In his Continuing Adventures In Software, Rich Tozzoli takes a break to visit with a recent Texas transplant.
With a wall full of platinum records and number-one charting hits from the likes of Coldplay, India.Arie, AC/DC and Willie Nelson, mastering engineer Chris Athens certainly knows his craft. With a recent relocation to Austin, Texas from the bowels of New York City, he’s doing things his way in the Lone Star State.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR NEW PLACE
I work from home now. It’s a studio in a large living room in my house. Before my move to Austin, I did a lot of research into acoustical treatments. My friend [producer /mixer] Ryan Hewitt recommended the cutting- edge work of designer Hanson Hsu of Delta H Designs, who had also recently redone some prominent mastering studios. Hsu and I spoke at great length about my project. I was excited by his innovative approach to acoustical design, so I hired him design the treatments for my room. Three of the “walls” of diffuser panels are freestanding on custom designed stands. It’s allowed me a lot of flexibility in terms of tuning and focusing the sweet spot in the room.
I love this situation. I’m not sure if I can work any other way now. I get to see my family a lot more, I take short breaks to walk my dog, feed the chickens, kill scorpions for my wife... you can’t beat the commute! Best of all, I can better serve my clients. Working out of a home studio allows me to turn things around for them fast than ever. Odd hours and weekends are no problem.
To be honest, I thought I would have a bit of downtime when I left Sterling Sound and moved to Austin, but it turned out to be very much the opposite. I’ve gotten busier every month.
Fortunately, I’ve been able to rebuild my team, so I can handle the volume of work. I hired my former booking manager from Sterling Sound, Kurt Bradley. He’s a fantastic project manager and we work really well together. I also hired a local engineer, Dave Huffman, to be my new mastering assistant. He’s a smart, detail- oriented guy and he has caught on very quickly. These two guys set them up and I knock them down, if you know what I mean. We are extremely productive here at Chris Athens Masters!
ARE YOU STILL COMBINING HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE ?
Yeah, I still use both; it’s definitely a hybrid situation. I have a lot of my tried-and-true hardware pieces and a few plug-ins that I like a lot. I still love analog. When I moved here, one of the first things I did was go out and buy two analog tape decks. I very rarely get any tape, but I just love these tape decks so much. Using them makes me really feel like I’m doing something!
I did get a record recently for a band called Minor Alps. It’s collaboration between Matthew Caws of Nada Surf and Juliana Hatfield. It was mixed by John Agnello and It sounds fantastic. When he asked me if he could send me tape, it felt great to be able to say yes. It also helped me justify the purchase of my tape decks to my wife...which is nice.
TELL US ABOUT WHAT SOFTWARE YOU RELY ON.
Fab Filter, Voxengo, Flux and Sonnox are my go-to plugin manufacturers. I mess around with other stuff because that’s the only way to discover what works for yo,u but those suites cover the vast majority of what I need on most days.
The Sonnox Fraunhofer Pro-Codec is genius and a must-have for any pro, in my opinion. I’m a big fan of useful things—and that thing tells you stuff you should know about your end product.
DO YOU DEAL WITH YOUR CLIENTS MOSTLY ONLINE?
Yes. I’ve been so busy with my out-of-state and international clients, I haven’t even had a chance to tap into the local music scene. I’ve had two attended-sessions in a year. I work almost exclusively online. One thing I discovered when I left NYC was that my clients didn’t care where I was. They just want their projects back sounding great and they want them back fast! Thank goodness for the Internet!
WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN WOR KING ON RECENTLY ?
Lots of stuff! Drake, Rick Ross, Wale, J Cole, Sleigh Bells, Andrew Stockdalle [Wolfmother], Pet Shop Boys, Mikky Ekko, Lil Wayne...a ton of stuff from all different genres, really. Lots of amazing indie records, too. We’ve been very fortunate and very busy. We had four Top-10 albums in the Billboard 200 last month—Number 1 and Number 2 simultaneously at one point. I moved out of NYC, but I took a little chunk of it with me!
Now if I could find a decent bagel...
Chris Athens Masters