Interview by Sarah Williams.
What’s your dream project? Each and every one of us has that fantasy in our heads: a vocation, a band or a goal that we hope we’ll one day be able to make real.
Well, Ed Hall’s dream is All Silk Mastering House and, through hard graft and dedication, he’s made it a reality. You may know Ed from Egos At The Door, but nowadays he’s probably better known for his talented ear and knack for exceptional audio production.
This year he’s finally been able to realise his dreams, by building a bespoke space for mixing and mastering, now offering quality and attention to detail at competitive rates. We spoke to Ed about his love for all things audio and all the hard work and emotional investment that’s gone into to this.
Firstly, give us a little overview of what you do at All Silk Mastering House – explain to us laymen what do you get up to?
For sure! A mastering house is an audio suite (which is more or less a control room, minus being attached to a live room) geared towards mastering as opposed to, say, mixing or recording. An engineer who specialises in mastering takes the final mixes which are often years in the making and analyses their objective traits. Every final mix will have strengths and weaknesses so the processes play to and accentuate or diminish these traits with the end goal of making a competitively loud and tonally pleasing track.
There is more or less a standard intrinsic loudness to most music, especially now, so that it can play amongst thousands of other tracks on Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music, CD players, iPods and not sound out of place, quieter, uncomfortably distorted/louder or at all noticeably off in comparison to the average.
It’s a mastering engineer’s job to deliver the best version they can of the audio they are provided while ticking these boxes. Of course in the real world it is much more subjective and subtle than this with sympathy to the art/the vision/taste…
What was your vision for All Silk when you first started out?
I think I had made a decision to push toward mastering maybe 4-5 years ago. I was much more of an all round audio guy at the time, which meant every couple of months a DIY band would need mastering done and I’d just do it!
I’d done the mastering module at SSR (School of Sound Recording, Manchester) and had a decent idea of what I was doing and I took to the format – finished stereo mixes. I loved the broad-brush like feeling of processing audio in that way and the freedom that the restricted options gave.
Every single band who hired me for the mastering were always super buzzed on it and I just loved doing it, so started sharpening my skills and tools in that direction. Later on I took some more advanced tuition from mottosound and had the great fortune of working closely on projects with mastering engineers who had worked with the likes of Converge, Ben Howard, Ed Sheeran, The Vamps, Wilhelm Scream… that sounds like name dropping, but it’s the opposite: working with bigger names like that actually made me realise I was comfortable with the skill set and felt like I had a better musical intuition than a lot of the people doing the job even on the highest level. I was particularly surprised by how one of the guys at Abbey Road didn’t listen to a single song – I thought that was something of a cardinal sin, but it was reassuring to know I could hang and had faith in my methods. Those experiences massively refined and re-enforced how I do the job and run the studio.
I also freelanced from a more commercial space for a while and that gave me a deep appreciation for how us audio folk really need our own space to do this job properly.
That was sort of the big grown up realisation… I need to own this in every single way.
The vision was to make a space that I felt at home and inspired to be in. No cutting corners, the best gear I could afford, to provide the service that makes artists the happiest I have ever made them as an audio engineer. I wanted it to be beautiful because
I wanted to give artists the reassurance that how the room projects its energy reflects directly my philosophy in audio – the most beautiful manifestation of a finite space, be it a room or a sound sculpture, they’re one and the same, a pocket of reality projecting outwards.
This project has been a long time in the making for you. You previously worked at Head Sound Recording Studio and toured with Egos At The Door, but things went a bit pear-shaped. Tell us about that.
The studio or the band hahaha? Both went a bit south!
Yeah, I was A) really young and B) trying to be in/run/organise a full-time touring DIY band and run a full-time recording facility at the same time both of which come with their… demands… and I was having a tough month when the insurance renewal was due, I said to myself ‘I can sort that out next week’ and, before next week came, the place got burgled.
That knocked me for six and tore away 5 years worth of my life. From buying cheap AKG condensers with my first student loan, up to working a year in a call centre doing all the brutal shifts available to get saucy preamps and go in on a tour van, plus the labour of love that is setting up a studio.
I think just before that happened EATD’s singer had left, then we went on our last tour and on top of all the other tour disasters we’d had our drummer wound up getting himself rejected out of Serbia for bringing the wrong passport and we had to drive home for three solid days missing the last 3-4 shows. That was my weaker-past-selve’s breaking point. We had a stupid bust up which fortunately we’ve now resolved/reconciled.
Plus the stress of having just slugged your guts for 1-2 months roughing it on tour to getting home and life waiting to get straight on top of you about everything you’re not, what you’re not doing, what people expect you to be or to do. It all just came to a head at once.
Felt pretty biblical at the time but life goes on, you dust off and get stronger and wiser.
Many of us dream of quitting our day jobs and making our music dreams a reality…
It’s definitely not an easy road for all sorts of reasons.
It’s such a strange thing to make a living out of, it doesn’t fit the model of what would constitute to a full-time job in a lot of ways and there’s so many different roles so the approach to moving towards making your music dream a reality could be bloody anything!
I would wholeheartedly encourage anyone to follow their dream in a way that didn’t damage themselves (significantly or beyond what their dream demanded) or others. There’s a step by step way to most things so if you’re willing to do the work and make the sacrifices then there’s not much stopping you except the task ahead and your willingness to meet it. Where most people fall off is they look at the mountain and not the path or they won’t make the sacrifices, but I guess that’s the way it’s meant to be and there isn’t much utility in me commenting on that.
The biggest thing to note is you don’t have to make a living in music or be a full-timer to validate what you do, who you are or how good you really are at it.
There’s something much deeper about existence than what the outside world will grant you or how it titles you so just don’t get lost in trying to find validation in others and crack on with what you care about. I’ve met plenty of full-timers who are evidently unhappy and irked in strange ways that are hard to describe and there’s no shortage of passion project types who are as legit as they come and aren’t beaten down by the meat grinder of full-time music.
Know who you are and find your peace.
How did you scrape the funds together to build the studio?
There was never any one moment where the money was raised and the studio is still nowhere near finished; it just recently hit the chapter where I could work from it in confidence that world-class audio was achievable and I could begin advertising, social media, etc. The story has remained pretty consistent, whatever I’ve needed to do in any moment I’ve done it in the best way I could, at the time if the studio has needed an influx of cash, I’ve gotten whatever job I could and rinsed the hours. It’s the same as anything, the road to being an audio engineer isn’t just doing your 10,000 hours in audio it’s all the sub-tasks along with it.
In the last 4-5 years I’ve been a car valeter, car salesman (a short stint at that one, holy hell), waiter, tour driver, venue in-house engineer, freelance audio engineer, guitar teacher, labourer, man with a van… I just take the Henry Rollins outlook of I’ve always had minimum wage jobs so if I need the money and am free, I’m usually there.
Plus, I used to have a tour van, so selling that off definitely pushed things along, but that was a grind in itself to get that… so you’re looking at a lot of accumulative years there to get to this stage and nothing is guaranteed in this game.
I’m not too proud to take a couple of days work doing any old random thing if it’s there and I can fit it in. Audio just comes first.
You did a lot of the building work yourself – do you feel you’ve learned a lot in the process?
A lot being the key word, ‘some’ probably being more realistic… mostly I’ve gotta bow down to the old man, he’s a retired ex-construction know it all and without him the structural and building side of it would have been a botch job at best.
I picked some stuff up but I’m glad that part of the process is over, I’m sure there’s some gems and pearls deep down there somewhere.
Did you find it challenging, getting everything set up just right?
Surprisingly not! Once the room was finished, floors in, walls up and painted it was just a case of I know what I want in there, let’s put it in. Must have had it all set up and sound checked in less than a day once the floor was down. The building work was never about it being ‘just right’ in any adjusted sense, it was just a case of making sure the work was solid – we built a room within a room so the blueprint was already dictated by the space itself. But it took a long time, yes, for sure!
It must have been really satisfying getting it all finished off – is your inner music-geek 100% happy with the acoustics now?
Baha, the inner music-geek is acoustically satiated until we upgrade from mono to stereo subs, then we’ll see what’s what.
Go on, let’s get geeky. Tell me about the kit you’ve got in place – how did you decide what would work best?
I’m glad you asked! The photos and videos are grand but to actually put the spotlights on the real power house in there would just be 400 different angles of a black computer chassis. Suppose I could put some sporty underwear on it and jazz things up?
Hardware wise we use Adams A77X’s monitors with a fame sub in mono – this is our main full range speaker monitoring system I do most of the surgery on, then of course we have some more consumer hi-fi based options for real world performance analysis.
In the mobile rig I take out a UA Apollo 8p with an 8 channel Audient asp 800 (with 2 channels of FET colour/adjustment) which provides 12 analogue pres and, just this week, I put in a 1998 Behringer vacuum tube 2 channel pre (making that 14 pres and counting) – alright, Behringer, I know – but it’s modded with burr-brown chipsets in the gain stage and a tube upgrade so this thing is a beast! I’ve linked that into the mastering chain now as a stereo character enhancement stage which is just like a 3D brush, I can put a mix through there and bounce it back in at a higher sample rate, so the software gets a higher resolution reading of the preamp output – then I can get to work.
I use a UA DSP accelerator that takes over all the processing power of any UA software which is known for its analogue emulation quality.
I don’t use the UA interface to power the software or monitoring, I got a Mackie BK as it is stupidly powerful and all the routing and monitoring options on it are really bloody useful.
Then just oodles and oodles of software that I’ve been buying up over an age, stuff by Waves, Sonible, UA, Oxford, Slate, SSL the list goes on… It is heavily mastering focused.
We also have a taaasty mic selection for mobile work and some hefty upgrades planned for the next 6 months.
I guess I just researched the hell out of it, reading audio text books (something I put stupid hours into), finding out what audio engineers I like are using, seeing what gear I’ve used over the years has stayed in the tool box. It’s a really long process and it never ends! Fads and themes come and go as well so staying current is a big part of the job, the interesting part is seeing how things die away and re-surge – it makes it hard to ever let go of any gear haha.
A significant part of the vision by the way was making sure that monthly overheads (not stereo ones, financial ones) were kept way way down so that I could keep our already generous and fair rates consistent so as we continue to upgrade it still remains accessible to the DIY/grassroots scene, no matter how much tech gets brought in.
I never want it to be a place that is so kitted out no-one can afford to use it, so we’re building steady but building quality.
You say your dedication to the build of the studio is reflected in your rigorous approach to audio work, too. What is it about mixing and mastering that appeals to you so much?
Yeah for sure, I wanted the build and aesthetic to encourage creativity and productivity.
Ah wow, it’s so many things at once. I think at the top of the pyramid you have to know what the job is a vehicle for which obviously is music, so the whole process needs to be in aid of the final manifestation of the song – bare in mind the song goes through so many incarnations from cerebral inception, phone mic demos, midi demos, practice room demo, however many takes it requires to put down the final take of any given instrument, the multiple mix versions.
The process itself is for the betterment of the song, so a great song is the ultimate appeal and is absolutely the end game.
The fascination with sound, the tools and the techniques you can apply to all the different layers of a song is never ending and ever evolving, hence the constant audio dive. Then there’s just the little feeling of awe audio gear/software gives you (or doesn’t give you, for the vast majority of people, who probably think it’s fuckin’ weird) which is hard to explain. I might wind up one of these 50 year old blokes who marries their inanimate objects.
I do find it very surreal that these sound sculptures are streamed into human consciousness then projected outwards via performance and technology… then again I just enjoy being a student of audio and the never ending journey, it’s always been there for me since 13 years of age with a £5 computer mic and the free copy of Audacity.
Your decor’s gorgeous – really minimalist and modern (and yet no silk, as far as I can tell). What inspired you to take that approach – personal taste or audio quality?
Thank you! Hahaha, I master exclusively in silk gowns I’ll have you know. Definitely just personal taste but there’s an audio metaphor in there somewhere. I like white because anything you put in a room after white instantly claims its own space and then I just love the look of wood grain. Plants are great because they just grow and grow, they take your mind off a session for a few minutes for watering and maintenance, they’re fascinating to watch and look at. Before you know it your single little succulent is spread over 10 different pots. I love that.
How’s your coffee set up?
Decent! Could always be better. My milk steamer broke years ago, so I’m an espresso drinker by default.
Fortunately we’re only down the road from a pretty bangin’ coffee merchant who always have some lovely beans and blends! The game is strong all year round.
You’ve got a pal, Gus, who looks like he helps you out with all the heavy lifting work. D’you reckon he’s an essential part of the All Silk operation?
He keeps everything bang on track and is always on high alert for intruders. He’s paramount to operations, absolutely. He has a rigorous vetting system for all new pack members, be they temporary or forever, and he isn’t afraid to kick off when the processing isn’t to his taste.
What advice would you give to someone embarking on a similar journey to you – jumping into audio work?
Do it. Do it often and do it badly, finish everything, read a lot, listen to a lot of records, immerse yourself in every facet you can and just try to increase your value to others by making yourself as valuable to the process as possible, always. Don’t be too proud to do what it takes to keep up with bills or to fund the upgrades you want/need. It’s up and down for everyone and everyone is a beginner at some point. Just make sure you’re in service to the art, not just to yourself, but do look after yourself.
What are your big ambitions for All Silk?
If I can take care of myself and my family, continue to upgrade the gear and be lucky enough to regularly master genuine works of art then I’m good for a long long time.
Massive thanks to Ed for sharing this insight into All Silk Mastering House. We wish him all the best in making it a success.
All Silk are currently running a competition where you can win a year’s worth of mixing and mastering services – the ideal chance for any DIY band planning to release in 2019. Enter the competition at All Silk’s Facebook page.
Interview by Sarah Williams.