The evolution of a new single begins with a songwriter and ends with the mastering engineer. The building blocks in between; production, vocal performances, instrumental performances, editing, mixing, etc… are all essential in the process of ending up with a fantastic song. But mastering is the book end that can make or break a beautiful project. It’s the icing on a cake, the nitro finish on a Fender, the Crossover in a speaker. The M.E. provides the ‘je ne sais quois’, which makes all the difference in each listener’s experience. But who are these acoustically blessed geniouses and how does one chart a course for a mastering engineer career? ThatsMyGig.com was stoked to catch up with Brian Lucey, Grammy Award winning mastering engineer. He has worked with esteemed artists like The Black Keys, Lucinda Williams, Dr. John, Cage the Elephant, Ringo Starr, Marilyn Manson, Arctic Monkeys, and more. Brian was cool enough to share about his journey to success, what life is like as an in demand M.E., and how to know if you’re ready for a career as a mixing engineer.
TMG: Tell us about your musician days, prior to sound engineering.
BRIAN LUCEY: I was playing guitar at age 11- nylon strings, then my brother’s ES-335 … taught myself from albums, a lot of old blues, some rock. Black and gold ’67 Les Paul in high school- I miss it. Played Rush and Bowie and AC/DC. Sang cover songs from wider genres with a cheap acoustic guitar in college, at a weekend bar. Met some guys in NYC on Bleeker St. in a bathroom at an open mic night, at 19, and was full-time with them six nights a week for a long summer. ’67 Jaguar. Eventually left college, played in a lot of bands as the hired gun, found my way to Guitar Craft courses with Robert Fripp from 1991-1997. Meditation daily. Intentional living. Being a channel for music. Symmetrical scales in 5 and 7. Teamwork. Cooking, and cleaning toilets, and living in the craft of music making, not the commerce. Formed a rock band in 1994-2008, playing guitar and singing. Made 5 records. The last one I did all the tracking, mixing, mastering, singing/guitar/piano. Insane. Started engineering in the mid 90s by observing those I hired. Was tracking, mixing, and producing: eventually using 2″ Ampex machines. Massive debt in this era, juggling credit cards against my humble house. Chasing tone. The sound in my head. Started mastering in 2000. Eventually mastering took over and is really where it was always headed, yet I had no idea. Creative living is like that. On the one hand the future presents itself as a surprise, and on the other, it was an inevitability we didn’t see coming.