Now you can read us on your iPhone and iPad! Check out the BTRtoday app.
Rich Morales is a mastering engineer with a razor-sharp ear and an adaptability to sound that is amazing. Whether at The Lodge, where he got his start, or on his own at Super Fine Audio, he brings a unique set of tools to a record, enhancing its best qualities, bringing out its depth, and “sculpting an image.”
Morales has mastered tracks for Sia, Against Me!, The Killers, Circa Survive, and many more. He treats his music with love and reverence.
BTRtoday caught up with Morales to find out what equipment he’s using, what frequencies he’s obsessed with, and how he gets the perfect balance.
BTRtoday (BTR): You’ve worked with a super diverse list of artists. Do you have favorite genres to work with? Are there genres you won’t touch?
Rich Morales (RM): Yeah, it’s been a privilege. I like anything that pops. I like a rich, lower mid-range accompanied by a large image. That can fall under any genre, to be quite honest. You really learn to appreciate everything as a mastering engineer. These days I welcome it all. I like a challenge. You find the common thread is engaging the listener in those same frequencies that can be pulled out, no matter the song or genre.
BTR: You’ve mentioned the term “sculpting an image,” which is both visual and sonic. Can you elaborate on that?
RM: Well, it’s a matter of using your tools to create depth and width. Sometimes opening up a song and occasionally tightening up one. I tend to like to accentuate the mid range by creating a nice focus in all the present aspects of the song, while preserving as much movement in the low end and stereo field as possible.
It’s hard to articulate, as it truly comes down to reaching this point of perfect phase that feels just right.
BTR: What equipment are you using these days to master? What’s on your wish list and why?
RM: Well, my new favorite boxes to use are this modified Sontec (I think it’s one-of-a-kind, literally), an STC-8, Weiss EQ1, and a Zsys z-Q2, amongst others. These are boxes that I’ve never used until recently that I’ve grown to really like. Every situation is different, but I have narrowed down my chain to a truly simple analog and digital loop. I think I have been able to get the loudest and most robust masters ever with this chain. A modern and competitive sound for sure.
“I have the privilege to work on music, other peoples’ music, to master songs that sometimes take years to make and I think it is absolutely disrespectful to all parties if it’s not treated with patience and love.”
On my wish list (that I’ve used and love): An Avalon 2077. It was an EQ I used at The Lodge all the time. If there were ever tracks that you knew could not endure any additional gain staging, this was the one box at minimum the track would go through just for a little bit of love. The top end of the 2077 is like no other box, in my opinion, and the mid-range is pretty sweet. After that would be a Fairman TMEQ. Timeless Mastering had one I used for a bit and it was truly a unique box. That would be it, really. Everything else, I am working on getting already or is easily accessible.
BTR: How did the Sia collaboration come about? “Chandelier” is one of the best pop songs in decades.
RM: Well, at the time I was Emily Lazar’s right-hand mastering engineer and this was a record that was sent over to her. I mean, none of these clients at that time were looking for *me*. I was just the dude getting the work done and at the moment was content with that. It was one of those tracks that I knew was gonna be a giant hit as soon as I heard it.
I remember staying at the studio until like 2 am because we did an initial pass that sounded great, but they ended up sending a revised mix shortly after, which I must have worked on for like three hours (at least) to recall and match the first one delivered. After some seriously mind-bending angel hair adjustments, it actually turned out better. No doubt about it, mastering that album was a benchmark in my career.
BTR: Some engineers are pretty lazy and place records on one setting, ignore its peaks and valleys. Can you imagine doing anything like that? Mastering is such a subtle art, isn’t it?
RM: Nah man, the day I am doing that is the day I’ve given up. I’ve heard some cases of this occurring, even from top guys out there and it always blows my mind. I have the privilege to work on music, other peoples’ music, to master songs that sometimes take years to make and I think it is absolutely disrespectful to all parties if it’s not treated with patience and love. Some mastering engineers just lost the love. It happens. That is why balance is key. Not only in the masters we make, but in our daily lives.
BTR: What projects do you have lined up that you can divulge?
RM: Well, I can’t talk about some just yet, but I can guarantee some surprises. It’s been less than two years that I’ve operated under my own business, Super Fine Audio, and some wonderfully talented folks have noticed that I bring something competitive and special to the table. So, some great dialogue is happening and lots of cool records will be hitting the world soon.