TMCo Interview w/Jon Weil of FuzzyWallz Mastering
Now based in Shoreline, Washington, Fuzzywallz Mastering was established by Jon Weil in 2004. I specialize in mastering, mixing and recording music. Having worked with hundreds of local and national artists through the years, my ears and work ethic have been honed to a high level of excellence. It takes patience, knowledge and the right tools to make the most of any recording and I feel that proper, “musical” mastering is now more important than ever.
The Mix Coalition: You’re the owner and lead engineer at FuzzyWallz Mastering in Washington. Let us know a little bit about your studio and what you do.
Jon Weil: My studio is located in the Seattle, WA area. Here, I mostly master, mix and do a little recording too. I moved to Seattle about a year ago, from Phoenix, AZ, where I had previously lived and worked for over 18 years. Currently, most of my clients are actually located in Phoenix. Last month I moved into a larger studio and have been steadily picking up local business from local engineers and artists, while completing the studio build-out.
TMCO: What got you into mastering? Have you done any work as a recording/mixing engineer? If so, do you still work in this realm from time to time?
JW: Mastering became my main focus as of about 5 years ago. Like many audio engineers, I started out as musician trying to record themselves and their friends. Eventually I got into the recording part, which naturally lead to the mixing part, and then finally to….mastering. For quite some time I was recording and mixing bands that refused to send their mixes out to a “proper” mastering house, so I got tons of practice in what I now refer to as “home mastering” or “guerrilla mastering”. Eventually I realized I was much happier (and effective) at the mixing and mastering stage and losing interest in the recording part of the process. Then, when the studio I was working at closed (Uranus Recording in Tempe, AZ) I decided to go full-time mixing and mastering. Since then, I feel like my abilities as a mixer and especially as a mastering engineer have gone from “decent pro” to “seasoned veteran”. Being able to do both mixing and mastering make me the happiest- I can’t quite decide which I like more, although I get much more mastering work than anything else.
As for the recording part of it all, I prefer to record my group (“Perverts In Love”) and a few select bands that I really like working with (like Ryan Tree, Beef Supreme and Keith Perrillo). If I dig the music and the vibe, recording is so much fun. But if I am being forced to over-edit bad music, I lose interest almost instantly…no more “karaoke” sessions for this guy- I’ve put in my time!
TMCO: Could you let us know about some of your “go to” gear and how you apply it during the mastering stage?
JW: I guess my “go-to” gear would be the things I have used the longest and most often. In that case, I’d have to say that Pro Tools (I use version 11), UA 2192 converters and Elysia outboard gear have been staples for the longest time running. I have and prefer a hybrid setup of analog and digital gear, as opposed to being firmly in either camp. I also consistently use iZotope software and plugins from UAD, Waves, Brainworx and Fabfilter. Some new gear in the stable that has upped my game includes a Crane Song Solaris DAC, Mytek ADC and Oppo PM-3 headphones. My next major upgrade will be monitors and additional treatments for the new studio….
TMCO: In my experience, mastering is one of the most misunderstood processes when making a record. How would you define mastering?
JW: Technically what I do is really called “Pre-mastering”, and for years people have referred to any tape of final mixes as …“Masters”, Plus, many people confuse the mixing process as “mastering” and vice-versa, so I can see how anyone can get confused on all of this! Other people out there have also started assuming that mastering is simply a process of making mixes as LOUD as possible…but mastering is so much more than that.
One way I describe my job is that I take the final mixdowns for all of the songs and do whatever is necessary to make it ready to press as a finished “album”. If we are dealing with singles, than I am doing everything necessary to get it from final mix to ready for “public consumption” (ex. mp3 files, .wav files). While I do generally make mixes louder, I spend much more time getting the songs to play well with each other and sound good on as many playback systems as possible. There is also quite a bit of time I put into restoring damaged or noisy audio, preparing and auditioning various formats. Always, much more time is spent listening than “doing”. In layman’s terms, I am making sure that when someone hears it on the radio or listens to the whole album, that they don’t feel like they have to adjust the volume knob or EQ settings….unless that is the artist’s intent.
TMCO: Do you prefer to have a pipeline to the mix engineer for a project if it’s determined the track needs adjusting before you do your part?
JW: If possible, I like to have an open line of communication with the mix engineer(s), but I am also not one to tell someone else how to do their job. In the end, I want the client to be happy, and if communicating with the mix engineer helps, I will always try to do that. Sometimes mixers want feedback from me and sometimes they hate it, so I try to be cautious and sensitive. If there is a major issue that is hurting the overall final product and it is something that the mixer can correct, it’s nice to have that line open and especially if the client wants the loudest album ever- sometimes there’s little adjustments on the mixer’s end that can help. It is always case-by-case.
With most of my regular clients, they’ll send me a mix they are happy with, then I’ll listen and make small suggestions. Sometimes i’ll say something like “the snare is getting a bit lost in the choruses, so what do you think about lightening up the buss compression?” or “I think theres quite a bit of excess energy in the low-mids, but it if you are going for that, its perfect” or subtle things like that. I almost never have radical mix suggestions or try to “steer” the project. Most of the time I’ll just say- “sounds great, let’s see what happens”, and most of the time everyone is happy!
TMCO: With the long and ongoing debate on the loudness wars, could you explain why dynamics in a song is so important? Do you notice a shift in the how loud today’s music is from a few years ago?
JW: The loudness war does seem to be at least leveling off as opposed to increasing, but I still get asked for super-loud masters quite a bit. In fact, I have a few clients who want to hear it so loud that it clips, but that makes them happy! I try to educate people about the drawbacks of pushing their masters too hard, but I also try to be respectful. With streaming services and playback devices using automatic loudness adjustment more often than not, it’s almost impossible to guarantee a certain playback level, so sometimes the best course of action is to ignore loudness almost completely. Lately more of my clients have stopped craving the loudest-thing-ever and are starting to appreciate dynamics again. However, in many playback scenarios, such as in noisy environments, and certain styles of music, smaller dynamic range can actuallly be a good thing. For example- It drives me crazy when I am trying to watch a movie late at night (without waking my finance), and I have to keep adjusting the volume because the music and/or sound effects are SO DYNAMIC compared to the mumbled speech! I guess theres time and a place for certain things and thats why I feel like having multiple versions of a master can be helpful and future-proof. The shift is and should be towards sounding “great”, rather than sounding “loud” or “dynamic”.
TMCO: What kind of projects do you get most excited about?
JW: That is easy. I get the most excited about projects that appeal to my musical tastes. If it is something I would choose to listen to, then I am in heaven! Even if I hate the musical style (or performances), I can usually do my job and make the client happy, but I excel when I get into the music itself. There have also been projects were the music grows on me more than I expected (very cool) and I have even discovered whole new styles, based on work I have done. There’s also something nice about projects where I don’t have to do much- not because I am “lazy” but because it usually means good results!
TMCO: What is something recording artists and engineers do wrong when they send you a song to master?
JW: The most common mistakes these days seem to be fairly basic ones (see my blog here on MixCo). One I see a lot are mixes arriving with audible clipping. Sometimes this happens because of mastering plugins, but more commonly it is because people are clipping the DAW/mixing board and can’t even hear it because they have less than ideal monitoring. Issues in the low end are also pretty common, but easier to deal with. I also recommend testing final mixes in mono, especially if using stereo effects and/or heavy panning. All the basic stuff!
In general though, i am lucky to get mostly wonderful mixes. It is pretty rare that I am polishing a complete turd ;).
TMCO: Do you have any interesting projects you could let us know about?
JW: I always have quite a few of those! Right now I have been working quite a bit with (engineers) Anthony Brant and Josh Medina- both from Phoenix, AZ. They always have really great mixes and tend to work exclusively with amazing heavy and alt-rock bands like “WHSTLE”, “The living Receiver”, “Jaunt, Hail Doomsayer”, “Strelitzia”, “Instructions”, and “The Last March of the Ents”. I also have been mixing AND mastering for a cool (and kinda goofy) Arizona band named “Gorky”- their newest song is heavy in all the right ways. Ryan Tree, Barcenilla and Nebbulaxx have also been fun recent projects.
As far as Seattle-area artists go, I mastered an EP for a gifted local electronica artist called “oomahmi” and also mixed/mastered a concept album for “Freeze”- a metal opus that can’t be missed! My fiancee and I also have a group named “Perverts In Love”- that is good musical release for me, when I want to write and record something of my own.
Some of the other notable acts I have worked with in the past 5 years include- Gin Blossoms (I recorded “No Chocolate Cake” in 2009), Social Distortion, Phoenix, Charlie Puth, Flyleaf, Panic! at the Disco, Jimmy Eat World, Mother Mother, Silver Sun Pickups and a bunch more national artists who I got the chance to work with at Uranus Recording, back in Tempe, AZ.
TMCO: Is there anything else we should know about you or FuzzyWallz Mastering?
JW: Hmmmm..I could go on for days, but the main thing is that my business, knowledge and gear collection is growing faster than ever and I expect to expand in the next few years. Now that I am established here in the new studio, I expect to update or even overhaul my website with new pics and make even more contact here in Seattle and throughout the world. I guess it’s also worth mentioning that I am getting back in to playing guitar again- the very thing that started all of this. Finally, the idea of opening a multi-room studio here in WA may soon be a reality, but that’s a whole other story….