff like Manley, Pendulum and Prism. My speakers are custom too. They are the last pair of the Tyler Acoustics D1′s, they were made by Ty Lashbrook and all of the drivers and crossovers were designed for the speakers by Danny Richie. I have two Pass Labs amps that drive them and custom-built crossovers and internal wiring with cabinet modifications by Danny Richie. Then I have a couple custom stereo subwoofers, the sub cabinets are built by Ty with the servo drivers designed by Danny Richie. In control at the console. Vinyl Kind I started cutting lacquers back in 2007 on a Neumann VMS 70. The first day cutting vinyl was eight sides, I think, for DTP records. Talk about getting thrown into the fire! It was a great way to start though. Cutting lacquers definitely teaches you a lot about mastering and its limitations. Plus, there is just something so cool about the physical medium. I have a completely refurbished Neumann lathe coming within the next year, so I’m excited about that. Unforgettable Kimbra’s Vows album was a really amazing project to work on. The mixes were done by Phil Tan and were just ridiculously good. I also mastered a new single for Kimbra recently called “Miracle” that is really good. Also, I worked on an album by Mystery Skulls called Forever that just got released. Nile Rodgers is playing guitar on some of the songs. It’s a really great album and is #1 on the iTunes electronic chart right now. What I Wish Everyone Understood About Mastering That we don’t use reverb. Ever. (laughs) Listen Better Go with your gut and make sure the tracks and mixes feel good. Keep your monitoring in check so you know what you’re hearing.  – Colin Leonard, SING Mastering - See more at: Sonicscoop