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Bob Ludwig on Mastering: 12 Quotes Every Aspiring Student Should Read

Bob Ludwig on Mastering
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Bob Ludwig – AKA Golden Ears – is a multi-Grammy award winning mastering engineer that has worked with everyone from Hendrix to Daft Punk. Here’s 12 seminal quotes from the man himself…


Tool. Hendrix. Phish. Megadeath. Metallica. Nirvana. U2. Sting. The Police. Daft Punk. Guns N’ Roses. As wrap sheets go, that’s a damn impressive list of mastering credits. 

But what’s even crazier is that the above-listed bands and artists are just a mere selection of the acts Ludwig has worked with during the past five decades. 

Most people have no idea who Bob Ludwig is but if you worked in the music industry in the US at any point between the 1960s and the present day, you’ll know Bob.

The guy’s an institution at this point and he has more Grammys than Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney combined. 

If you want to learn how to get good at mastering, you need to study Bob Ludwig’s approach to the process, learn about how he approaches sound, and his ability to swing across myriad different genres – from metal to EDM to country and pop. 

I could talk about this guy all day, but rather than do that and bore your pants off, let’s defer to the man himself (and props to Bobby Owsinski for his awesome interview with Bob Ludwig which inspired this post). 

Bob Ludwig Quotes About Mastering 

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“I always say that the secret of being a great mastering engineer is being able to hear a raw tape and then in your mind hear what it could sound like, and then knowing what knobs to move to make it sound that way.”

“I think I can get 90 percent of the way there sometimes in a couple of minutes, and just keep hanging with it and keep fine-tuning it from there.”

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, I hear something and I can figure out what it needs, and fortunately I know what all my gear does well enough to make it happen.”

“I always tell people, ‘Thank God these things [digital-domain compressors] weren’t invented when The Beatles were around, because for sure they would’ve put it on their music and would’ve destroyed its longevity.’”

“I’m totally convinced that over-compression destroys the longevity of a piece.”

“When someone’s insisting on hot levels where it’s not really appropriate, I find I can barely make it through the mastering session.”

“Never in the history of mankind have we listened to such compressed music as we listen to now.”

“Whenever I’m doing an album that starts with a single, I’ll have time to do it at several different levels so they can hear what they’d be missing if they squash it to death.”

“We keep trying to educate producers all the time that you have to check it out on your computer with Sound Check turned on to hear how it will sound when it’s streamed.”

“Every client that comes in, once they tune in to what they’re listening to, starts commenting on how they’re hearing things in their mixes that they never heard before, even sometimes after working weeks on them.”

“One reason I’ve always tried to get the very best speaker I can is I’ve found that when something sounds really right on an accurate speaker, it tends to sound right on a wide variety of speakers.”

“I love all kinds of music. I master everything from pop and some jazz to classical and even avant-garde. […] I always put myself in the artist’s shoes and ask myself, ‘What if this were my record? What would I do with it?’”

Bob Ludwig Tips For Mastering

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The Art of Listening

For Ludwig, the key to great mastering lies in the ability to listen critically and imagine the full potential of a recording.

“I always say that the secret of being a great mastering engineer is being able to hear a raw tape and then in your mind hear what it could sound like, and then knowing what knobs to move to make it sound that way,” he explains.

This acute listening ability allows Ludwig to quickly identify the strengths and weaknesses of a mix and make decisions on how to enhance it.

“I think I can get 90 percent of the way there sometimes in a couple of minutes, and just keep hanging with it and keep fine-tuning it from there,” he says.

The Dangers of Over-Compression

Bob Ludwig on Mastering: 12 Quotes Every Aspiring Student Should Read

One of the most significant challenges facing mastering engineers today is the so-called “loudness war” – the trend of making recordings as loud as possible, often at the expense of dynamic range and sound quality.

Ludwig is a vocal critic of this practice, arguing that over-compression can destroy the longevity and emotional impact of a piece of music.

“I always tell people, ‘Thank God these things [digital-domain compressors] weren’t invented when The Beatles were around, because for sure they would’ve put it on their music and would’ve destroyed its longevity,’” he says. “I’m totally convinced that over-compression destroys the longevity of a piece.”

Ludwig urges producers and artists to resist the temptation to push levels to the extreme, even if it means sacrificing some initial impact.

“When someone’s insisting on hot levels where it’s not really appropriate, I find I can barely make it through the mastering session,” he admits.

The Importance of Accurate Monitoring

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To make informed decisions about how to process a recording, a mastering engineer needs to be able to hear every detail with clarity and precision. For Ludwig, this means investing in the best possible monitoring system.

“One reason I’ve always tried to get the very best speaker I can is I’ve found that when something sounds really right on an accurate speaker, it tends to sound right on a wide variety of speakers,” he explains.

Ludwig’s current setup includes a pair of custom-built EgglestonWorks Ivy speakers, which feature 23 drivers per cabinet and weigh nearly 800 pounds each.

The result is a stunningly accurate and revealing listening experience that allows Ludwig to hear things in recordings that even the artists and producers may have missed.

But if you’re just getting started, you don’t need all of that fancy stuff. If you have a computer, some headphones or speakers, you can begin the process of learning to master your music.

I’ve worked as a professional mastering engineer for 20+ years and my guide – Mastering 101: A Complete Framework For Beginners – condenses everything I learned working in studios in LA over two decades into a single, step-by-step process that anyone can implement.

And the best part? You can do it all with free tools.

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This step-by-step framework is the exact process I use to master music professionally. It is the culmination of 20+ years of experience, condensed down into a single, easy to follow workflow

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