Chief mastering engineer
October 2, 2015
interview by Madeleine Campbell
Originally from Egypt, Heba Kadry now lives in Brooklyn, New York where she became Chief Mastering Engineer of Timeless Mastering in 2012. After first seeing her name on Liturgy’s sophomore LP Aesthethica, I looked into her mastering discography and found several of my favorite albums of the last five years.
Tell me about your earliest memories of music.
One of my earliest memories is the day my dad bought a Casiotone 610 synth which actually still exists in my room back home. Must have been, like, ‘85 or ‘86. I was about five years old. I believe it was Casio’s first stereophonic synth and it had a pretty mind-blowing fingered accompaniment and a really badass chorus. I remember watching my dad play all these popular songs by ear and I thought this was something that everyone did. I decided I needed to figure out how to play one of the “Concierto de Aranjuez” movements by Joaquin Rodrigo by ear. I didn’t have any formal training at that point but I was pretty pleased with myself when I had just a small section down. It wasn’t anything spectacular but something that seemed to be a pivotal point in my relationship with music at a very young age.
Eventually I started taking piano lessons and that got pretty serious for about eight years of my life. Now I mostly playing synths and circuit bend 9v battery-operated Casios whenever I have the time.
How did you get started in the studio?
I got my start in audio when I became an in-house advertising agency composer at J. Walter Thompson in Cairo, Egypt where I grew up. It was through my exposure to various recording studios in Cairo that I became enamored with the art of recording and ventured to study in the United States. After completing audio school, I interned at SugarHill Recording Studios in Houston, Texas. The hours were grueling but I loved learning and eventually got hired. I started working the midnight to dawn shift recording terrible bands in addition to recording and producing a show at a local radio station.
What led you to mastering after starting with recording and mixing?
I decided I wanted to learn more about mastering after hearing Greg Calbi speak at the 2004 Tape Op conference in New Orleans. He remains one of my favorite mastering engineers of all time. New York was the city of my dreams with an incredible musical history and I was determined to figure out a way to get a piece of the action. It was a pretty bold move and I don’t think I realized how much hard work it would turn out to be, but I did it anyway. I got an internship at The Lodge in Manhattan and was hired as a studio manager a few months later when the manager at the time suddenly left. I got pretty lucky because I was running out of money and had to find a way to get into the mastering room and still feed myself. I managed to squeeze my way into the studio during off hours. I would ask my friends to let me master their albums for free. If they hated it they didn’t have to use it but it was a way to learn how to master records.
When did you start mastering full time?
I was both managing and mastering records for about six years but I was only able to fully dedicate myself to mastering about two years ago when I bought some gear and partnered with Adrian Morgan at Timeless Mastering in Brooklyn.
What did you bring gear-wise?
I brought in the Avalon 747SP, the [Waves] L2 hardware, a beautiful custom made opto-compressor T4 designed by Greg Lomayesva from Drip Electronics built with specs I had requested including a Fairchild M/S matrix. We got the [Pendulum] PL2 and decided to get the [Dangerous] Liaison which is a really versatile patch bay & router that works well with the Dangerous Master. Most recently we bought John McEntire’s beautifully rebuilt by transformer-less ATR-102 tape machine. The TC Electronic M5000. Such a weird box. It can sound like absolute shit or awesome. I believe it’s the first digital multi-band compressor. It has that gnarly metallic early ‘90s sound I’m sort of nostalgically fond of. It was a step up from a Finalizer and a staple in most ‘90s mastering setups because of the dynamics package it came with. I’m really excited about our setup right now. Eventually we’d like to get a lathe and start cutting here too.
For those who aren’t familiar, can you explain what mastering is in relation to mixing?
If mixing is the art of shaping raw elements into a proper fully fleshed out song, mastering is taking these final mixes, dusting them off and allowing the elements to shine and become more focused. Equally as important is making sure the mixes sound consistent within the context of an album. These days different songs on an album may have been recorded by five different engineers at five different studios in five different cities which makes a collection of mixes seem like bunch of rowdy school kids on a bus without their seat belts on.
You want to make sure you take the listener on a smooth ride from start to finish, so the frequencies and overall gain needs to be consistent while keeping the essence and recorded energy of each mix intact. Its a very fine line to tread but that’s where communicating with the band and the producer and engineer is crucial.
I first saw your name on one of your first mastering projects - Liturgy’s second LP Aesthethica.
Yeah, that’s a phenomenal album and an incredibly articulate band. Bettina [Richards] at Thrill Jockey has done a lot for me. I love that label.
What projects are you particularly proud of?
One of the highlights of my career is working with John McEntire on the last The Sea And Cake album Runner. He is one of my producing and mixing heroes and receiving mixes from him to work on was incredible. Recently, Prefuse 73, Ty Segall, Zs, Evian Christ, remastering Thursday’s debut album Waiting, White Lung, Future Islands, The Sea and Cake. The new Lightning Bolt record is completely fantastic by the way.
They’re one of my favorite bands.
Yeah we spent quite a few weeks on it. I’ve also worked with [Lightning Bolt drummer] Brian Chippendale on his solo project.
Yeah. The Lightning Bolt album was recorded and mixed at Machines with Magnets in Providence with Keith Souza and Seth Manchester. It’s their first album recorded at a professional recording studio so they walked in with a lot of concerns about departing from their usual sound. Uncharted territory for those guys.
Do you have any advice for a young person looking to get involved in professional audio?
Be an information sponge. Read everything you can find. There are some great text books and magazines like Tape Op or online resources like Sonic Scoop. Find a studio and an engineer that is willing to teach you some stuff and spend a lot of time interning there before deciding whether you truly want to do this for a living or not. I would highly recommend doing an internship before registering at one of those expensive audio schools. You don’t want to be steeped up to your eyeballs in debt when you find out half way into the course this is not your thing and the hours are too long.
I’m not going to lie. It’s not easy and the money isn’t awesome. You may have to work a few odd jobs until you either get a position at a studio somewhere or save enough money to buy some of your own gear and make a small scale setup.
After a lot of hard work and countless hours of floor sweeping and getting people’s lunches, if you hang in there long enough and exhibit a positive attitude and willingness to learn, you might get hired. Offer your opinion only when you’re asked to and definitely do not shove your opinion down people’s throats. This is not your record. This is the artist’s record, so even if their requests are totally nuts and you disagree with their weird ideas, you have to completely respect your client’s opinion. You never know. You might actually be surprised. This is actually rule number one. If you work hard enough and eventually get somewhere, the payoff makes every crappy job you had to do to get you one step closer to your dream completely and utterly worth it.
check out the debut track of Heba's new solo project (Cyclic Bit) below: