Name: Anna Frick
Title: Mastering Engineer and Restoration Center Manager
Company or Organization: Airshow Mastering
Artists or projects worked with: Third Man Records’ Rise & Fall of Paramount Records (Vol. 1 & 2), Ralph Stanley, Plvnet, Billy Strings, Laura Brehm, Ben Sollee, Monroeville, Doc Watson, Mojo, Simon Balto, Kevin Herig, Triggers & Slips, Johnny Johnston, The Clyfford Still Museum
FEMMUSIC: How did you get started in studio production?
AF: I first got started when I was in high school in Fort Collins (go Impalas!). My senior year I realized that I was going off to college and wasn’t going to be able to hear my friend’s songs every day. So I said, Hey, let’s get some good recordings of your songs so I can take them with me. She thought I was crazy until I got her into the studio. Then I just fell in love the process – I wanted to know what every knob and button did. At the end of it, our engineer looked at me and said “you know you can make a career out of this, right?” And that was it.
I graduated from CU-Denver’s recording arts program in 2003 and eventually found myself working at Airshow.
FEMMUSIC: Tell me about mastering. What are you listening for when tracks come to? What are you aiming for when they leave your hands?
AF: The first thing I do when I get tracks in is take a good listen. I’m listening for balance in the mix overall, but I’m also listening for what makes the track stand out: Is it driven by the bass line? Is the singer’s voice really unique? Is it the atmosphere? Does it have a really intimate vibe or does it rock out? Then I have a conversation with my client: What kind of vibe are you looking for? Is there anything you don’t like about your mix? What music were you listening to or were you inspired by when you recorded it?
That gives me the direction I want to go in mastering. Mastering is such a combination of technical knowledge and creative input. It employs both sides of my brain. Sometimes I have to balance that by really listening to and focusing on what my client wants. They’ve been working on their album for quite a while by the time I hear it, and it’s their vision – their baby – that they are putting out into the world. I don’t want to impede that vision. Ultimately, I want my clients (and their fans) to be happy with the record. I want to see it do really well for them when it’s released and I want the client and their fans to be listening to that record over and over again. There’s a lot in the mastering process that leads to that: It’s completing that vision the artist has, but it should also sound cohesive across the record, and the sound has to translate well on any system it’s played on.
For the restoration work I do, it’s imperative that I’m able to get the very best transfer of the source material as I can, because sometimes I might only get one pass (like with really fragile media). That involves everything from understanding the recording medium, the equipment and the transfer process to having the tools and the knowledge to tackle all sorts of bizarre problems. And understanding digital audio files and how to maintain file integrity over time.
FEMMUSIC: What challenges do you see for women in studio production?
AF: I think the biggest challenge for women is fighting the stereotypes of what a woman’s role is in the studio. We are not lost, we are not someone’s girlfriend, and we are not there to make your coffee. I can’t tell you how many times I get asked to make coffee for a client simply because I’m the only female in the studio. It’s like “Dude, get your own coffee! I’ve got work to do!” There’s just this assumption that if you’re female in a studio, you’re the coffee girl.
FEMMUSIC: What mentors did you have when learning?
AF: First of all, I’m still learning. I don’t pretend to know everything – ever. As far as mentors I had as I was first starting out, obviously the first engineer I worked with – Jason Hollar – inspired my whole career. But there have been so many others along the way. Roy Pritts, when I was studying at CU-Denver. His attitude was just so genuine and dedicated to the craft. He taught me to embrace my mistakes, dissect them, and then move forward with their knowledge in my tool belt.
I’ve been really fortunate that I’ve been accepted into the mastering world so well. At Airshow, a lot of that has to do with David Glasser really taking me under his wing. Just this last year, we re-focused the company on just mastering and built a new studio with only one mastering room that Dave and I share. Dave offered me the only other mastering position at the new studio. That put a huge feather in my cap to be able to carry the Boulder studio just between the two of us.
I’m connecting with more and more women in production these days, building a sisterhood of sorts. Sometimes it’s just easier to talk shop with other women who understand the challenges, but also speak the same technical language. That’s been really cool.
FEMMUSIC: Are women in studio production treated differently than men? How do you see this?
AF: I think it’s changing. But sometimes, people will avoid looking me in the eye or just flat out won’t acknowledge that I’m a part of the conversation. I’ve even been boxed out of conversations before because it was assumed that I was just someone’s girlfriend. My husband (who also works in the industry, but not in audio) thinks it’s hilarious when people try to talk audio with him when I’m standing right next to him. He’s like, “Um, you’re speaking gibberish to me. Let me introduce you to my wife, she’ll be able to translate.”
FEMMUSIC: What advice do you give to women wanting to go into studio work?
AF: You’re going to have to work harder. You get over making coffee by being the smartest mind in the room. And by the way, being the smartest person doesn’t mean you know all the answers; it means you know where to find the answers and know the questions to ask. Roy Pritts taught me that when I was in school. It might be the best advice I’ve ever gotten. So, don’t be afraid to ask questions when you don’t understand something. Stick your neck out and say something in a technical conversation because otherwise they’re not going to notice you. Get curious, get geeky and embrace it.
FEMMUSIC: What one thing would you change about the music industry?
AF: I would love it if we could find a better way to distribute the wealth. It’s feast or famine for so many musicians. Which sucks when there are so many ways to experience and engage with music right now. I guess I mostly wish that the general public would recognize the role that music plays in their everyday lives and not take it so much for granted. Beyonce is great and puts on a fantastic show, but don’t forget about the band in the corner pouring their hearts out of their guitars while you’re drinking your beer.