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Katie Tavini on why the days of ‘grey suits and stuffy presentations’ are becoming a thing of the past at pro audio conferences

Mastering engineer, Red Bull Studios Normal Not Novelty host and PSNEurope columnist Katie Tavini discusses the ways in which industry conferences are becoming one of the most vital educational opportunities this business has to offer

When people talk about conferences, I have always thought they sound like a really dull way to spend a weekend. You see it in movies, grey men wearing grey suits drinking cold coffee and talking about statistics in a stuffy powerpoint presentation. Don’t ask what films I watch, but this is usually what springs to mind. 

However, when JP Braddock got in touch saying he was organising a mastering conference, I thought, okay, this is my kinda event. Still probably doesn’t sound super interesting unless you’re mega into mastering, but bear with me on this one. JP and Russ Hepworth-Sawyer managed to pull together a fantastic team, creating one hell of a lineup. Mastering is a relatively small part of the music industry, but the diversity of topics over the weekend was pretty incredible!

The conference kicked off with a keynote from Guenter Loibl discussing HD vinyl, followed by technical papers from AES members and event sponsors. Bob Stuart delivered a technical paper on MQA technology which, as this is a relatively new format, was incredibly important, especially as at some point we may be asked to deliver MQA masters. On the Sunday, Dr Andrew Bourbon delivered an interesting and controversial paper on how mixing and mastering can be taught at University level, followed by Stephen Bruel (who had travelled all the way from Australia) who gave a paper on the art of remastering, based on his research of Australian band Sunnyboys’ remastered material.

One of the most sobering moments by far was Crispin Herrod Taylor from Crookwood on the future of mastering. He boldly started out by telling the room that in five years, 50 per cent of us would be out of a job. What a statement! There were many tense murmurs around the room, but Taylor went on to inspire everyone to really think about how they run their businesses and how we can provide better services to clients. He reminded us that it’s important to invest in education, our rooms, and seek to become more efficient. 

Taylor reminded everyone that although we work in an industry we love, we still have to work at it. And for me, this was one of the biggest things I took home from the whole conference. Because sure, it’s a huge privilege to work on great music, but if we’re sat in the studio every day, not challenging ourselves and not evolving, eventually it’s going to get boring and we will become unsatisfied. And so this keynote that started out seemingly all doom and gloom, actually lifted the entire room.

Another topic that really got me thinking was Mike Cave’s exploration of stem mastering, something I’ve never even tried before, but he really broke it down and inspired me to experiment. It also opened my eyes to how important it is to work closely with mix engineers – we’re on the same team after all!

Sunday unveiled possibly the most terrifying but amazing moments for me; I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Mandy Parnell, one of my favourite mastering engineers. Her client list is basically a who’s who of my favourite music, and it was such an incredible opportunity to get to speak to her about creating it.

The whole event was a huge learning curve for me, and I would urge anyone, if they get an opportunity to go to a conference on their particular subject, do it! Learning from complete experts is such a valuable experience and I feel like I learnt more during the conference than I have over the past two years. That’s not even an exaggeration; you can do as much reading as you like, but to have completely up to date information from the people who are creating the technology, doing the research and making the records is an absolutely incredible way to learn. 

Not only was it a significant learning experience, but the social part was a right laugh – I made some incredible friends at the conference who I’ve stayed in touch with ever since. It was great to get to know people who are all in the same boat. So, next time you see a conference advertised, don’t hesitate, just go!