Interview: Chris Graham of Chris Graham Mastering

Chris Graham HeadshotChris Graham is the people’s mastering engineer. Self-taught, humble, and wise beyond his years, Chris runs a successful mastering business from his home studio while also being a dedicated family man. He succeeds not only on the basis of his considerable skills as an engineer and systems builder, but also on his accessibility, his genuine love of music and people, and his affinity for bad puns and dad jokes, something we absolutely have in common.

Chris also co-hosts a hugely popular podcast called the Six Figure Home Studio Podcast with audio engineer Brian Hood, which I’ve been addicted to since I stumbled across it. In the podcast, Brian and Chris offer a nonstop stream of wisdom nuggets and truth bombs for the aspiring home studio owner. Chris imparts the podcast with his zany humor, his knack for metaphors, and his amazing skill at distilling the teachings of others into easily relatable lessons.

I was lucky enough to get Chris to answer some questions for me about how he got started, how he selects clients, his soon-to-be-relased software tool Bounce Butler, and even his favorite place to eat in his town of Columbus, Ohio.

Why did you decide to focus specifically on mastering instead of mixing and production?

I started out focusing on production. I learned how to mix to serve my production projects, then I learn how to master to serve my production projects when they ran out of budget. It turned out that I was naturally much better at mastering than I was at anything else. I would get customers’ reactions when I produced a project, like, “hey, looking forward to the next project”. Then I’d master a project for a client and they’d be like (funny voice) “OH MY GOSH – YOU’RE GREAT!” Whether it was true or not, it definitely motivated me to get into [mastering].

I also had a mentor that told me I could do mastering for a living after I mastered a project for him when I was just starting out. I didn’t believe him at first, but then eventually I did and so I went for it and it worked out!

Do you miss doing mixing and/or production, and if so, what do you miss about it?

I do miss producing, but I miss the part of producing where I’m helping an artist with their mindset and with becoming the truest version of themselves. I could see myself producing again. However, I probably would be a pretty hands-off producer as far as tech goes. I’d want an engineer do the tech part and I’d want to do the inter-relational stuff and self-actualization stuff with an artist helping to be the best version of themselves.

That’s not that dissimilar to the business coaching thing that I do — I’m talking to people about their mindset around growing their business within the music industry. Most of that’s about overcoming bottlenecks and fear issues and psychology issues and just learning how to be the truest version of themselves. So I can see myself doing that. Mixing though – I don’t think I could ever do that for a living, I don’t think I have the mindset for it. But, it would be really fun to someday mix on an analog console. That to me is exciting. Like a little bit of outboard gear, but mostly just a big console with built-in compression, that would be really fun!

What’s your favorite thing about mastering music for a living?

My favorite thing about owning a business is not having a boss, for sure. My favorite thing about mastering for a living is when I sit down to actually do the mastering, it just feels natural. It feels like riding a bike. I find mastering very extremely relaxing. When I’m sitting down with a record, whether it’s death metal or jazz or folk music or Indian, it’s very relaxing for me to sit down and to try to make that art create more goosebumps when I listen to it. I love it.

What’s the hardest thing about being an independent mastering engineer?

Initially I thought the hardest thing would be finding customers — that turned out to not be the case. The hardest thing is once you find customers, what do you do about it, and how do you handle all those projects? All the organization is very difficult, which is why I systematize all my stuff, more on that shortly.

How did you settle on your DAW of choice?

I tried everything, and eventually settled on a little tiny app called Triumph. It’s no longer for sale, but hopefully someday it will be again. Triumph is awesome, it’s just for mastering, it’s great and it really worked well with my workflow. This is really a workflow question, which DAW you choose — they all basically sound identical.

[Note – Triumph was removed from the Apple App Store in 2017]

Has your mastering plugin chain changed much since you started? How often do you revisit your chain and workflow?

Yes, it changes in some way, shape, or form constantly, depending on the project, but also as I’m experimenting and figuring out things that I like more. Nothing sounds more boring to me than to just settle on a chain and never change it.

What is your take on the ongoing analog vs digital debate?

My take on the ongoing analog versus digital debate is that any debate that says the answer is A or B is a false debate. Sometimes analog is better, sometimes digital is better, depends on the project, on the engineer, depends on a whole slew of things.

What do you think is the most important part of your mastering setup: monitoring, A/D converters, other?

The most important part is these babies right here (indicates ears). The second most important part is whatever makes the noise that these babies hear. So monitoring, hands down.

What is your criteria for selecting projects?

One — how fast do they need it, two — can they afford me, and three — is their music fun to listen to. I’ll work with just about anybody, so long as the time frame and the budget is there, and so long as that they’re not advocating for things that I despise, like violence against women. But generally the thing I love the most about mastering is making something better, bringing out the nuance and increasing the number of goosebumps I get when I listen to it. Obviously if the project came in and it was nothing but distortion I would have an honest conversation with that artist. But I generally I like to work with as many people as possible.

Do you turn down many projects?

Yes, specifically for turnaround time. If they want it next day, especially with a first-time client, that’s a big red flag. And especially if they don’t want to talk to me. I like to talk to people. I like to get a feel for their vibe when I’m working on a project, and if they’re just like “I don’t want to talk, just master this and have it done by tomorrow” then I’m like, uh, yeah, probably not.

Knowing some of the things you know now, what would you do differently in the beginning?

Damn near everything. (laughs) For more on that, check out my podcast the Six Figure Home Studio Podcast, it’s available everywhere and pretty much all I talk about is what I would do differently when I was starting out 16 years ago.

What advice would you give someone who wants to get into audio mastering?

I would say get really good at all the other parts of making a record and then graduate to mastering. The biggest red flag for me is when someone says “I want to be a mastering engineer, and I graduated from college last week!” Cool, either go intern or go make a lot of records. That would be my advice. When you’re mastering there’s over a thousand potential problems that you can have to try to address and help the client address, and it’s very difficult to do that if you don’t know all of those problems. The other thing is if you’re brand new it’s difficult to convince anyone to hire you, because why would they hire you when there’s a bunch of other people with more experience?

So that’s tricky, that’s probably something you need to overcome, and I would just say I’m not really happy with my answer this question so far (laughs) but I would just say it’s really important to serve people. Don’t think about what it is you want to do for a living, and what you want validated by people giving you money. Serve people. Figure out how to help them get where they’re going, and to do that you need to figure out where they want to go. So ask a lot of questions, be kind, treat people the way you want to be treated. I find that lot of people are attracted to mastering (and I think I probably was too) because it’s kind of an elite thing of like you get to say “actually…” all the time or “well, and…” all the time, so correcting people seems to be a common trait among mastering Engineers. Now I’m definitely guilty that as well, but basically don’t get into mastering because you want to be people to think you’re smart.

One of the things that really impressed me about your story was the way you automated and systematized your process. How did you find you had an affinity for scripting and automation?

I do not have an affinity for scripting and automation, I have an affinity for efficiency, and scripting and automation is how I do that. With mastering, I also have an affinity for wanting to show up and do art, and not do anything else. I can get into my mindset, into my flow state instantaneously because of my automation, and that’s what I’m all about. Being able to get in, drop in, do the art and be the creative guy, rather than be like (funny voice) “I’m going to relabel this file, and then I’m going to drag and drop this file, and then I’m going to relabel this folder…” all that crap I don’t have to do because of my systems. I get to art for a living, which I love!

Speaking of systems and automation, I understand you’ve been working on a program called Bounce Butler to automate one of the more time consuming parts of an engineer’s job, can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Yes! Bounce Butler is awesome, I made it about a decade ago because I would bounce files instead of having dinner with my family. It sucked. So I made an app that I could put a bunch of session files into. and it would bounce it in whatever software I was using, whether that was Pro Tools, Logic, Digital Performer, Cubase, Ableton or whatever. It’s basically a render management software.

It’s currently in Early Access and my hope there, my number one mission, is to bring freedom. That’s what I’m trying to do for people and my hope is that it brings a whole bunch of audio engineers a lot more free time to either spend more time working on their business rather than for it, or to go live their frikkin life while their computer bounces out all their renders. I can’t believe that that feature’s not included in like every software out there but it’s not for some reason so I made it for you. Check it out at!

Nice! Thanks again for taking the time, Chris! Last question – what’s your favorite restaurant in Columbus?

My favorite favorite restaurant would be Commune, it’s a vegetarian restaurant that’s fantastic. It’s brand new. My favorite based on frequency is Northstar Cafe, I go to Northstar Cafe at least three times a week. Third place goes to Brassica. Brassica’s incredible.

Find Chris Graham on the web

Chris Graham Mastering
Bounce Butler
The Six Figure Home Studio Podcast
The Six Figure Home Studio Facebook Group
Chris Graham Instagram

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Interview: Stevie Caldwell

Stevie Caldwell is a mom, a software developer, and an amazing singer/songwriter who fronts her own solo music project called And Then There Was One. She started this project in 2014 after breaking into the Boston music scene with bands October Arrest and Six Times Seven. Seeking a more personal outlet for her soulful, sometimes heartbreaking lyrics, she decided to try it her way and hasn’t looked back.

Her influences range from Fleetwood Mac to System of a Down, and her talents as a lyricist and singer shine through in her well-crafted melodic and sometimes angsty 90s flavored alternative rock.

I know Stevie from social media, where she joins me regularly in my weekly DIY Music Chat to discuss songwriting, guitar pedals, and fitting music into an already full life. I was very pleased when she recently agreed to answer some interview questions.

Her new EP entitled “You. Me. Us.” comes out at the end of February 2018.

Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started with music.

One of my favorite memories that I like to share is from when I was about 5 years old. I had one of those long-handled push toys with the balls in the hopper, and my mom had just bought me this fake Mickey Mouse guitar. I was standing in my room, the push toy propped up on a chair so that the handle stuck out like a microphone, strumming this guitar, and singing along to “Rosanna” by Toto. So, that’s been me from the beginning. I didn’t get around to getting an actual guitar until I was 16, but before then I had notebooks full of fleshed out songs that I would sing out loud to myself, imaging the accompaniment.

What is the inspiration for the name of your project?

I was in a 3-piece band that wasn’t doing much in the way of gigging and I really, really wanted to do that more. I decided to start my solo project to scratch that itch, and also to have an outlet for the many songs I was writing that didn’t really fit the style of our band. “And Then There Was One” was kind’ve separating out from the other band members and starting my own thing.

What guides your creative process from song to song?

My song ideas usually come from a snippet of a melody that I’ll get. I have an app called TapeMachine on my phone that I use to sing my ideas into so that I don’t forget them, although I really like the advice I heard from another musician friend about how if you can’t remember a melody a few days later, it probably wasn’t that good. Then I sit down at my computer and hash it out. Other times, if I’m trying to practice the art of not waiting for inspiration, I’ll sit down and literally scroll through drum samples for inspiration. Sometimes I start with guitar, sometimes bass. It all just depends, but I guess I don’t have a set method.

Tell us about your recording process and how that’s evolved.

I’ve gone back and forth a lot on how I record. I mean, I started out in my bedroom with a 4-track recorder! When I first started with And Then There Was One I thought I had to record in a studio. It was a great process, created two awesome, well-produced tracks…but it was not a sustainable model due to cost. I moved into bedroom recording, direct in for my guitar and bass, drum loops, and using my room to record vocals. The results were okay but not great. Discovering that you could hire drummers to play on your stuff remotely was a game-changer for me, as we finding a studio willing to let me bring in my own equipment and just use their space for vocals. No more being afraid to belt it out in case the neighbors overheard or anything.

How often do you play live?

Roughly about once a month.

What type of gear do you use when you play live, and is it different now than when you started?

I have a pedalboard, like a big girl! But seriously, yeah, very different. When I started gigging I was using a modeling amp, but I found it prohibitive when I wanted to do quick switches between effects (like going from clean to dirty) because it would cut out for like a millisecond, but it was enough to be noticeable. I even reworked a song to allow for a pause while I changed presets it was so bad. I eventually moved to using pedals because it was just a smoother transition. I have the same modeling amp though, and I mainly use it for the amp presets and not any of the effects or mods.

How do you balance music, work, and family life?

Family first! This is one of the reasons (just one, mind you, because there are plenty of others) that I won’t ever be a real touring musician. There’s a part of me that thinks it would be fun to experience road-tripping like that, but then I think about how much I would miss my wife and kid while I was gone. So for me, short stints a couple of hours away is probably as far as I’d ever go, if anyone wanted me there! I try to keep work 9-5. I’m both lucky because my 9-5 is also something I dig (working with tech) so it’s not like my days are awful, but because of the industry I’m in there can be a lot of bleed-over into my personal life, what with being on-call and stuff like that. I go through phases with music where, if I’m feeling really inspired I’ll spend every night after work working on something in the studio.

What are you working on now?

Been trying to push this EP out the door for freaking ever!

What are your long term goals for your music?

I mean, I would be super happy to just be a known entity in the local music scene. Here in Boston there are bands/performers that everyone knows, that get really good crowds at their shows, that are always nominated for the Boston Music Awards and getting write-ups in Vanyaland and stuff like that. I think I would be pretty stoked if I got to that level.

What is next for And Then There Was One?

More music, hope to make a music video in the near future, and definitely I’ll be working on another EP once this one is done. Until then, just continuing to release singles every few months as well. And then next: Venus!

Thanks for your time!

Her new EP entitled “You. Me. Us.” will be out at the end of February 2018.


Find And Then There Was One on the web:


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Interview: Todd Severin of Ripple Music

Ripple Music LogoTodd Severin is the President & CEO of San Francisco Bay Area-based Ripple Music, an independent record label that specializes in heavy blues and psychedelic-based hard rock, sometimes referred to as ‘stoner rock’. Ripple Music represents an ever-growing catalog of established as well as up and coming bands such as Mothership, Wo Fat, Gozu, The Watchers, Salem’s Bend, Arrowhead, ZED, Blackwulf, and Mos Generator, all of which can be found on Ripple’s always updated Bandcamp page. I’m on their notification list, and constantly amazed at how often new bands appear on the page, and also how consistently good the various albums are.

Despite a crazy schedule that includes a day job and just getting back from the first annual Ripple Fest in Sweden (!), the very gracious and hard working Todd agreed to answer some questions about what it means to run an independent label, what an indie label is and does, and what young bands should know about indie labels.

Todd Severin

Mojo: Tell us a little bit about your music background. How did you get started with Ripple Music? How did it come together?

Todd: Hell if I know. I’ve just been sitting on the tracks as the Ripple crazy train came and swooped me up.  Actually, I have a history in radio, a disc jockey at KSPC FM in L.A. and KSDT FM in San Diego and mostly I’m a diehard music junkie. My partner used to front a heavy metal band, Blind Justice, and is just as sick in the head about music as I am. About 10 years ago, we’d been talking about starting a ‘zine to review the masses (thousands upon thousands of LP’s and CD’s in our collections). Finally one day, I started The Ripple Effect on Blogspot, which quickly became a very cool review site. Now, it has 15 writers working on it. About a year into the Ripple Effect, a good friend said “rather than just write about the music, you should play it for people to hear“ Next thing you know, he set us up on Blogtalkradio and Ripple Radio became the top-rated music show on the station, and we‘re hanging out interviewing Marky Ramone, Fee Waybill, and others along with Ripple artists like Tony Reed and Kent Stump.  Had a ball.

Within about another year, one thing led to another and JPT Scare Band, an amazing proto-metal, acid blues, heavy psych band from the 70’s dropped a stack of unreleased masters on my desk with the words “Put this out for us,” so, with that, we started the Ripple Music record label and JPT’s Acid Blues is the White Man’s Burden was our first release on glorious yellow and green translucent vinyl, psychedelic double LP. That was 2010. And we’re off and running … All started by a love of seriously heavy riffs. 

What are the services you offer to the bands on your label?

Quite honestly, we do more than many small labels are capable of because we’re focused on artist development and growth. That’s been my focus from the beginning.  So we do all the manufacturing for LP and CD, including our multi-colored, limited edition vinyl runs. [Ripple uses Pirates Press for vinyl pressing.] We also have world-wide physical and digital distribution via our major physical distribution partners and of course iTunes, Spotify etc.  We have full-time PR and do full promotion on all our releases, including some advertising, and we have tour bookers that work with us to help us get our bands out on tour.  More things in the works. 

How does a band become attached to the label?

That’s complex. First and foremost of course, it’s about the music.  I want to hear something different, I don’t need another post-Sabbath, post-Kyuss clone.  Inspired, sure.  But not a clone.  The band has to have a good feeling about them makes them different, what is special about their sound.  Then they must take their music and their profession seriously.  Bands have to tour, they have to gig, they have to work hard, they have to be very aware of self-promotion and marketing.  The band should already have a sizable, established fanbase, and have toured.  A label can not make a band, but a label and band together can create some magic. The band have to be nice people, because it becomes a very close working relationship, they have to be willing to give and take, come with a great work ethic, a sense of humor and an understanding of the realities of the music industry.   Divas are not allowed and won’t be tolerated.  Then there’s just the intangible.  There has to be something special going on.  Something exciting.  I’ve not been excited about some established bands and been very excited about some new bands.  It just has to resonate.  

What’s a typical day (or week) like at Ripple music?

Ha ha, oh man.  Well, first thing to know is that I have a day job.  So, Ripple is always done between things and then many, many dedicated hours after work and weekends.  Essentially, it never stops.  There is no typical week, there is always a rush or an urgent thing to handle.  There are over 300 emails a day, band submissions to listen to, social media to update, test pressings to approve, projects to set up for manufacturing, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, the online store to update, press releases to write, information to send to our PR crew, accounting, inventory, shipping, helping bands on tour, art proofs to approve, videos to make.  It truly is a non-stop, every day full-time job.  Which is cool, because I love it. 

What’s different about an indie label that sets it apart from major labels?

The toughest challenge is simply getting people to listen.  A small indie can’t dump unlimited money into a release to ram it onto the charts.  It’s not like the old days where you could get a song played on a major market FM station and get a breakout hit.  There is very little role for terrestrial radio anymore, and with Sirius/XM and all the internet radio options, mixclouds and podcasts, there’s just no one place for people to go now for music.  With streaming and YouTube and Bandcamp, etc, there are a million options and that’s just for music, not even mentioning other forms of entertainment. It’s like being in a room with a million crying infants all screaming for your attention. Which one do you listen to? So, it’s hard to get people’s attention, to be heard.  But fortunately, there is a large and growing, devoted heavy music/heavy metal underground that isn’t shy about pushing what they love and sharing bands and labels and releases. That underground is growing more vital, and platforms such as Facebook and internet groups actually facilitate that growth.  And there are great heavy music sites and internet radio/mixtapes/podcasts that do an amazing job of staying on top of the music and pushing it out to a potential audience. So the underground is healthy and growing. The challenge still is simply to be heard.  

How many employees does Ripple have?

None.  There are no full time (or even part-time) employees at Ripple.  We do have a crazy crew of fantastic “volunteers” who are essential to Ripple moving down the tracks.  Crazy guys like Matt W, Hakan, Mark, Matt B, Bucky, James (Penfold), and Chance, who essentially work for the love of it or for vinyl and test pressings, and of course my wife, Corrine aka “Bubba”, and Pope’s fiancée Jodi .  Couldn’t survive without them.  We contract our PR, tour booking, distribution, consulting and Festival services.  Some of us get together every week at Ripple HQ to ship out the week’s orders and fill distribution invoices.  Almost all of the day-to-day activities, from Legal to Executive to Operations to A&R falls into my hands. 

Are you partnered with other companies that help take your services global?

Yes, distribution and PR.  We are world-wide.

What advice do you have for indie bands looking to get aligned with a label?

Gonna refer you to the my answer on how a band gets on Ripple.  I believe my answer would apply to most labels.

Are there times when you would recommend a band should not be on a label?

Yes. If the band isn’t going to tour because of work or home issues, and doesn’t gig much, then they’re probably just as well served releasing the album themselves.  The whole point to working with a label is to reach a bigger/different audience than you could on your own, and to help with the multitude of business and operational issues.  If the band focus is simply to write some music, record it and make it available for fans, they can place it on Bandcamp themselves and press their own CD’s and LP’s and good success.  

Is there anything else you would like people to know about Ripple or indie labels?

Yes, people should know that most of the labels in the underground do what they do for the love of it all.  No one (or very few) are making their livings at this.  There’s simply not much money in underground music these days.  So, it’s done for the love of music, that’s the reward.  It’s helping a band realize their dream when they hold their first ever vinyl release in their hands, or helping a band reach another level or a bigger audience. It’s getting fan letters from customers who just dig what we’re doing and thank us for what we’re doing to keep rock alive. It’s the excitement I get every time I discover a brand new band that absolutely has something brand new and kick-ass to bring to the table.

And it’s the fact that I still put out the albums I want in my collection, which means that I have one badass record collection. 

Thanks for your time!

Links and contact info for Ripple Music:

Todd Severin Bobblehead

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