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Audeze interviews mastering engineer Reuben Cohen

Reuben Cohen has been a mastering engineer since 2006. He is a Latin Grammy and TEC Award winner. Artists whose albums he has mastered include Metallica, Torey Lanez, Kid Cudi, Shek Wes, India.Arie, Ledisi, Lord Huron, Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeroes, Dave Mason, Little Feat, Skylar Grey, and Boyz II Men, to name a few.  Soundtracks include Slumdog Millionaire, The Queens Gambit, Dear Evan Hansen, Game Of Thrones, and all the Despicable Me and Pitch Perfect films.  Reuben works with Gavin Lurssen at Lurssen Mastering, and enjoys the beautiful rustic outdoor environments of Southern California. Having spent a little time in his youth in Vancouver, he was predominately raised in Santa Barbara. He decided long ago to make Southern California his base and enjoys time with his family and his dog. He also enjoys the process of giving back and has benefited several local community organizations.
 
"I’ve grown quite fond of the Audeze LCD-Xs.  They are so hi-fi and detailed, its like having hi-end monitor speakers as headphones." - Reuben Cohen
Here's our chat with Reuben:
Can you pick out any highlights from your work that you're particularly proud of?

There are so many amazing projects that have come through our doors, it’s difficult to highlight even just a few.  When I think of our history as a company, I’m most proud of the consistency of our work and the passion and dedication we put into it.  As a team, we hold ourselves to a very high standard of excellence which goes beyond how we make things sound.  It has to do with how we handle projects and the individuals involved.  We strive to leave people in a place where they would recommend us to everyone they know, and I believe it is that pursuit that has allowed us to continue to flourish and stay in demand.  Living with that as the main goal creates less of a focus on particular highlights but rather on the global consistency to the way we approach our work.  When I look back to all the years, it’s one giant highlight.

How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on these days?

Mastering Engineer

How did you get started in music? What kind of music did you listen to while growing up and how has that progressed?

When I was young I loved listening to classical music.  I would dance around the living room and embody the music.  My father and I would listen to music in the car on the way to school identifying the different instruments in the arrangements and also counting time signatures.  When I was about 12 years old I have a distinct memory of the first time I saw someone click the distortion button on a guitar amp.  I remember being so blown away by the fact that one simple button could create such an amazing sound.  From that moment on I was determined to learn the electric guitar.  I became obsessed with music and it became my sole focus throughout junior high and high school.  Once I graduated, I set my sights on moving to Hollywood and attending Musicians Institute to learn the fundamentals of music production.  Just before completing the program, I met Gavin Lurssen who agreed to take me on as an intern.  He was still working at The Mastering Lab at the time.  I was incredibly enthusiastic to be there, observing and absorbing.  He quickly saw the passion and eagerness I had to be involved and agreed to mentor me.  As the years went by, I gradually built up my skillset and confidence in the discipline.  Since all different styles and genres come through our doors, I have grown a fondness of all styles of music, ranging from heavy metal and hiphop to pop and electronic music.  I enjoy it all, although there is still a special place in my heart for a full orchestra.

Can you name any factors that influenced the course of your musical life? Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc?

I’ve been so lucky to have great musical mentors in my life.  I think the first inspiring figure was a man named Marco Andrade, the music teacher at my middle school.  He was so encouraging and supportive, and came from a place of pure fun and joy.  I also had an excellent guitar teacher at that age named Steve Miles, who taught me technique and musical theory on an advanced level.  Gavin Lurssen is the man who taught me how to be a Mastering Engineer.  He began to teach me how to listen when I was just a teenager, and the subtlety of excellence in sound.  Through his mentorship, I was able to witness countless conversations via attended mastering sessions with the very best of the industry.  Throughout all the years I’ve refined my abilities to not only create great sounding masters, but also how to guide a project to the finish line in all the ways required.

Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?

When you’re first starting out, there is a level of self doubt and worry that can creep into your own inner dialog when working on music.  I think this is something most people have to grapple with in the creative process.  Over time, I feel I’ve overcome these feelings by continuing to trust myself through the process.  I let the music tell me where IT wants to live and almost remove myself from the process entirely when doing so.  I try to put myself in a state of flow when working.  I’ve found that when I am aligned with the vibrancy of the music it always lands in the place of where I’m completely satisfied.  I’ve also found that when I accomplish this it’s more likely that everyone involved in the project also feels the same way with the end result.  

Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?

I love to use the EAR 825 tube EQ.  I think of it as the “master shape maker”.  I can almost always find the balance I am looking for with this tool in a very musical and pure way.  It’s a tool that I’ve come to rely on for this.

Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path for their own careers?

You have to be patient not only with the long path to it takes to success but also with yourself in the process, refining these abilities takes time and dedication.  Currently the technology supports the notion of a speedy result no matter your industry, but the machines are still used by humans and so using the technology to refine a vision is a process that takes time and should be embraced appropriately in order to leave no stones unturned. When working in the arts at this level you have to give it everything you have… maybe even more at times.  That’s what it takes.

How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?

Headphones are a big part of our workflow.  When QC’ing material or doing restoration work, headphones are the go-to.  I’ve grown quite fond of the Audeze LCD-Xs.  They are so hi-fi and detailed, its like having hi-end monitor speakers as headphones.  As we begin to work more and more in these immersive formats, headphones are crucial to make accurate balance decisions.  I rely on the LCD-Xs because I’m acclimatized to them and they tell me everything I need to know.

How have your Audeze headphones affected your work? Can you tell us what you've been working on with them recently?

The Audeze headphones have proven themselves to be an excellent tool to monitor the binaural fold down incarnations of the immersive work (Atmos etc).  They not only give us an accurate read of what’s translating, but also allow us to make detailed balance decisions.  When working in these formats we’re constantly switching between monitoring the array of speakers and the headphones.  Having a familiar and revealing headphone is crucial for this workflow.