Mastering Solstice, a Lines Community Project. by Simeon Smith


Jason messaged me the other day and asked me to master another compilation album, something I've done a few times for him before. He asked me about my process when mastering compilation albums. I've briefly written about this subject before but here are some more thoughts. 

I hate talking gear on the web, so this post isn't about gear, it's about process. I'm a firm believer that gear and skill work hand in hand, but the internet leans heavy on the gear, which is easy to market and sell online, and ignores skill, which is harder to monetise. So let's try to redress the balance.

Listen, think, question, consider.

Often people think that they're not "working" unless they're doing something. Tinkering with settings, trying out different approaches, messing with new techniques they're learning. No. Stop that. Just be. Sit down, put the damn music on and listen. And don't get up again until the music has stopped. Have a conversation in your mind about the music, what the artist's intentions have been, who will be listening to the music, the formats it'll be released on, etc. Make some notes, then listen again. Listen in the car. Listen out on a run.

Fixing vs. Enhancing.

My mastering process has two parts - fixing things that aren't sounding great, and enhancing the work to make it release-ready. If there's a nasty booming frequency, or a brash sounding cymbal, it's pointless working on the finished whole, until you've solved that issue. Sure these things should have been picked up sooner, but fix all the things you find problematic first, and only then start looking at what you might want to add. 

Know your place.

If you've been asked to master a release, chances are it's because your client likes your work and your sound. But remember, it's still their release! Have a chat about what their expectations are, how you'll meet their goals but know that you're completing a small task near the end of a long process. Make it sound like them at their best, not like you. 

Okay, Dalai Lame-o, enough with the philosophy. What does your mastering chain look like?

*sigh* I'm not sure this'll help, as every recording is different, but I usually look at every individual track's volume, loudness and EQ first. I then do some multi-band compression to hopefully get it all gelling nicely. Occasionally I'll add a little ambience. Next I work on the stereo field to get it tight and interesting, but without phasing or distracting elements. I then look at enhancing and distortion, and finally it goes through a limiter. How I render the final files depends on what they're going to be used for, and I always try to provide files in the format they're most likely to be played in. 

Groundhog Day.

Once I've finished a master I rarely sling it over to the client straight away, and only do that when I'm super-tight on time. I usually spend a couple of days, and listen again with fresh ears, make a few tweaks and then leave it a couple of days, listen again, make a few tweaks... you get the idea. 

I'm currently mastering "Solstice, a Lines Community Project", a compilation album that will be out on or around the December Solstice. 

Album Launch by Simeon Smith

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PENINSVLA is out today

Download or stream it via whichever channel takes your fancy: 

iTunes / Apple Music / Spotify / Amazon / Bandcamp 

Or have a listen, right here, right now: 

Would love to hear from you if you're enjoying the album. Drop me a tweet. 

5 Things You Might Want to Know about PENINSVLA by Simeon Smith


My new album, PENINSVLA is out on Friday. Here's the skinny: 

  1. You can preorder now at, and will get two tracks now, or you can wait until Friday and stream or download via iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon... basically, choose your poison. 
  2. There are two music videos. One is for "Agendaless. Neutral. Transparent." and you can watch it now here. The other is "I didn't come here to tell you you're wrong. I just want to bring you home.", which will be out tomorrow (Nov 1st) exclusively to the free Presence App, and on general release a month later. This video stars local actress and fellow sailor Rhian Williams, and was kindly financed by Presence
  3. The album is more stripped down and acoustic than my previous work, and features tenor guitar, double bass and keys, all recorded live. 
  4. The album is also the first major work to feature my modular synthesizer
  5. The cover was shot to film on a Lomo LC-A, at Mewslade

My Tunes added to the British Library by Simeon Smith

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Crazy email of the day:

Got an email asking if I’d be okay (?!) with the British Library adding my back catalogue to their collection. Of course I thought it was a scam, but did some digging around on their website, and no, really, this was an email from a real curator really asking me this.

They’re currently working on a collection of independent music releases, so I guess having never been properly signed to a label has its benefits.

So in a couple of millennia, when your cryogenically frozen body has been thawed Demolition Man style, and you’re hunting for some tunes from the olden days (aka, 2017), pop down to the British Library and look me up.

If you don't want to wait until then, my new album, PENINSVLA, is now available for pre-order and will be out on Nov. 3rd:

7 Things We Call Talent by Simeon Smith


I believe in pure, raw, unrestrained talent. I do. 

I didn’t, and then at uni I met a 17-year-old who with no musical training picked up a guitar and in 3 months was playing Satriani pieces flawlessly. 

We all have talents, perhaps not to that extent, and perhaps in the areas we’d like them, but we do. 

That said, there’s a lot of things that people call talent, but is easy to replicate. Here are 7 examples. 

  1. Patience - The other night I waited with my camera on a tripod for a shot. For 50 minutes. Now, okay, that’s not a long time, but it is a long time for one shot, for me. Hopefully people will see the shot (it’ll be published in November), and be inspired by it, but it didn’t take talent. It took standing around on a cold autumn evening for 50 minutes freezing my balls off. I’ve a few photos with birds flying over in just the right place, and people say “Lucky shot!”, but the reality is that usually if you see a bird fly on a certain path, it’ll generally do it again a few minutes later. Birds are repetitive like that. Capturing them to film doesn’t take talent. It takes patience. 
  2. Restlessness - Okay, so I feel I’m pretty prolific. I have a job and a family, and a blog, and I write music, and most years I manage to release a couple of EPs or albums, play in a few different bands, I got a book out this year, I write for magazines, I produce for other people... I get around. But this isn’t accidental, and it’s not just me busying myself with a lot of different projects. It’s cross-pollination. Widening the gene pool. Scenius. The more people I work with on different projects the more inspired I am in other projects, the more I learn and the more I want to create different things. The more different things I’m focussing on, the easier all the other things seem. 
  3. Resilience - For most of us, the first time you do something, it’ll be pretty rubbish. The first song I wrote? Rubbish (it was called "backside exercise” and was an angsty rant about how my family just vegged in front of the TV, I was 13, okay?!) . The first roll of film I shot? Rubbish (I took photos of lego men. LEGO MEN). The trick to learning is doing things a lot of times. And each time, you’ll get better. Resilience isn’t the same as saying “Practice makes perfect”, because that’s a kind of planned activity. It’s saying, "Occasionally, I’ll fail badly. But that won’t stop me”.
  4. Privilege - As a straight-ish, white man in my thirties I feel this list wouldn’t be complete without recognising my privilege. There are people out there that will do better than you because they’ve had a foot-up in life. And that’s okay. Just don’t look at them and say “Oh, they’re so talented!!”… they may be, but they may also have had every opportunity in life to succeed. Check your own privilege, and also check the privilege of people who’s “talent” you envy. You may find yourself more thankful for your own talents. 
  5. Obsession - Recently my friend Andy went on a photography course with Alun Wallace. We chatted about it in the pub, and the thing that surprised me the most was that Alun has his shots lined up months and months in advance. He knows what the night sky is going to look like on particular dates in particular scenic spots, and plans his life accordingly. There’s no denying the guy has talent, but he also has an obsession that drives him to perfection. Everyone’s obsessed about something, and chances are there’s a subject you could answer Mastermind questions about (mine? Fender’s Golden Era). 
  6. Money - This links back to point 4 I suppose, but I see so many people with a decent income that won’t spend a penny on their art. Good gear, a good website, good printing, good mixing and mastering, good production… it all costs money. If you don’t have the cash, then there are plenty of ways of getting good results on a shoestring, and investing time can make up for a lack of cash. But if you do have cash, but don’t want to spend it on your art, don’t be surprised if the people who do spend money on their art have better results than you. 
  7. Experience - Think of the thing you wish you had more talent in. For me it’s playing the double bass. Think about the person who’s talents in this area you envy. For me it’s Christian McBride. How long have I be doing the thing? 2 and a half years. How long has Christian McBride been doing the thing? Well, he’s been recording for 35 years, and probably played for another decade before that. Sometimes, we compare the best of someone’s entire career, with the thing we’re working on right now. “My photos aren’t as good as Robert Capa’s Falling Soldier!” well, duh! You’ve picked one of the best photos from the entire life of one of the greats. Shoot for 25 years, pick your best 5 photos as a retrospective, and guaranteed you’ll find something to be proud of.