In this interview spotlight, we chat with Sunny Nam of Jacob’s Well Mastering Studio based in New Hampshire. We discuss influences, stylistic preferences, challenges and much more.
Full Q&A along with links below.
Where are you from and what style of music do you prefer to work with?
I studied music composition and music theory at the graduate school. Yet I found myself being much more interested in sound rather than music. I had published numerous review articles on audio equipments and recordings in Korean hifi magazines. While having listening sessions for the reviews, I was able to develop the listening skills to judge the right balance of the recordings and the reproduction system.
After graduating the school, I decided to set my career to work on sound rather being in academia, then started to work in the studio as a recording engineer.
As my mentor, a great mastering engineer who pioneered the independent mastering service told me one should have a catholic taste in music to be a mastering engineer. I agree with him. I enjoy lots of different music from heavy metal to EDM to Jazz to Bluegrass and Country. They all have own charms and are sonically speaking to me.
What led you down this path of mastering/engineering and what motivates you to stay the course?
I think it’s the love of the sound.
Even after 20 years of the career in the music industry, I enjoy the magical moment when a pair of speaker generates a very realistic vocal sound in the middle of a pair of the speakers as if someone is standing in front of me and singing just for me.
I wanted to participate the process which generates that magic. And that magic I experience every time I sit in front of the speakers is the reason for me to stay in the music industry to this day.
Are you currently working on anything new?
Most of my services are rendered for the new albums for the contemporary musicians.
So yes. All of the albums I have been working this year are new.
Among them, there are a couple of new artists just to about their debuting albums.
Tyne Freeman is an excellent example.
She just graduated from Dartmouth college where I teach music production classes.
A wonderful voice with insightful music on her ethnic identity. I really enjoyed working on her album.
As a big fan of Sonic Arts which is a new development in the experimental music field, I have worked with a few sonic artists such as Spencer Topel(https://www.spencertopel.com) and Ashley Fure(http://www.ashleyfure.com).
Their music isn’t something that you normally listen to, but you can experience what some of the contemporary musicians are working on.
Do you face additional audio challenges in the digital age? How has technology helped you (assuming it helps)?
The digital technology opens a new way of listening and making music.
The benefit of opening a new way of listening is that you can listen to literally every records released over the last century through it. It wasn’t virtually impossible to listen to let’s say, all of the Dizzy Gillespie’s records without putting lots of time and money.
Now anyone can listen to Gillespie’s record getting to know the developments of his music and performance. The younger generation can listen and study the music of the previous generations very easily and get a new idea from it.
However, the most damage that it did to the industry is to change the way that people think about the music. The music always has two facets. It is a commodity that you can buy for your pleasure yet, it is also a work of art of someone. People had been able to retain those two aspects of music.
But it seems that the new technology makes people lose the aspect of music as a work of art. Due to its abundance, music is to be treated as if it’s a mere commodity that you can get at a convenience store, like a chocolate bar.
If you put a value on something you would treat it with care. When you buy a painting from a gallery, you don’t throw that near the trash can. When you buy a nice car, you would take your time to put a nice care. When you buy an expensive vinyl record, you would sit down in a room and put your focus on the music from the speaker for the whole side.
On the contrary, most of the people would listen to the streaming while they are doing something else, like jogging, cooking, or whatever the activities ones are doing.
On the production side, the technology democratizes the music production and distribution so that anyone can make, sell and stream own music with ease. The amount of the music released through various media these days is something you couldn’t dream of 15 years ago. That said, lack of expertise during the production process also became quite evident. I had more than a handful projects that would’ve been presented lot better if it had been received a help from experts in the industry.
All of the treatments during the mastering process remain in the analog domain so I don’t get very little help from the technology. But the new way to deliver the mixes and masters enables me to stay far away from big music scenes like Nashville, New York and LA. So actually the technology plays a critical role in my business.
Where can we connect with you online and discover more of your work?
You can visit my website(jacobswellmastering.com) and get connected to various social media where I update my recent works and other news.
Anything else before we sign off?
Thanks much for having me! And it’s great to be connected with your readers.
I visited Nashville this Summer and was amazed by the energy it has. It’s been a long time to experience that kind of energy from any city and the colleagues of mine who resides in the area.
I have been lucky to have pleasures to work with great musicians from Nashville and I’d look forward to having same luck in future!