Hear the stories behind the music with the new podcast Signal Path.
Tapping a global network of musicians, producers, engineers and other sonic innovators, Shure brings you exclusive interviews with the people shaping the world of audio.
Mastering Engineer Matt Colton
For the latest episode, Paul Crognale spoke with Matt Colton.
The award-winning English mastering engineer has worked with a wide array of big stars, including George Michael, Peter Gabriel, Coldplay and Muse. But he has also found time for less-mainstream artists like Aphex Twin, Sleaford Mods, Squarepusher and FKA Twigs.
In the podcast, Colton discusses the technical aspects of mastering, where creativity comes into his job and his studio setup. He also explains what half-speed vinyl mastering is, what it’s good for, and why it’s so hard to do.
“As far as I’m concerned, the only aim is to make the best possible recording,” he says of his approach to mastering.
Though people come to Colton for his engineering prowess, he doesn’t try to push his clients’ recordings in a specific direction.
“The most important reference point that I get is how they make things sound. If you mix a record with tons and tons of bass on it, I might think: ‘That’s way too much bass.’ But what it does tell me is, you probably like a lot of bass,” he explains. “We might still need to take bass away. But if I prune it and make it sound thin like a 1982 pop record, you’re not going to be happy.”
Unlike many engineers preferring to be left alone while mastering, Colton likes to have artists sit in on his sessions. Rather than have weeks go by as decisions are discussed remotely, he can quickly demonstrate to someone why he’s made a particular track less bright or more dynamic than they originally wanted.
“They see what you’re doing,” he says. “Can have a chat about why I’m doing it, and see it’s not just arbitrarily twiddling knobs.”
Analog Flavor with Digital Precision
From a Sontec MES-430B equalizer to a Neumann VMS-80 lathe for cutting vinyl, Colton has carefully stocked his studio with premium vintage gear. But his appreciation for the analog world doesn’t mean he looks down on modern digital tools.
“You don’t get extra credit for using analog EQ,” he says. “With the digital stuff you can be much more precise. Analog stuff is more broad strokes and flavors.”
And it’s that ease in both the analog and digital worlds that has made Colton’s services so in demand, even bringing him a nomination for “Mastering Engineer of the Year” by the UK Music Producers Guild. Whether mastering a record for iTunes or cutting a vinyl master, he’s proven time and time again he’s got the chops required.
“You can afford to be a bit more dynamic on vinyl,” he says. “Since I started doing that I just got way busier cutting vinyl. People started to talk to me about how great my records sounded, but there’s no trick. They sound better than digital files because they’re 5 dB more dynamic. The bass extension. It’s literally going through the floor. The trousers around your ankles are flapping.”
And speaking of vinyl, Colton is also one of the few engineers offering half-speed mastering. So what exactly is this arcane brand of studio sorcery?
Listen to the full interview with Matt Colton below to find out. And be sure to subscribe to Signal Path via your preferred podcast provider.