Audeze talks with mastering engineer Elaine Rasnake

Elaine Rasnake is a Philadelphia-based mastering engineer and owner of Daughterboard Audio. Over the years, Elaine has become an invaluable mentor and resource to the greater mastering engineer community and was a speaker at the 2021 AES Mastering Academy - Demystified and the 2022 AES Mastering Academy 2. Elaine currently focuses on providing mastering and post-production services, educating the music community about the importance and art of mastering, and creating a space to help lift the voices of women and LGBTQIA+ members of the music community.

 

"Before I had my Audeze headphones, working on the low end of my projects was complete guess work... Now, I have much more confidence when working on projects."  - Elaine Rasnake
Here's our talk with Elaine:
Can you pick out any highlights from your work that you're particularly proud of?

I am extremely proud of the work I did on Sadurn’s album Radiator. It was the first album I fully mastered on my LCD-MX4s; I felt more confident in the final files than I had with any of my previous monitoring set ups. I have also been friends with the band and a big fan of their music for a while, so it was such an honor to be asked to be a part of the whole experience.

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

As a mastering engineer, my main role and key focus is providing peace of mind by ensuring that every project I work on will sound its best on all playback systems. I am in charge of the final quality control check and providing all of the necessary files for the clients so they can distribute their music to the world.
I often describe it as being a proud mom role. I essentially double check my “kid’s homework” and help publicly celebrate them when their work is released. This way we create a big musical family feeling that I really love.

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 started in music at a very early age. Growing up, I was always singing. I sang in church, school choirs, theater groups, and long car rides with my family. I also learned how to play the saxophone, piano, bass, and guitar as a kid which led me to interact with a very wide variety of music.
Growing up, I listened to different genres of early 90s music depending on context. If my dad was in the car, we listened to country music. If it was just my mom and I, we listened to top 40 pop music. I learned about alternative/rock music by rummaging through my older sister’s CDs and my whole family enjoyed watching classic musicals.
In high school, I was obsessed with emo, metal, and indie music and in college, I fell in love with jazz. Today, I still listen to a wide variety of music, which really benefits my work. And I still have my days when I just need to sing along to Avril Lavigne circa 2002 on a long car ride.

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

In my mid 20s I lived in a ‘show house’ with 5 other people and we’d host shows in our basement for local and touring acts. This was one of my biggest stepping stones into the world of the Philadelphia music scene, more specifically the DIY music scene. While hosting, working, and attending these shows, I was able to make connections and lasting friendships with so many musicians. As I began my mastering career, several of these friends and good acquaintances trusted me enough to work on their music as I worked on building my portfolio and strengthening my skills. If it wasn’t for them I would not be the person I am today. And for that I am forever grateful.

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

I have been working 100% in headphones since March of 2020. When the pandemic hit, I moved into my fiancée’s one bedroom apartment which meant that I had to find a way to do my work without disrupting her while we were all working remotely. When I finally acquired a designated space for my studio, I tried using regular monitors but ultimately decided to use my headphones as my main monitoring setup. Since I had spent hundreds of hours listening to music and learned what music sounded like in this headphone space, I didn’t see (or hear) the need to change things and haven’t looked back.

What led you to the world of mastering?

Before March of 2020, I was both a solo musician and a recording, mixing, and mastering engineer for my friends and local bands. When the pandemic and quarantine hit, everything came to a halt, especially in the music world. This hard stop allowed me to take some time to focus on myself and make sure that I was truly happy with the career choices I was making. Being a solo musician was very stressful and often took a toll on my mental health. I ended up shifting my energy and passion into doing what I love most, helping others. Since recording during the pandemic wasn't an option and mixing felt too open ended with creative possibilities (nor did I have the patience to spend months working on an album), mastering ended up being the best choice. With mastering, I get to listen to new music almost every day, I can be creative with the way I choose to process the audio, and most importantly, I get to help people. I love being able to provide constructive feedback on the mixes while working in tandem with the musicians and when their music is released to the world, I am able to point my audience and friends over to their music so it becomes this beautiful system of growth.

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?

At the beginning of my career, as someone with pretty high anxiety, I had a solid case of imposter syndrome. This really affected the way I worked. I often uploaded a mastered file, second guessed myself, deleted it, and kept making tiny tiny adjustments out of fear that a client would never want to work with me again if I didn’t get everything perfect on the first pass.
As I continued working with more musicians, I learned that perfection doesn’t exist. If the client finds something that still needs adjustment, it really opens a door of opportunity to grow and improve which leads to an even better result for everyone.

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

Other than my computer and LCD-MX4s, the only piece of gear that I have is my Lynx Hilo which has provided me with wonderful clarity and a great headphone amp. All of my mastering work is done with plugins “in the box” and because all of my work involves a final quality check, I am always using iZotope RX. It is an incredibly powerful tool that not only allows me to remove unwanted sounds or artifacts but also serves as my go-to tool when it is time to create essentially all of the files that an artist will need when they distribute their music.

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

When starting your own mastering business, it will primarily be you, yourself, and the music, alone in a room for several hours. There will be a lot of quiet days and, if your brain works like mine, days where you get caught up in a lot of self-doubt. You are going to make a lot of mistakes and that’s how you will learn and grow. All good things will come with time, hard work, and kindness towards your clients, community, and yourself.

How have your Audeze headphones affected your work?

Before I had my Audeze headphones, working on the low end of my projects was complete guess work. I would use several frequency analyzers to see where things were sitting but I never could truly hear it. Now, I have much more confidence when working on projects. I can clearly hear the deep thump of kick drums and basses and if I hear any muddiness or resonant frequencies I know it’s not from the shortcomings of my playback system or room.

Can you tell us what you've been working on with them recently?

Recently, I mixed and mastered the audio for a live contemporary dance performance (which later became a film) by Welcome to Campfire called ‘Subject’.

I also recently finished mastering a project that is bringing back that crisp, bright, 1989 Nashville country music sound and I am absolutely living for it.