September 26, 2023
Alexander Wright is an independent mastering engineer from Melbourne, Australia. A graduate of Berklee College of Music’s prestigious Music Production and Engineering program, he is now based in Seattle where he works on everything from DIY indie folk to major label pop. Alexander endeavors to work closely with every artist to tailor the mastering experience for them and bring out the best in every song he masters.
One of my favorite aspects of mastering is the sheer variety of music I get to work on every day. It’s hard to pick out specific highlights when everything is so different, but there are definitely projects that have been special on an emotional level. When I have the privilege of putting the final touch on something that feels very personal for the artist, that is when I feel luckiest to do what I do. I recently worked on an incredible folk EP for an artist named Cassidy Maude that was recorded live inside a church at night with string accompaniment, beautifully recorded in high definition by my friend Kyle Benor. So when I get the chance to master something like that which has a lot of emotional depth - and especially when I have friends on the team working with me - those are my favorite projects.
Always mastering, never mixing. There is still some misinformation and confusion about mastering (and how it differs from mixing) out there so I am offered lot of mix-related projects and I always refer those clients to the best-suited mix engineers I know. Mastering has to be objective so for me it is a huge red flag when a mastering engineer involves themself in the mixing process beyond giving feedback, which can be helpful for less experienced artists or mix engineers.
I was lucky to grow up in a very musical household, with parents that brought diverse and exceptional music to my ears as a kid. I can remember road-tripping around Australia listening to a lot of OK Computer and Nevermind, and there was a ton of Beatles, Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, and my Dad is the world’s biggest Doors fan so I’ve known their music my whole life. My mom played a lot of Nick Cave, alternative rock, opera, and classical music so those were other worlds I was constantly hearing. I played drums and guitar at school and was always in bands trying (and failing) to write songs. I gravitated from metal to post rock to electronic music around the time Burial released his debut and that led me down the road to DJing and production. I send both my parents song recommendations all the time and my Dad is always recommending a new song of the day - he’s quite an audiophile actually!
Growing up with music always playing in the household definitely contributed to my deep love of music, so I have to give my parents credit again there. I spent a long time thinking that I would be a guitarist or electronic producer but I always found that I was better at listening than actually writing music, so when I started studying at Berklee my intent was to learn how to be what I guess you could call an old school studio producer. During my time there I had the opportunity to take some classes with Jonathan Wyner who is not only one of the most respected mastering engineers out there but one of the most engaging teachers I’ve ever met. During his classes I fell in love with critical listening and digital audio. It was transformative to realize that I have a deep passion for the absolute accuracy of digital hi-res files; my dad and my brother both own turntables and collect vinyl but I always disliked the high noise floor of even the best vinyl systems and knew intuitively that I preferred music to be as clean and unaltered as possible. Jonathan helped me understand the technical reasons behind those sonic differences and my personal preferences, and when he gave me my first chance to practice the art of mastering I knew immediately that I had found my calling.
I never expected to immediately start out as an independent engineer. If I hadn’t graduated in 2020 during COVID I would have gone the usual route of applying to established mastering studios in LA and New York. But with the pandemic, I was suddenly isolated with my wife in her hometown of Seattle and I had to kind of find my own way into the industry. Running a small business is not what I was prepared for, so it has been a constant process of learning and re-learning how to build a brand, get my name and my work out there, manage clients and timeframes and budgets - all those challenges that come with doing this alone. Ultimately, however, I do feel grateful that I’ve had complete creative control over my work since my very first master and I take pride in the business I’ve built and the relationships I have with my clients.
I work completely in the box and two applications I always have open are Wavelab Pro and RX Advanced. Wavelab is my primary DAW and I use RX to check the waveforms of incoming mixes, outgoing masters, and to do any and all resampling, dithering, and problem solving. The plugins I use to process audio depend completely upon the material but I’ve built up a collection of pretty much every highly regarded mastering plugin so I always have options and things to compare until I find the best result.
Mastering is not just mix bus processing so make sure you read something like Bob Katz’s book Mastering Audio to get a proper understanding of audio engineering’s “dark art.” You might be surprised by the amount of technical work involved, but if you are a highly detail-based person with a lot of passion for high quality sound then mastering is a great calling. Make sure you are honest and upfront with your clients and always do your best to keep them happy. Justify every change you make and remember that if you aren’t helping the song you are probably hurting it.
As a graduating student I didn’t initially have the budget to purchase my dream speakers or acoustic treatment. So my first real investments in my business were LCD-X headphones and a mastering-grade DAC. I have done plenty of masters on headphones alone and feel quite confident doing so, although these days I typically do quality control, mix checking, and RX repair type tasks on my headphones then I switch back and forth between them and my ATCs.
I would just like to express the gratitude I feel for those artists who trust me with putting the final touches on their music. I feel so lucky to be doing what I love for a living, listening to a huge range of music and helping to add the final 10 or 20% difference that can take a mix from great to incredible. Seeing and hearing client’s reactions when they first hear the final version of their song is a really rewarding experience. Sometimes a song has been worked over for years before it reaches my ears so it means a lot to me when I deliver the finished master that the world will hear and the artist finally feels that their vision has been realized.
The extreme clarity of my Audeze headphones really makes a huge difference when I need to do very detail-based work. I think of them like a magnifying glass. Whenever I need to really zero in on a fade-out or fix something tiny in RX I reach for my headphones. Their intimacy and definition throughout the high end mean I’m able to catch things that might be missed on speakers. For instance, regarding the live folk EP I mentioned earlier, there are inevitably going to be small clicks, pops, rustles, rumbles, and other noises in a stripped back and highly dynamic live recording. Obsessive about those details as I can be, my Audeze never fail to help me find all the things that bother me and address them in a way that feels surgical and precise. That sense of confidence that you are getting all the information is everything when it comes to making informed decisions during a mastering session.