Meet The Masters: Abbey Road engineer Andy Walter

Abbey Road engineer Andy Walter explains how he got into music and why online mastering is so essential.

Since he started at Abbey Road studios back in 1991, Andy Walter has forged a deserving reputation as one of the world’s best engineers.

With a background that spans everything from music hall to ambient dance, Andy has worked with some of the biggest names in music, including The Beatles, Radiohead and world-famous cellist Mstislav Rostropovich.

Here he reveals what he’s learned in his more than 30-year career and explains how online mastering can help artists’ music sound as good as it possibly can…  

What made you want to get into music?

“I started learning the piano at a young age and come from a musical family. My mother Anne was a piano teacher and my uncle Dick Walter played the clarinet, saxophone and became a jazz writer for Ronnie Hazlehurst on TV shows like The Two Ronnies. He is also a celebrated media jingle writer and jazz composer and wrote the internationally acclaimed music for the Yellow Pages adverts, so music was very much in my family.

“I studied piano, violin, organ and composition, writing both classical and pop music. I learned to play the bass guitar and played in several bands, notably The Trash Can Junkies - a thrash glam rock band.

“I also composed ambient dance music and as a result studied at Spirit Studios, Manchester, where I learned how to record music.”

What is it like to work at Abbey Road Studios?

“The studios have changed a lot since my arrival in 1991 – although I don’t think that’s all on me!

“There was very much a divide between the classical and pop world at Abbey Road when I arrived and gradually the divide has been removed.

“I worked in both classical and pop recordings and so had to bridge the gap between both. The studio was very ‘relaxed’ when I arrived and it was common for people to smoke and drink in the building – and even sleep in it during late sessions.

“Work schedules were not as precise so it was normal to spend as much time as was needed (within reason!) to complete a job.

“Nowadays each job is budgeted to time and cost, which helps to concentrate the minds of the engineer, producer and client artist to complete the job efficiently and reasonably.

“Abbey Road has always been a very friendly place – very much a ‘family’ of people with diverse views, backgrounds and skills.

“It’s still a great and fun place to work.”

What are some of your favourite tracks you’ve worked on?

“Working at Abbey Road on such diverse music, you get to work with lots of different artists but one that stands out is when I got to work on Hemispheres for my favourite band Rush – that was a proud moment.

“However, I have worked on recordings from as early as 1898 on old 78 records and everything I find fascinating and challenging as an engineer.”

How has technology changed your job in the past few years?

“When I arrived we only had a couple of computers in the whole building and my room had one of them.

“Later I took on the installation of the CEDAR system which was the first version in the world and cost over £100,000.

“Every day I’m presented with new technology – large and small – and my job is a constant learning curve.”

Why is mastering so essential?

“Mastering not only tries to perfect the sound of a mix, but also levels the tracks of an album and creates the spacing and placement between those tracks.

“More subtle work can also be undertaken like the fades of tracks and the removal of technical glitches and noises within the audio.”

Can online mastering make a bad mix a good mix?

“It can improve the sound, but it still might not sound amazing afterwards. It’s very important that a satisfactory mix is achieved before a track is mastered.”

What are the most common mistakes you see when people master tracks themselves/don’t get a track mastered?

“Normally, artists try and make the track sound too loud. If you want the track to sound louder, turn the volume up on replay!

“To artificially ‘squash’ or compress the sound damages the natural dynamic levity of the track – it’s a damaging process if not used with care.

“A track can be boosted, but this should be done very carefully and with respect for the frequency dynamics.”

What is your process when mastering a track? What are the first things you look for?

“The first thing to look for is a good sounding mix. It’s possible to boost or reduce frequencies to a certain extent, but mastering should really add the glitter and professionalism to a good mix – it’s as simple as that!”

If you could give one tip to aspiring artists when it comes to production/mastering what would it be?

“Be simple and be as ‘live’ as possible – over complication of sound and recording techniques or post production can cause audio confusion and muddle the sound of the ultimate master.”

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