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Masters Behind the Mix: A Behind-the-Scenes Glimpse Into Music Making With Mastering Engineer Ted Jensen

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Masters Behind the Mix: A Behind-the-Scenes Glimpse Into Music Making With Mastering Engineer Ted Jensen
By Ebonie Smith

Ever wonder how your favorite songs are made? Ever wonder what happens between the time it takes your favorite artist to record a song and the time it plays on your radio? The process of making music is a specialized art, and there are a handful of amazing technicians working behind the scenes to help engineer the hits we all love and enjoy.

We recently sat down with Sterling Sound mastering studio’s Chief Mastering Engineer Ted Jensen for a conversation on mastering, the last creative step in the hit making process. Jensen has mastered a number of hit albums, including titles by The Rolling Stones, Carlos Santana and many more. He has more than forty years of experience in music mastering. 

From anecdotes about working with Mick Jagger to his involvement with creating new standards for music on iTunes, our conversation was full of awesome and insightful information. Check out some of the highlights from his conversation with us and learn more about the behind-the-scenes process that helps create the music you love!

What is mastering? How important is mastering today versus years ago?

Mastering has evolved a bit over the years… In past times, we were the guys who put the grooves in the [vinyl] discs. We’d take the... [album] tapes and run them through our processing [to] get the sound that we wanted. [We] ran it through some very fancy amplifiers to the [vinyl record] cutting lathe. That would serve as the master for all the vinyl, which then got sent to the pressing plant. It’s actually come full circle… We still do that. It kind of died off during the years that the CD was prominent. Now vinyl seems to be back in the public’s awareness.  

Now mastering for a few different formats, the main job that we have is to make each track sound as good as it can and try to make the album have a bit of cohesiveness. If there are a bunch of different producers so that the [tracks] are different … [the mastering engineer’s] job is to make them sound like they all belong on the same album. 

So, [mastering] is the finishing school for the album project. It’s the last stop to get right any concerns that the artist, producer or label has with the sound. 

When did you first realize that you had a passion for mastering music?

The mastering part sort of came about by accident… My original passion was [making] music first. Sound recording came along soon after that… At the time, I was building audio gear for a company called Mark Levinson Audio Systems, which was one of the first high-end stereo manufacturers. 

One of the guys who was working there went on to become Studer tape machine's representative sales manager. One of his clients was Sterling Sound. At one point he heard that Sterling was looking for somebody to do… tape copies and some basic editing... I got that job in 1975. The [job] was my introduction to actual disc cutting. 

So, you started off in an entry level position as a tape copy assistant and worked up. Now that you are the Chief Mastering Engineer at Sterling Sound, how has your role evolved?

If there is any technical arbitration to be done or decisions to be made with audio manufacturers, [I’m involved]. For instance, at one point we were involved with [Rupert Neve Designs] in coming up with a design for a digital transfer console specifically for mastering. So a lot of the questions they had… and a lot of the suggestions we made, I was the intermediary, the liaison between the mastering world and Neve for this project. I was basically the guy with the most technical experience out of the engineers we had on staff. 

“Atlantic is probably one of the top... labels that [Sterling Sound] has a relationship with.” 

Along that same vein, Sterling Sound worked extensively with Apple to develop the standards for Mastered for iTunes. Can you tell us more about the standard, your involvement and its implications for the music world?

To me, what it means is what you get [now in audio quality] from iTunes versus what you used to get. [Before] you had no idea what [a music file] was going to sound like when you got it off of iTunes. And nobody knew exactly how it wound up on iTunes. Was there a kid in a back room ripping CDs to a laptop? Nobody knew what the process was. 

We worked with Apple...to kind of get an idea of what happens at each stage of the process. Basically, we can send them much better files than they used to get… And I think they’re just paying more attention every step of the way, from mastering house to… site.  

What are some interesting mastering projects you’ve worked on for Atlantic Records?

Maybe the first big one was… The Rolling StonesSome Girls. 1978, I think. I was 24 or 23 at the time. Getting to work with The Stones... it was amazing.

I got the [album] tapes in. I spent a couple of hours going through them and getting what I thought should be the sound that [the band] would be happy with. Then, [engineer] Chris Kimsey came in, and we worked together for a while. Finally, Mick [Jagger] came in and checked out what we were doing. It was quite the feeling to have him in there...nodding his head, and giving the approval that way. 

How has your relationship with Atlantic Records and its artists developed over the years? 

Over the years... Atlantic is probably one of the top... labels that we have a relationship with. It’s been ongoing since Atlantic’s early days and certainly since the beginning of Sterling. The staff at Atlantic has always been really top-notch. 

 

If you’re interested in learning more, check out our previous feature on esteemed mastering engineer Chris Gehringer.

Click here and sign up to be notified about exclusive interviews and opportunities from Atlantic Records Artists and A&R!

 

  • Check out this discussion with Sterling Sound mastering studio’s Chief Mastering Engineer Ted Jensen. Learn more about the behind-the-scenes process that helps create the music you love!
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Ebonie Smith's picture
on January 9, 2015 - 12:11pm

Ever wonder how your favorite songs are made? Ever wonder what happens between the time it takes your favorite artist to record a song and the time it plays on your radio? The process of making music is a specialized art, and there are a handful of amazing technicians working behind the scenes to help engineer the hits we all love and enjoy.

We recently sat down with Sterling Sound mastering studio’s Chief Mastering Engineer Ted Jensen for a conversation on mastering, the last creative step in the hit making process. Jensen has mastered a number of hit albums, including titles by The Rolling Stones, Carlos Santana and many more. He has more than forty years of experience in music mastering. 

From anecdotes about working with Mick Jagger to his involvement with creating new standards for music on iTunes, our conversation was full of awesome and insightful information. Check out some of the highlights from his conversation with us and learn more about the behind-the-scenes process that helps create the music you love!

What is mastering? How important is mastering today versus years ago?

Mastering has evolved a bit over the years… In past times, we were the guys who put the grooves in the [vinyl] discs. We’d take the... [album] tapes and run them through our processing [to] get the sound that we wanted. [We] ran it through some very fancy amplifiers to the [vinyl record] cutting lathe. That would serve as the master for all the vinyl, which then got sent to the pressing plant. It’s actually come full circle… We still do that. It kind of died off during the years that the CD was prominent. Now vinyl seems to be back in the public’s awareness.  

Now mastering for a few different formats, the main job that we have is to make each track sound as good as it can and try to make the album have a bit of cohesiveness. If there are a bunch of different producers so that the [tracks] are different … [the mastering engineer’s] job is to make them sound like they all belong on the same album. 

So, [mastering] is the finishing school for the album project. It’s the last stop to get right any concerns that the artist, producer or label has with the sound. 

When did you first realize that you had a passion for mastering music?

The mastering part sort of came about by accident… My original passion was [making] music first. Sound recording came along soon after that… At the time, I was building audio gear for a company called Mark Levinson Audio Systems, which was one of the first high-end stereo manufacturers. 

One of the guys who was working there went on to become Studer tape machine's representative sales manager. One of his clients was Sterling Sound. At one point he heard that Sterling was looking for somebody to do… tape copies and some basic editing... I got that job in 1975. The [job] was my introduction to actual disc cutting. 

So, you started off in an entry level position as a tape copy assistant and worked up. Now that you are the Chief Mastering Engineer at Sterling Sound, how has your role evolved?

If there is any technical arbitration to be done or decisions to be made with audio manufacturers, [I’m involved]. For instance, at one point we were involved with [Rupert Neve Designs] in coming up with a design for a digital transfer console specifically for mastering. So a lot of the questions they had… and a lot of the suggestions we made, I was the intermediary, the liaison between the mastering world and Neve for this project. I was basically the guy with the most technical experience out of the engineers we had on staff. 

“Atlantic is probably one of the top... labels that [Sterling Sound] has a relationship with.” 

Along that same vein, Sterling Sound worked extensively with Apple to develop the standards for Mastered for iTunes. Can you tell us more about the standard, your involvement and its implications for the music world?

To me, what it means is what you get [now in audio quality] from iTunes versus what you used to get. [Before] you had no idea what [a music file] was going to sound like when you got it off of iTunes. And nobody knew exactly how it wound up on iTunes. Was there a kid in a back room ripping CDs to a laptop? Nobody knew what the process was. 

We worked with Apple...to kind of get an idea of what happens at each stage of the process. Basically, we can send them much better files than they used to get… And I think they’re just paying more attention every step of the way, from mastering house to… site.  

What are some interesting mastering projects you’ve worked on for Atlantic Records?

Maybe the first big one was… The Rolling StonesSome Girls. 1978, I think. I was 24 or 23 at the time. Getting to work with The Stones... it was amazing.

I got the [album] tapes in. I spent a couple of hours going through them and getting what I thought should be the sound that [the band] would be happy with. Then, [engineer] Chris Kimsey came in, and we worked together for a while. Finally, Mick [Jagger] came in and checked out what we were doing. It was quite the feeling to have him in there...nodding his head, and giving the approval that way. 

How has your relationship with Atlantic Records and its artists developed over the years? 

Over the years... Atlantic is probably one of the top... labels that we have a relationship with. It’s been ongoing since Atlantic’s early days and certainly since the beginning of Sterling. The staff at Atlantic has always been really top-notch. 

 

If you’re interested in learning more, check out our previous feature on esteemed mastering engineer Chris Gehringer.

Click here and sign up to be notified about exclusive interviews and opportunities from Atlantic Records Artists and A&R!

 

Post Media: 
Artist: 
The Rolling Stones
Short Title: 
Masters Behind the Mix - Part II
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