Mastering Engineer Mike Wells Gets Dangerous
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May 28, 2013

Edmeston, NY - May 21, 2013 - Mastering engineer Mike Wells recently completed a project for producer Billie Joe Armstrong, the new "Emily's Army" album titled Lost at Seventeen (Adeline Records). The sophomore album release will debut June 11, 2013 and features the drumming of Armstrong's son Joey; Wells also mastered the band's first album. Engineer Chris Dugan recorded the album and worked with mixer Chris Lord-Alge and producer Armstrong to coordinate the mastering at Wells' LA mastering studio which is all based around a Dangerous Music equipment. "Without question the centerpiece of my studio is the Dangerous 'mastering console' - which comprises the Dangerous Master transfer console, the Dangerous Monitor, and the Dangerous MQ for metering," says Wells. "I bought this system right when it became available. Until that time, there wasn't a commercial mastering console on the market, only hand-built custom-consoles. The cost of a custom console was just out of my financial reach, so when these three Dangerous Music tools were released it was fantastic. I rely on them every day." Wells setup also features the Dangerous Liaison and BAX EQ.

Emily's Army
"I worked with Emily's Army on their first record," reveals Wells. "Chris Dugan has also been involved with both records, he was the engineer/mixer on the first record and also the recording engineer on this new one.  He called me up to chat about the new record and I was thrilled to be involved in the new project."

"Chris Lord-Alge was the mixer on this record, it was a real treat to work with him," says Wells. "All the communication for the project went through Chris Dugan. There was some back and forth up-front trying a few things out while dialing-in what the band was looking for, which is my normal process for every project.  Once we had that going it was a matter of mastering the rest of the songs. Billie Joe Armstrong (Green Day) was the producer. He had some feedback throughout the project, some specific tonality stuff he was looking for, fades, and song spacing. It's a great record, the band is starting to do well, and they have some great buzz behind them." Emily's Army will be on the Warped Tour in June 2013, right after their record release.

"It's a heavy-hitting team on this record, and the mixes came in incredibly solid as you would expect from all of the talent involved."  Wells states. "They wanted balance across all the tunes, and there were some minor tweaks with EQ, but the signal path was minimal compared to some of the Indie projects I deal with. The final master had a little Dangerous BAX EQ for sweetness on the top. Compression-wise all I was doing was a touch of parallel compression using the GML 2030 via the Dangerous Liaison's parallel processing channel, along with the GML 9500 parametric EQ when needed. It was a pretty light touch, but with a combination of those tools, it all came into place," says Wells. The producer, engineers and the band were all happy with the sound.

Mastering the Dangerous Way
Explaining his choice in mastering gear, Wells says, "I've checked out the other mastering consoles that have now come onto the market and I continue to love the Dangerous gear because it's all about transparency. I want my outboard gear giving me the color; I don't want my console giving me color. I want my console to help me get things in and out and around, but I don't want it messing with the sound. That's what I love about the Dangerous Master, it's there to do its job, and it's not there to alter the sound at all."


In 2010 Dangerous Music released it's first signal processing unit, the BAX EQ, which is designed as a broad-spectrum shelving tone control. The company took inspiration from the classic 'Baxandall' shelving curves of the 60s and 70s (conceived of by famed inventor P. J. Baxandall), and created a high-fidelity equalizer with a 21st century mastering aesthetic. "I got a BAX EQ right after it came out and it's taken over as my go-to EQ for blunt force shelving operations," reveals Wells. "It's almost always at the beginning of the chain unless I need to do something specific with it. If I make adjustments to treble, that's going to happen right up front, if there's rumbling down in the bottom, there's no reason for that to be going through further analog stages, so I just get rid of it up front."

Wells continues to explain his mastering EQ concepts, "I used to use a pair of customized API 550M EQs. But the BAX is cleaner, it's more transparent - it has given me better results. The cutting filters are a fantastic addition on top of the cut and boost shelving filters. I use the BAX EQ every day, I can't really say there isn't any master that I make that doesn't have the BAX on it now!"

Flexibility & Control
When asked about how the Dangerous Music products help him to help his clients, Wells says, "What I love about the Master is its flexibility, I have it extended out to a patchbay, and I now have the Dangerous Liaison paired with the Dangerous Master in one of the inserts. So with those two pieces I can route any of the analog outboard gear that I have in any configuration that I want.  They have a Mid-Side encoder built into the Master, which I use every day for targeting my EQ choices.  I can say it's rare that I ever have that button un-pressed [Laughs], the 'S&M' button is pretty much always on. It's an incredibly well implemented 'Mid-Side' encoder, I think Chris Muth's implementation was the first line-level processor with an effects insert loop, and it is the best one I've heard yet." The Dangerous S&M function allows an engineer to work in stereo as "center-sides," as opposed to "left-right," allowing one for example to affect the center-channel content like a lead vocal without touching the side information.

Another major section of the 3-part Dangerous mastering console setup is the Dangerous Monitor. "I love the Monitor tool," states Wells. "It's got multiple analog inputs and multiple digital inputs, you've got a number of ways to control how you are monitoring the signal coming out of your DAW, and you also have a DA converter built-in - a key feature for me, and one that I don't think gets a lot of airtime." Wells explains the Monitor's DA is how he can hear a real comparison between his source and the final master, even comparing his final stage AD converter: "You can really dial in a true 'round-trip' comparison of your source to your final master which considers both your DA to analog (for processing) and your AD (back to digital capture) while monitoring from another, independent DA - which is built into the Dangerous Monitor. I don't see another box that allows you to do that. Wouldn't you want to verify your source against what your converters are doing? - Because your converters are going to add some kind of color to the sound. This and the rest of the feature set makes it clear that it was designed by someone who actually does mastering, and that goes a long way. Don't underestimate it."

In conclusion, Wells explains why he feels that Dangerous Music offers mastering equipment with a heritage that sets it apart from other offerings, "One of the things that brought me to Dangerous Music was meeting product designer Chris Muth at AES San Francisco when they debuted the system back in 2004. I suggest to anyone who's looking at purchasing mastering gear, and there is more and more stuff out there that the manufacturer claims is 'for mastering' - I'd ask 'Who's the designer? What's the history of that designer? Is there hands-on application experience in the mastering world from that designer?' Chris Muth has it. And Bob Muller's experience is entrenched in recording as well. Chris understands mastering and what the gear needs to do, and how well it must do it because he is a mastering engineer himself.  When I show clients the Dangerous Music equipment at my studio, and they are blown-away by it, I always comment 'This is Chris, this is the value of this guy's skills and his experience and there isn't anyone else out there that brings that to the table.' That's why these tools from Dangerous Music are so good, they have the history, they have the design element, and they have the value that you are looking for that I don't see in other gear today."

 

 

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