SONIC MASTERY: A CONVERSATION WITH MIXING & MASTERING ENGINEER AARON ROMAN
Meet Aaron, a seasoned professional hailing from Sydney, whose journey from DJ to mixing and mastering engineer has spanned over 14 years. Specialising in Electronic Dance Music and Bass Music, he has made significant contributions to the music industry. In this exclusive interview, we explore Aaron's career evolution, his passion for crafting exceptional soundscapes, and his valuable insights for aspiring producers.
- Hi Aaron! You’re a mixing and mastering engineer from Sydney with over 14 years of experience and you specialise in Electronic Dance Music and Bass Music. You are also formerly known as the performing artist STALKER and August Roman, two aliases with whom you released music on major record labels and even got numerous charting positions on the ARIA charts. Thanks for answering our questions today!
Let’s start first with how you got into music and how you started as a mixing and mastering engineer?
Probably sounds old school, but I actually started out as a DJ playing house parties and small shows around my local area. From there, my curiosity of music eventually led me to producing my own music which was pretty bad at the time, but as I continued to work, the quality grew and so did the fans.
Some DJs around my local area wanted to learn how to use Ableton, so I started doing one on one lessons, which then led to me doing remixes and paid production alongside my own releases.
Through the collaborations, I was able to meet some really cool people who showed me the business side of music and how to sustainably stay afloat in this industry.
I did really enjoy doing production, but I naturally just gravitated towards engineering because I have an obsession with making music sound really big and clean and a lot of people were asking me how I did certain mixes, which then led to me having clients who wanted help with their music to sound more ‘finished’.
- You’ve worked on many different projects across a wide variety of sounds from House, Trance, Melodic Bass, Trap, Dubstep, and music coming out of your studio has been released on major labels like Deadbeats, DIM MAK, Armada, Spinnin, Trap Nation, Universal, Sony, Confession, Lowly, UKF, and many more! What are the highlights of your career?
Those labels are some pretty crazy highlights just there!
I honestly can’t take full credit for those releases, the artist always does the leg work.
The fact that they trusted me with their music was more than enough to be considered a career highlight.
- Is there a music genre that you enjoy the most working on? Does it make your job easier to work on a musical style you like?
It’s not so much the musical style that gets me excited, it's the musicality and emotion I feel that gets me excited to work on a song.
- What is the longest you’ve worked on a track? and the shortest?
My own productions have taken the longest time, say three months.
And the shortest could be an hour.
- Would you say that working/staying on a track for too long can give you tunnel vision? Or that you may end up going in circles?
Sometimes you need to let the paint dry, come back in a couple days with a clear head and reassess.
It’s harder said than done, although it’s something I preach often because your mind can play tricks on you the more you listen to a song or section.
You only have a certain amount of listens before the clouds come in and everything is washed out.
- Do you take breaks to avoid ear-fatigue while working on a project? If so, how often and do you take these breaks in silence or not necessarily?
All the time!
Coffee breaks are a great way to clear them mind from the fog.
I do this daily as I need to respect my ears.
- Mixing and mastering are two very different disciplines, in your opinion what are the special skills required to be a good mixing engineer compared to the ones needed to be a good mastering engineer?
In my opinion a good mixing engineer should understand the mastering process.
It’s important to know what genre expectations are in terms or loudness so that the engineer can prepare the mix to be ready for it.
An example would be running your mix through a limiter to stress test the mix to hear underlying problems that might’ve not been heard if the song was never compressed.
- What is your approach to mixing/mastering? Do you use plugins? hardware? or a combination of the two?
I use a mix of analog and digital tools for both processes.
It really depends on what the project needs.
- What is your standout gear? the equipment/software you use the most? and which gear would you recommend as a ‘must-have’ for someone starting out?
Aside from my speakers and converters, a piece of equipment that I use the most is the Dangerous Music BAX EQ.
I use it on almost every master I do!
- Now tell us, is there any real difference between $1,000 speakers and $10,000 speakers? Is it necessary to have an expensive pair of speakers/headphones to achieve a quality mix/mastering?
While having high quality speakers can certainly improve the accuracy and detail it is not a guarantee of achieving a quality result.
It is more important to have a well-treated acoustic environment and to develop your listening skills.
Even with expensive equipment, if your room acoustics are poor or unbalanced, it can affect how accurately you perceive the sound.
I think it's more important to have a good relationship with your environment.
I’ve measured my room and am quite aware of the flaws it has so I can compensate or not allow myself to be misled.
- You graduated from SAE institute back in 2010, the technology and equipment available have continuously evolved since then, what are some of the gear that has come up over the years that have really changed the game, like a small revolution for the profession?
Back in 2010 I was mainly using Sylenth1 and Massive for productions.
2014 was the year Serum was released and that completely changed how I used sounds in production.
- Is it important for mixing/mastering engineers to always learn and adapt to stay up to date with new technology?
Absolutely, I think it's important to learn and evolve in any industry you’re in.
I still hop onto YouTube for tutorials and sign up for online courses.
- Are there any common mix mistakes you see when receiving tracks for mastering that could be easily avoided?
I would say not disabling the limiter/clipper on the master channel when exporting a pre master.
- Finally, for all the producers out there who are just starting out in the industry and aspiring to do well, what advice would you give them?
The fastest way to move the needle towards success is to either pay for professional help or collaborate with someone slightly better than you.
Simply sitting at home alone and struggling away is not a good use of your limited time.
I’ve been doing this for years and I’m still learning.