Audeze speaks with mastering engineer Gavin Lurssen

Gavin Lurssen has been a mastering engineer since 1991. He is a thirteen-time Grammy nominee and four-time Grammy winner. Artists whose albums he has mastered include Ringo Starr, Jackson Browne, the Foo Fighters, Ben Harper, Queens of the Stone Age, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Eric Clapton, Sara Bareilles, and Chvrches, to name just a few. Soundtracks include The Last Duel, Mortal Kombat, Game of Thrones, The Mandalorian, Mulan, Captain Marvel, Black Panther, The Hunger Games and Westworld. He is a graduate of The Berklee College of Music in Boston and is a recipient of their Distinguished Alumni Award. Eager to advance the music production industry and especially to assist young people choosing a career in the field, Gavin performs volunteer work for several notable organizations.

 

"These headphones tell me the truth before and after I work on a mix - always crucial in a monitoring environment, each and every time we work." - Gavin Lurssen
Here's our talk with Gavin:
Can you pick out any highlights from your work that you're particularly proud of?

I am most proud of our entire body of work.  In a recent discussion with Reuben Cohen at our weekly breakfast meeting, we both recounted that we feel as good about our past years work today as we did when we did it.  This goes back a fair amount of years and it is because good balanced audio is good balanced audio.  Trends come and go, but when something sounds right, everybody knows it.  And that’s what we do and have always done.

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?

I got interested in music as a profession when I saw Michael Hedges perform at Wolftrap Farm Park in Vienna, Virginia in 1986.  He made one guitar sound like several and made it look easy.  I was so mesmerized that I knew I had to learn to play the guitar this way.  That led me to Berklee College Of Music where I studied Film Music Composing.  During this time I also used any money I could earn to go to as many concerts as I could.  I graduated from Berklee in 1991 and immediately moved to Los Angeles and found myself working at The Mastering Lab with the legendary Doug Sax.  I quickly found myself in the role of mastering engineer and very closely connected with the art of balancing audio and helping artists bring their sonic vision over the finish line.  The same pursuit that hasn’t changed for me for the last 30 years.  Technology has changed a lot, but the basic concept of balanced audio has not, and is as important as it ever was.

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

I finally met Michael Hedges and got to know him a little through Jackson Browne.  I met Jackson early in my career and he has been an influential person and very good to me over the years.  Jackson knew I was a fan and invited me to a duet he was playing with Michael at a NAMM show many years ago.  From there Michael needed a ride back to LA and I obliged.  It was only six months after that, that he lost his life in a tragic car accident. 

Another true love is the music of Pink Floyd.  I also got to cut my teeth while I was at The Mastering Lab with them through our relationship with James Guthrie.  We worked on re-issuing their entire catalog as well as some new live recordings at the time.  In fact their live album “Pulse” was one that I put a good amount of time on while under the mentorship of Doug.  Always a good audio fix listening to vintage Pink Floyd albums, they never get old to me. 

Working on the music of my heroes made me realize that I could combine my music fan self with my passion for the pursuit of audio perfection and that it is appreciated by artists, producers, engineers, record labels but mostly music fans.  I enjoy the role.

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?

One of the things that has come up recently is that mixers are mixing through compressors and limiters and then removing them for mastering.  Other times people can put a compressor or limiter on the mix after it is finished.  When the mixer removes the limiter after making mix decisions through it, the mix runs a real danger of falling apart and no amount of creative mastering can restore it to its original intent.  Removing a dynamics processor that was installed after a mix is a whole different story, that can't be replicated and improved by us because no mix decisions were made before it was put on.  So based on this it changes the scenario on whether we should be working on a mix with compression on the mix buss or without it.  It takes time to figure this out with the large amount of mix sources we get and sometimes it can be a bit taxing on the staff to go through this process of gathering the intel.  But it usually works out and so is an example of something in recent times we deal with in the pro-audio community.

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

Monitoring is really the most crucial tool.  Without a quality monitoring environment which consists of either headphones or speakers, we will not be able to properly use the tools at our disposal.  We are known for our analog gear and sensibilities… it’s always a joy when we hear a recording come out with that size and depth of field that can happen when done right through analog gear.  Solid state or tube or a combination of both.

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

There are no short cuts to greatness.  The tools are out there, the mentors are willing to help.  There are many mentor opportunities beyond YouTube with some minimal research.  Take it all in and put the best foot forward.  Step around the obstacles, don’t fight them.

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

They have been in use for me for all the years I have been working in audio and before that as a fan too.  In the last decade or so I have been a fan of the Audeze LCD-X and more recently the LCD-5.  These headphones tell me the truth before and after I work on a mix - always crucial in a monitoring environment, each and every time we work.

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

In the most recent of times, working in Dolby Atmos specifically, the binaural fold downs are a place that not only can be checked on headphones, but I have found that when using Audeze specifically, either the LCD-5’s or the LCD-X’s that I can actually make sonic decisions using these headphones and then check those choices on the array of speakers mounted across the room.  This is something I always experiment with in stereo but in binaural it’s a whole new world and the binaural fold down is a headphone only format, so it’s particularly useful in that regard.