The art of audio mastering is both permanent and delicate work, requiring a well-trained ear and a knack for finding creative ways around unusual problems. Jacob Munnery likens it to being the “the MacGyver of the audio world”. Here he shares with us how he’s established himself in the music industry through plenty of study, volunteering and work to fine tune his craft and establish his own busines, Clockwork Audio Mastering.
Hi Jacob, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for us. Firstly please introduce yourself and tell us your profession.
Not a problem! (We all secretly love talking about ourselves). My name is Jacob Munnery. I’m an Audio Mastering Engineer.
We understand you work at a few different places. Where do you work and what do you do there?
These days I work full-time at JMC Academy in South Melbourne, where I teach classes for the “Bachelor of Creative Technology (Audio Engineering and Sound Production)”. It’s a big title, but more or less it’s a course in all things audio-related. I teach practical classes, which means you can normally find me in the studios with my students, experimenting with all sorts of recording and mixing techniques. Most of what I teach there is music-production based.
As well as working at JMC, I operate an audio-mastering business called Clockwork Audio Mastering, where I’ve been working on a bunch of really great music lately. Everything from Soul to Grindcore has come through here, and so far I haven’t found anything to dislike.
How did you go about establishing Clockwork Audio Mastering?
Establishing a business is easier than you might think as long as you don’t hire out a shopping plaza from day one. If you start at a grass-roots level, it’s deciding on what kind of business to establish which is the hard part. When I learnt what audio mastering is, I tried my hand at it, and found I really enjoyed the process, it felt rewarding and productive to me, so I kept at it. Eventually I decided that mastering was my thing, so I started to dream up my own company, and slowly started to work towards it.
What kind of skills, experience or education do you need for your line of work?
Unlike, say, a doctor, you don’t strictly need any education to be an audio mastering engineer. Though I think I’d be finding it pretty difficult without a really good understanding of the principles of audio behind me. I happen to have the same degree that I now teach. As well as that, I studied audio mastering with Berklee Music. Some people out there say that you don’t need an education in audio to work with it. I’d say if something genuinely interests you, why not study it anyway? And if it doesn’t interest you, then it’s probably not a great career path to choose.
Mastering is a very specific process, where the final tweaks are made to a recording. You need to have patience and a well-trained ear, as well as a knack for finding creative ways around unusual problems. A bit like the MacGyver of the audio world.
What are some of the challenges you face in your line of work? What do you like most and least about your job?
Mastering is the last stage of production where any issues can be corrected, and so it can be quite a delicate process. You’re correcting issues and imperfections that may have occurred in the recording or mixing stage, so you need to have a high level of confidence in your monitoring system, and a good understanding of the format that you’re mastering for.
I got a call once from a band to say that they’d just pressed 1,000 copies of a CD, and every single one had come back faulty. It was assumed to be my mistake at first, but turned out to be a “duplication error” at the pressing plant. Needless to say, for how daunting the words “duplication error” look, they brought quite a relief to me.
The best part of my job is being right there in the middle of a mastering session, knowing that all the decisions you make are permanent. It’s very rewarding listening to the ‘before’ and ‘after’ of what you do, and realising you’ve made things noticeably better than they were originally.
Did you always want to work in the music industry?
I knew I wanted to have something to do with music from the time I was about 15 or so, but I only really learnt about mastering when I was 21(ish), and it creeped up on me from there. In fact, when I was in high school, I half wanted to be a teacher, half wanted to be an audio engineer. As it turns out, I’m now an audio engineering teacher, rad!
Where were you working before you landed these roles? We all start somewhere!
After I finished studying I worked freelance for a while (along with my checkout-chick day job), recording and mixing bands, and working in live sound. I ended up landing a couple of really cool casual/contract jobs, one was at Nova 100 in the production department, and another at The Corner Hotel doing live sound. Thinking back on it, some of the best experience I’ve gained all started from volunteering somewhere, just because I was genuinely interested and excited by these places. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was doing sound at a Spiderbait gig!
What’s the best gig or band you ever had the pleasure of working with, and why did it stand out for you?
I had to put a fire out on stage once in front of 900 people, that’s pretty memorable.
I honestly think that my favourite bands to work with are the local ones. I’m really pleased to be constantly reminded that sometimes the local talent is way better, and a lot cooler, than anything you might see on TV. If I had to pick one, I’d say I really enjoyed working on The Bennies recordings, they’ve been getting a lot of attention lately, and I can see why.
Are there any bands, venues, or companies that you absolutely dream of working with?
All of them!! I just want to work on music that I would choose to listen to. And thankfully, it already happens, all the time. I can think of a few big record labels that I’d like to get in the good books of, but the best stuff is the bands that I can go and eat Lord Of The Fries with for pre-production.
Do you have any advice for young people who would like to pursue a career in mastering or producing?
Get going! The audio industry can be a bit scary, and sometimes it seems like there’s just no way in. There is. You need to find what excites you, and get out there and learn everything you can about it from the people in the know. Sometimes you have to dive into the deep end.
Have a plan, always know what the next step is, and ask yourself what you’re doing TODAY to get there. Sometimes that means working a shift at your day job so you can pay for some earplugs and a ticket to a show. Always wear earplugs at shows.
After finishing uni, I had to volunteer bucketloads before I earned a single dollar, so don’t be ashamed to be a checkout-chick on the side, just always remember that it’s part of a bigger plan. Don’t let yourself regress to the idea that you’re a checkout chick, you’re an AUDIO ENGINEER, you’re just working a crappy job while you get all the experience and knowledge you can. Be proactive. Be proactive. Be proactive. Start today.
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Check out Jacob’s audio mastering work at www.clockworkmastering.com