LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – JANUARY 2015: With three Grammy wins and one Latin Grammy win already to his name, renowned mastering engineer Gavin Lurssen has been nominated for yet another Grammy Award this year in the category Best Engineered Album for mastering The Way I’m Livin’ by country music singer Lee Ann Womack (which is also up for Best Country Album). He shares the nomination with fellow Grammy-winner Chuck Ainlay, who recorded and mixed the album using ATC SCM25A active three-way near-field monitors. When the project moved to Lurssen’s L.A.-based studio, his beefy ATC SCM150ASL active three-way mid-field monitors took over and guaranteed that Lurssen’s practiced ears would direct the tweaks and tucks so that Womack’s beautiful melodies would entrance listeners on everything from ear buds to expensive home theaters.
Ainlay installed ATC’s biggest soffit-mounted professional monitors, the SCM300ASLs, at his BackStage Studio around the turn of the century. “ATCs possess tremendous accuracy throughout the vocal range, and the levels I get on ATCs always seem to translate to any other environment” he said. “Since Lee Ann Womack is among the greatest female country music singers ever, I obviously had to make sure that her vocals shined on the new album. It’s also a very dynamic album that comes from the heart; it’s not just about radio hits.” Though happily accustomed to his SCM300ASLs, Ainlay had long been at the mercy of whatever loudspeakers were present whenever he worked away from BackStage. “I heard the relatively new ATC SCM25As at AES a while back and I knew I had to have them,” he said. “I bought the floor models!” Thanks to that purchase, Ainlay was able to record and mix The Way I’m Livin’ at Sound Stage Studios and still rely on his ATC SCM25As’ honesty.
“Chuck gave me some direction, but mainly he wanted me to do what I do,” said Lurssen, who is well known for delivering masters that retain an organic “chunkiness” that conveys life and dimension even on today’s ubiquitous, and often lossy, digital formats. “I strive to retain and accentuate the depth of field and lower midrange support that ultimately supports the high-end image. The clarity of ATC’s midrange is exceptional and allows me to really hear exactly what I’m doing. Of course, Chuck wanted me to produce a competitive master, but we were both in agreement that it should not be over-slammed or over-cooked.” In part to help ground his vision for the recording with Ainlay’s, Lurssen often flipped back and forth between his larger ATC SCM150ASLs to his pair of smaller ATC SCM25As – the same model that Ainlay had used. “You can never have too much information in these matters,” he laughed.
Although much of Lurssen’s magic is beyond the ability of words to describe, he was able to articulate a few of the critical components that he listened for on The Way I’m Livin’ and why their success helped the recording as a whole. “Lee Ann’s melodic structures simply had to shine,” he said. “In each instance, I had to make sure that the song was really ‘let out,’ and the vocals were usually the critical leverage point. When that melodic structure is presenting itself, it’s important to hear two aspects of the mid range. The first is the upper part, where the song is really going to jump out of the speakers. The second is the lower part that supports that upper part. Determining exactly where those two parts meet is critical for getting the right depth of field, balance, and support. The ATC’s let me zero in on that aspect so that I was sure everything was perfect. Because that balance is correct, Lee Ann’s voice and melody seem to leap from the loudspeakers.”
To get everything sounding just so, Lurssen employs an unusually large number of hardware compressors, limiters, and equalizers. “I’m trying to do as little as possible while still having the greatest impact possible,” he said. “I use a lot of gear, but I use each piece very subtly. A bit of each of the best works way better than a lot of any single piece, no matter how good it is. When everything is said and done, it needs to sound like I was never there – there can be no veil between the artist and the listener.”
Lurssen first heard ATC monitors years ago when a fellow engineer insisted that their team use a pair of ATC SCM50ASLs for a Pink Floyd project. “The rest of us made a fuss because we all had some other speakers that we were already used to,” he said. “But he set them up and within literally three seconds, I knew that I had to have my own pair. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind, which is a rare thing for anyone, I think. That certainty never went away, and so when I set out on my own a few years later, I started with ATC monitors and then built everything else around them. I’ve found that when I get a master sounding right on my ATCs, the master will successfully translate to any other system, pro or consumer.”
Gavin Lurssen will be present at ATC’s NAMM press conference on Friday, January 23 in support of the new ATC product introduction.