Interview: Mark Trewella of Full Circle Mastering
I read Gearslutz, a lively audio engineering forum full of opinions, techniques, and gossip. I have a habit of clicking on the links in member’s post signatures to check out their website & work. One of the members that I scoped out was Mark Trewella of Full Circle Mastering. I was interested right away to learn he was from Philadelphia (close to my home base of Cleveland Ohio). But mostly Mark interested me because he was young and apparently successful in the difficult audio industry. I contacted him for the following interview, and even had him master a track I was working on at the time (it sounded great). Read on to hear how he got started, and what principles continue to guide his work with Full Circle Mastering.
So yea Mark, I’ve been looking forward to this interview. I’ve read your bio on Full Circle Mastering, but I’ll still ask the obligatory, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into mastering?
Thanks, me too. I guess I have always been fascinated by mastering since I first heard such a thing existed. The idea of sitting in a quiet well-tuned room with an excellent monitoring system and making the final sonic decisions to a body of music was very attractive to me. After a year or so living and working various jobs in NYC I decided to try to look for an apprenticeship at a mastering studio. I ended up at Scott Hull Mastering in Midtown Manhattan. There I learned from some incredible engineers. Along with Scott; Dave McNair, Joe Yannece, Randy Merrill and Richard Morris were all working out of rooms there at the time. It was quite the educational experience!
How did you get the apprenticeship?
I basically sent a resume and cover letter to every mastering studio in NYC.
Do you think specialized schooling in audio was worth it?
It was a lot of fun and I did learn quite a bit, nothing really pertaining directly to what I do now but it certainly helped me get my head around some audio basics and it was great to be surrounded with others passionate about sound. It was a good jumping off point. I will say since I chose to get an education in audio it left me with few options to earn a living in another field. It sort of put me in a position where I knew I would have to be committed to doing something with audio/music for the rest of my life, which is not exactly the easiest career choice in the world.
Wow, alright. and now Full Circle Mastering is a full time job for you?
Yes, it is my main source of income and my full time job.
Huge congrats. You’ve succeeded in an incredibly difficult industry. How long was the period of time between “open for business” and “main source of income”, and what were a few of the critical actions you took to make it work?
One of the main reasons I am able to make it work is keeping a low overhead. That has always been a key point of my business model, keep overhead expenses as low as possible. It is also the reason I can keep my rates very affordable. When I first opened I was working another job. As my mastering business increased I slowly cut back my hours to have more time available for mastering. As time went on I quit my job all together to focus all my energy on the studio.
What is the most frequently / severely flawed aspect of mixes you receive? ie, tonal balance, spatial balance, dynamic balance? Or, in other words, what are some trendy ways to suck?
If I had to pick one it would have to be tonal balance. Too much bass, not enough bass, too much high end, not enough high end, etc.
Do most of your leads come through your website? Do you have other channels? Flyers? Radio spots? Friends / referrals?
At this point the majority of my work comes in through word of mouth. There are a few mix engineers who I have developed a good working relationship with who send me stuff regularly. I do get some clients in through other means though such as Google searches as well as people who discover my studio through internet audio forums I frequent. Outside of that I do not really do much advertisement. I run a local Craigslist ad about once a week. It has brought in a few clients for me and takes no time at all to post a listing.
I’ve got to ask how you can survive charging such low rates. You must keep quite busy!
Well that comes back to having a low overhead to a degree. Also my outlook is that I would rather work more at a low rate as opposed to work less at a higher rate.
I like my rate to not be out of reach for indie artists and home recordists and that requires me to keep it affordable. Quite a few of my clients seem to not even have intentions of making money from their album, or at least not a lot of money. I have had clients who simply want to press 100-200 copies of their album to give to their friends and family. They do not really have a budget to spend $2,000 on mastering.
Just yesterday I did a single for a guy who just records stuff in his bedroom studio for fun. I don’t think he is going to sell the song or anything; he will probably put it on his MySpace page or play it for his friends or something. Still, he wanted to get it mastered and have the track sound the best it possibly can. There are a growing number of people making music in home or project studios that have a need for high quality mastering without blowing their saving account and Full Circle Mastering in there to provide that service.
“I’m honestly very surprised by that. Those are the very same people that I figured would simply download T-Racks & be so impressed.”
Sure, well I think there are lots of people who do that too. The guy I did the single for yesterday actually mentioned to me he tried to go about mastering it himself before sending his mix to me but did not feel happy with the results he was getting. When I sent him his master he was absolutely ecstatic with how it sounded. It makes me feel good. I think once someone sends their music to a professional mastering engineer who does great work they no longer try to do it themselves.
Well, how can you offer revisions free of charge? How do manage client relationships without getting taken advantage of?
I offer free revision because I want my clients to be 100% satisfied with their master. Charging for revisions can create a communication barrier between the artist and mastering engineer. Something may need to be addressed but the artist is unwilling to do so do to the additional cost. Oddly enough I get very few revisions despite offering them for free.