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Mastering engineer and musician Nick Cooke on his new mastering facility

Cooke discusses the ins and outs of his new facility and the challenges of opening a new studio in today’s ever competitive market

Last month, musician and mastering engineer Nick Cooke cut the ribbon on a new state-of the-art mastering studio in Wrington, near Bristol, named Nick Cooke Mastering. The bespoke facility was designed by White Mark and comes equipped with analogue processors by Maselec, Dangerous Music and Avalon Design, a Maselec mastering console, audio conversion via Burl Audio and two Prism Sound Lyra 2 converters and audio workstations, Pro Tools and SADiE 6. Cooke has also installed a pair of Meyer Sound X10s for monitoring, which he acquired from Abbey Road Studios. Here, the former chief mastering engineer at Extreme Music, the London-based production music arm of Sony ATV, gives PSNEurope the inside track on his brand new project…

Tell us about your new studio. What kind of services will it offer?

Nick Cooke Mastering is my new business based in a brand-new purpose-built mastering facility located in Wrington, a beautiful and vibrant village just south of Bristol. I have been working as a professional mastering engineer since 2008, initially for De Wolfe Music and then for Extreme Music. Now, with my own company, I offer mastering for audio recordings of all types and like to work closely with the client to achieve the desired results. This involves stereo mastering and remastering work for an ever-increasing variety of formats and styles, including streaming and other digital distribution formats such as Mastered for iTunes as well as vinyl and CD. Recent projects have included independent music records, as well as music and sound for TV and film. I began my career as a remastering engineer working mainly from tape and I plan to include tape restoration as a service again very soon.

Why branch out on your own now?

After six years running the mastering department at Extreme Music of Sony/ATV in London, I have gained an amazing and varied experience of music and sound mastering. Whilst still working full time, I started to receive more and more requests to master independent records. When offered the chance to tour as a professional musician with Kate Rusby as part of her band, this gave me the opportunity to realise my dream of stepping out on my own as a mastering engineer.

Talk us through the studio spec.

Some giant speakers and some other stuff! I have gone for an arguably modest set up as I find that simplicity is key. So, as well as various plugins from Sonnox, FabFilter, A.O.M, iZotope, Sonoris and others, my outboard processing comprises the Avalon Design AD2077 Mastering Equalizer, Dangerous Compressor, Maselec MPL-2 peak and HF limiter, Maselec Mastering Transfer Console, and a couple of custom units and converters by Prism Sound and Burl Audio. DAWs include Pro Tools and SADiE 6. However, the most crucial part of the set-up is the listening environment and monitoring. I’m very pleased that I’ve managed to acquire a pair of Meyer Sound X-10 speakers.

Tell us about White Mark’s involvement?

White Mark are incredibly good at what they do and there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted them to design this facility. It took two years to find suitable premises for the studio. It had to be big enough to accommodate the optimum set-up of the speakers and allow for effective sound isolation. Natural daylight is also important to me. When I found this place in Wrington, I was very pleased to find a local company, Chew Valley Construction, who would follow the designs of the build carefully and accurately, successfully completing to a very high standard. White Mark did their thing and brought their trusted people in to add the finishing touches, including acoustic engineer Matt Dobson to align and tune the monitoring position. The result is an incredibly accurate and easy environment to work in, plus it’s nice to be in and it looks great.

What are the biggest challenges you face?

There is a reluctance to pay for quality when it comes to mastering. With so many studios offering cheap online mastering, which has its place, it makes it more difficult to remember that top-quality mastering is a specialism that can make all the difference to a record.