FilmThe Cure celebrated their 40th anniversary at London’s Hyde Park last year and the footage of the landmark event will hit theatres across the world on 11 July. The project has been mixed at Abbey Road in Studio Three and The Mix Stage, and mastered by Abbey Road's Andy Walter. We caught up with Andy who spoke about his experience mastering the project with Robert Smith.
Andy Walter mastering sessions with Robert SmithI last worked with Robert on the legendary double DVD of ‘The Trilogy – Live in Berlin’ back in 2002, I think it was. Robert had emailed me and asked to work on two new DVDs and CDs done at the Hyde Park Festival and the Meltdown Festival (released later this year) and I was both honoured and thrilled that he remembered me and was looking forward to working with me again!
‘Are you deaf yet?’ he laughed as he got out of his taxi and walked up the steps into the studios ‘I’ve got a few fun projects for you’. We shared notes on how we had changed, grown wiser but greyer (well, I had!) This time around he was accompanied by Paul Corkett, his excellent front of house sound engineer whom I instantly liked. It turns out, Paul was part of the engineering brains behind The Trilogy and other past releases, so we felt like we had shadowed our careers, both working on projects for The Cure and now we finally had the pleasure to meet and work together in the studio. It was to be a great team and a great few days at Abbey Road.
This Anniversary DVD celebrates 40 years of the band, recorded at The Hyde Park Festival and is presented in both 5.1 and stereo and the concert is everything that any fan of The Cure would want to hear, beautifully shot in 4K and audio expertly mixed by Robert and Paul – simply epic! It took three days of listening in my mastering suite, checking syncs against picture, finalising the sound and watching one of the great bands in the UK command the stage and we were all in our element. It had been a big job to assemble and get to this point and to add further complications there was also to be a film cinematic worldwide release of the video in 5.1, released for one night only on 11 June, 2019. Andy Dudman who was to manage this film mix and I took Robert and the band’s long time film director Tim Pope into Abbey Road's Mix Stage. Robert sat watching the gig on the Mix Stage’s huge 20ft screen, quite in awe of the surroundings and the phenomenal surround sound. We all had everything bar the popcorn!
Andy and I had shared notes on the surround and stereo mixes beforehand, and I sat at the back of the film mastering session offering my advice and considerations. The DVD, CD and Film masterings are all from the same audio stems, but each need to be considered for their respective outputs and potentially ‘could’ need different mastering treatments. In the end, the film mastering is very similar to the DVD and CD and it works brilliantly well, I think. The mix is constant, clear and equal between film, DVD and CD outputs and Robert as usual was the frontman, intensely listening, considering, directing and approving the entire operation.
You see, Robert is hands on with everything in the studio and that’s what I love about working with this great and multi talented musician. He was singer, performer, frontman, producer and mixer and probably many more roles besides. I’m sure he even got me a coffee or two! He and Paul mixed this gig at his own studio on different monitors and I think it’s always hard to come to a different studio and hear the thing again from a different perspective via different equipment and put it up for scrutiny. But any mixing engineer worth his salt will always value the opinions of a good mastering engineer – if nothing else he loves the compliments on his mix, it boosts one's ego and I am happy to oblige anyone whose mix will warrant that sort of treatment!
Robert was patiently waiting to hear my verdict on his mix and my thoughts for the DVD and CD masterings in my mastering studio, but first he wanted to hear the mastering sound before he found out what I had done. He didn’t want to be fooled by what he thought I’d done to the sound beforehand, but just listen to what I had actually done and then see what that was afterwards and how it worked. It's great to work with someone who has such knowledge, fine ears and is a ‘practical’ perfectionist. One can consider the options, think through the practical choices reasonably and then the decision can be made and you can move on to the next. Mastering is not an exact science, but there is a point when you have arrived and should not go any further. Judging this point is the real skill and is something that is always perfected and improved upon and experience just lends that weight. I showed him my carefully considered EQ notes and comments on the gig.‘But is that really all you have done?’, he says looking at my few choice but carefully selected recommendations, ‘…but how come - it sounds really professional now – how did you do that?!’, he laughed. Well why change something needlessly to put my particular stamp on it, I say. It’s a great mix – it just needs that lift or alteration in the right places…it needs that magic wand. The mastering role works well with someone like Robert Smith; complimenting what’s good and being able to criticise what needs slightly adjusting with an understanding and experienced musician who can hear and understand what you’re trying to (often tactfully) convey. The right EQ and level in just the right place and it can make all the difference and that’s it - the job is done. And so with relief everyone now feels excited and confident that we’re finally putting together another great masterpiece into the extensive catalogue of this legendary band and Robert can move onto the next exciting projects he has planned. I have learned over the years at Abbey Road that the mastering engineer role is often not only to be the final audio referee, but to take and share that heavy burden and responsibility that some artists have carried with them for months on a project. A problem shared is a problem halved and this DVD is well worth sharing with anyone!
When we parted on the last night of approvals in good spirits, Robert apologised to me that it had actually been a late night for me and that it was now gone 11.30pm.
‘Oh Robert’, I said, ‘don’t worry, this is nothing…don’t you remember that for The Trilogy you had me up for 3 nights until 3am.’
‘Ah well’ he said ‘you must be getting better at your job, Andy’ and he laughed and walked out into the night.
The Cure - The Anniversary 1978 – 2018 Live in Hyde Park London is released on DVD this summer. The Cureation 25 is to be released on DVD and CD later in the year. The cinematic film of Live in Hyde Park will be screened for one night only on 11 June, 2019.