venerdì 31 gennaio 2014

Mika Jussila - Mastering of the Universe! Interview

This interview has deep roots, dating back to a February morning of last year when,  numb from the cold ,we knocked on the door of Finnvox Studios in Helsinki. Mika Jussila,  famous mastering engineer and talented music photographer, opened the door and invited us inside. Mika took us on a fantastic journey to the place where our favorite albums were born, and some time later we asked him an interview, that he accepted immediately.
If you want to learn more about Mika's work and see his beautiful concert pictures , you can follow his Facebook page.

-How did this adventure start? And when did you realize that mastering could be a long- term job?
I formed my first band in late school times, around the age of 16-17. After school I soon noticed that my interests were in music business. I have never been a good musician… or I was a really lousy learner. I also wanted to work in studio, not on stage. In  1984 Finnvox gave me an opportunity and that’s the way I’m still on. I ended up in the vinyl mastering studio and after three whole days I was left alone doing that thing
First eight years I did that vinyl cutting or disc mastering, any name you call it. We started CD-mastering in Finnvox quite early, 1987. First few years I did both mastering, CD and vinyl together, but became full-time CD-mastering engineer 1993, because vinyl pressing was dying in Finnvox soon.
-Can you show us some technical details of your equipment?
I have a really simple signal route. Of course we all work in a data based system nowadays and it’s usually Mac. My software is Sonic Blade design for mastering. Then you need couple of good converters. My analogue gears include Prism Sound Maselec EQ, Fairman tube EQ, Focusrite blue mk II EQ, Fairman tube compressor and custom made stereo wide. In digital chain I have only TC 6000 multiprocessor including lots of EQ’s, compressors, limiters and de-esser’s.
- How is the studios logistically divided?
In Finnvox we have nine different units, four music studios, two cinema sound design studios and three mastering studios. In music and audio/video units engineers can book a studio for the project freely. Our three mastering studios are made personally for our three mastering engineers. So we are part of the house crew. In music studios works lots of freelancers too among our house staff.
- You have mastered real masterpieces, that changed the music history. To work with artists like Tuomas Holopainen, Marco Hietala, Tomi Joutsen or Ville Valo must be very challenging... how does it feel?
First of all I have known almost all these famous Finnish artists and bands from the beginning. I have worked with them since they started. Then you don’t think about them as stars or idols, you just keep them as a colleagues, friends or clients. I remember well when we mastered first Nightwish demo with Tuomas in mid 90’s before even they had a record deal. Since that day I have mastered everything Nightwish have released (except End Of An Era DVD) and made close friends with the whole band.
And you also have to remember that in Finland, especially in metal scene everybody knows each other and are good friends. It’s really easy to work with a society like that. Personally I’m happy that most of the bands still trust the technical skills of mine for example and have not gone working in other countries.
-You do this job since a long time; can you tell us exactly what happens during the mastering?
It’s only making up the sound by equalizing and compressing, after that editing and making CD-masters. When mixing engineers are mixing the albums they concentrate one song at the time. In mastering we will focus the whole album by thinking the sequence (running order of the tracks), gaps between the tracks etc.
First I will prepare the final sound by going thru the material track by track. After that I will edit tracks in right running order and finally I will prepare masters for manufacturer and listening copies for the client.
-Your name is in the credits of hundreds of records. Which works are you most proud of? Are you especially fond of any album you have mastered? Why?
There are several albums! But to name few I would first mention the trilogies of Nightwish and Amorphis. With trilogy of NW I mean Once, Dark Passion Play and Imaginaerum. Those three albums are probably the most remarkable albums of my career. Also the “Joutsen trilogy” is very important. It includes the albums Eclipse, Silent Waters and Skyforger. Maybe the most popular track I have mastered is Daniel Lioneye’s The King Of Rock’n’roll. It ended up as a theme for Bam Margera’s TV-show Viva La Bam. Basically that whole Daniel Lioneye album it’s HIM having fun. Some older Stratovarius albums are important to me because having my name on the credit list I have got lots of work all over the world. I’m also proud of earlier Children Of Bodom, Sonata Arctica, Sentenced, Edguy, Masterplan, Moonspell and Novembre albums. And I didn’t mention any national big names here in Finland that have been loyal and important to me.
Actually I thought one day that maybe it’s time for me to leave space for the younger engineers but past year and looking now to the future I have more work that a long time. Lots of my former clients have found their way back to me after few albums whoring with other engineers ;-) Maybe the most important projects for me are the bands that are my closest friends and the bands/music that I personally love.
-How much the rules of mastering have changed in all these years?
I don’t know because I DON’T have any rules :D . I let my ears do all decisions. There has been cases that I have been told “you can’t do that way”… and I have argued “why not, if it sounds better!”
-In your opinion is there any masterpiece of gothic or metal poorly mastered?
Oh yeah… dozens, hundreds, thousands… I’m not going to name any :)   One common factor in all these are that they are not mastered by me. I have been asked every now and then if I use any records as reference to my work. I have said that I don’t use references, I make them for others to use.
-Remastering an album has become fashionable especially in the last decade. Do you think it's an interesting project or just a way to make money?
Re-mastering is definitely important for many albums released in the first wave of CD releases. In the early days technique was poor, we didn’t have know-how enuff and lots of mastering was made from wrong master tapes. I think it’s interesting to re-master older records. You need a bit different attitude and approach for mastering an older album.
For example… in the time I did vinyl cutting, my colleague did CD-mastering first from the mixes. He made the normal editing straight from the digital source without any processing. That’s what the mixing engineers wanted at that time. Formally they didn’t appreciate vinyl mastering because it was only a stage nothing got better. When they started mixing in digital format (DAT, U-Matic tape) they were happy that the mixes were possible to transfer to cd-master 1:1 without doing anything. After that I got that same master for vinyl cutting and I did all normal mastering procedures to that same tape. No wonder why vinyl was sounding better at that time.
Now we have much better converters from analogue to digital. We have learned a lot of mastering during these years and the mastering gear is a lot of better nowadays.
-The building dates back to the mid-sixties. When did you open the studios? Why did you choose this location?
Finnvox is based on 1965 and is still located in the same spot in western Helsinki. Unfortunately I can’t say why any decisions were made because I have not been around that time. All I know is that there was a need for a big commercial studio in Finland.
-Which one of these machines is more 'difficult' to set? Compressor, limiter, equalizer or processor of the stereo images?
Shortly… compressor, and I’m meaning for rookie to start learning. I think professionals know öh… should know. Unfortunately lots of engineers are still spoiling albums by compressing too much.
-How long does it take to master an album? Which are the problems that may extend the procedure?
I will master an album in three hours fastest and in two-three days slowest. There is a difference between an album of eight tracks 30 minutes and 16 tracks 70 minutes.
Nowadays I will market my mastering being as interactive as possible. It’s possible because of the fast internet. I encourage all mixing engineers to start mastering already in the beginning of the mix. It’s possible to do tracks side by side at the same time. We can throw ideas for each other and give feedback too. This is the way to get on the goal much easier.
About the problems… problems are for solving… the things that holds up mastering is lousy mixes, very different mixes compared to each other, bands that can’t make any decisions or are changing their opinions in every corner… or don’t know nothing about mastering and are asking me to do mixing.
-Some of us are big fans of Nightwish, and you follow them almost everywhere. Could you tell us any funny story about the band?
Should I ruin some imagines people have or tell some gossips about what they really are?
As I told earlier I remember our first session we had together in mid 90’s. I remember Jukka recording drums with Mikko Karmila in Finnvox and Mikko complaining to Jukka being a vegetarian and can’t play well because of that :)
I remember the spring Anette came to the band. Tuska festival was held in Helsinki late June and Anette was there too but no-one knew her. We where together in Helsinki night in pubs and eating in street kitchen… in the middle of the night surrounded by lots of people, but no-one knew I was hanging around with new NW singer.
- Some advice: which are the young Finnish bands to keep an eye on?
Let’s start with the older ones… New Stratovarius album will be a KILLER!
Then the younger ones… Tracedawn, Whispered, For The Imperium…
That's all! Thanks again Mika!
My pleasure!