Insight Interview – Chris Pavey (Mastering Engineer)

Friday 31st March // Tonight we have another great interview lined up. This guy is a true master of his art, his passion, skill and self motivation has seen him reach new heights, becoming the owner of his own professional mastering company and mastering studio. Chris Pavey is the founder and managing director of CPM (Chris Pavey Mastering), a start up company I’ve watched flourish over the years.

You see, me and Chris go back. We were both music tech students at the University of Hertfordshire where music was pretty much in our DNA. Everything we learnt there went to good use, I was there putting pen to paper in music business whilst Chris was fine tuning his ears, we were both massively motivated by our lecturers and the resources we had available to us, it was a lot of fun. I believe Insight first officially worked with Chris back in 2013 for a digital only release on Bandcamp. Back then his mastering suite was his bedroom just like the rest of us, but Chris had a passion for mastering, he was seriously good at what he did and I was always pleased with the outcome of every master he produced. Chris came out of university with a First Class Honours Degree and has developed a wide range of contacts within the industry, his success became my inspiration, to see friends succeeding gives me a great feeling, especially those I studied along.

After university we remained friends, with Insight currently working with Chris once again on a forthcoming release. We caught up with Chris to ask him and a few questions about CPM, the studio and life after university.

Hey Chris, first off, where are you currently based?

Hi Stefan, my studio is located in the countryside just outside the city of Cambridge, UK.

When was your first real exposure to music?

I am very lucky to come from a musical family – there was music everywhere when I was growing up, and both my older sister and I learned instruments from an early age. My earliest memory of music would be my Grandpa playing piano, especially him playing old big band and Jazz standards and most of all old Glenn Miller songs!

You’ve become a successful mastering engineer with your own studio and a rock solid reputation. When did your love for mastering music first come about?

I’m a musician first, but a scientist second – I love the technical side of recording and am always fascinated by the physics of sound. For me Mastering is the perfect combination between musicality and technical skill, but my first mastering project came about through necessity, when I produced a record with a friend which I then ended up mastering. I really enjoyed all aspects of that production, but it was the mastering process that really connected with me on all levels.

Our relationship stretches back to 2011 where we first met at university. How do you feel about what you’ve achieved in the 6 years since then?

It’s strange when I look back to that time. If you had told me then what I would be doing now I don’t think I would have believed you! Lots of great opportunities have come my way and I am proud of my achievements so far, but I know that I still have so much I want to accomplish, and I always stay humble to the fact that I owe a lot to the great people I have had the pleasure to work with.

You’ve worked with Insight on a few releases and are currently working on another forthcoming EP. What is it about mastering music that you enjoy the most?

It’s really simple – I love the fact that I get the privilege to hear music before anyone else. That right there should really be the the tag line for mastering! It’s like being part of an exclusive club, because between the client signing off on the master and the release, you with a possible few others are the only people who have heard that finished track or album. That’s a great feeling to have as part of your day job!

Is there a particular style or genre of music that you feel brings out the best in your mastering knowledge?

Part of a mastering engineer’s job is to appreciate all music, and I take that fully on board. I can and have worked with all genres of music, and I know I can bring my skills, knowledge and experience to all of them. It’s almost impossible to say a genre that brings out the best in me, but if I had to I would lean toward electronica (in its broadest sense) because it’s so varied in its make up, and sub genres. You can never fully be sure when working on a track where it’s going to go sonically, and that keeps me on my toes the whole time.

Favourite piece of equipment in the studio?

My monitoring, no question. The best tool in a mastering engineer’s tool box is his room (the monitoring environment), and then the monitors/speakers. I currently use Bowers & Wilkins monitors with Chord Electronic amps. I can hear everything in the recording I’m working on, right down to the lowest lows and the highest highs. I get no false representations of the client’s track, and I can trust what I am listening to completely. This then allows me to make accurate decisions on the track I’m working on.

What’s been your proudest experience to date?

It would have to be the first time I heard a master of mine on the radio. I had mastered an EP and a single for the Reggae band ‘Out of Karma’ and they had it played on BBC radio here in the UK. It was such a surreal experience to hear my master on a radio station that I had listened to when I was growing up, and then hearing a track I had worked on being introduced… I will never forget that feeling.

Favourite record right now?

I hear so much music it’s sometimes hard to keep up with it all! I’m still loving Bonobo’s last album Migration; I can’t pick a favourite track, as the album to me is a single piece of work.

Favourite record of all time?

Tough question, there are so many I could choose from. For me though The Kinks, You Really Got Me, has such a connection on so many levels it’s always going to the top of my list; the power and raw attack of that track never grows old.

You’ve achieved a lot so far with CPM, what’s next for you in terms of music industry goals?

I want to continue finding new artists and new genres of music. Someone is always breaking new ground with sounds and productions and I want to hear it. During 2016 I started to work with other media as well as music, such as audio for film and TV. I have gained some great contacts in those industries and have worked on some wonderful compositions. I have more on the horizon for 2017, and I want to continue to expand my mastering into all areas of music. The reason being that it keeps me learning, I want to know everything I can about music and sound, and the more ways I can interact with music the better!

How about life goals?

Starting a family for sure, that for me is what life is all about. I would also love to teach at some point, either just by having an assistant to pass knowledge onto or in a school/university. I have given lectures before and I really enjoyed the experience. I feel I was given so much information by people taking the time to talk to me and explain things, I want to return that; that’s really important to me.

Has there ever been a piece of music or an experience that shaped you to become the person you are today?

Many things have shaped me, and for someone that is still considered ‘young’ in my profession I have been lucky enough to experience so much at a rate that is quite unbelievable. One experience does stand out though, as it prepared me for life in the studio like nothing else. I was working at a studio in my home town of Southampton, I must have been 16 and I was going to assist on a session. However when I arrived to set up, the owner was walking out the door of the studio and said that I was running the session today with another assistant. After screaming slightly inside, I continued into the live room and began setting up.

The band arrived and after chatting with them I started to relax a bit – but still was shaking slightly! The whole day was then filled with every issue and studio gremlin you could think of. For example, the normally stable and solid studio computer crashed right at the start. Which really throws you just as your starting. The digital console then decided to not want to boot into the saved scene for the session I had prepared, so lots of re-patching! Then some tie lines between the live room and control room where not working, they had been damaged and not reported I think. The whole day was just a whirl-wind of working things out for myself, and learning on the fly – moving from problem to solution.

However at the end of the day, to my surprise the band said how awesome the day had been and that they where really happy with what they had achieved. I had spent the whole day with the other assistant, running around problem solving and finding solutions to problems and they hadn’t noticed at all! That is the goal of all audio engineers – don’t complain about the situation, you have a job to do, go fix it and keep the session rolling. Keep the vibe and flow at all costs! After that day, hardly anything can phase me in the studio and it shaped me into being able to calmly approach all problems and always look at things in a positive light. I really learnt the bedrock of my skill during that day, and looking back now I am so grateful the studio owner needed to leave that day!

Share your most influential one liner when it comes to mastering music.

Listen, listen, listen – Don’t touch the gear, don’t open any plugins. Listen first and listen again!

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It’s been an absolute pleasure to share this interview with our followers as Chris is quickly becoming a successful industry professional. He will also be sharing some exclusive knowledge of his studio and mastering experience with us over the next few weeks, so be sure to look out for that!

Check out Chris and his work at Chris Pavey Mastering.