The Mastering Engineer: Manipulator of Feeling and Time – Alexander Hinksman (Birmingham City University, PhD)

The Mastering Engineer: Manipulator of Feeling and Time

Alexander Hinksman (BCU, PhD)


Other contributors have responded to Mary Oliver’s prompt with valuable

considerations of the roles phonetics and their so-called ‘felt qualities’ play in the

construction and performance of popular songs. These phonetics can have pitch,

they can be delivered at a particular loudness and they can also contribute to a

sense of rhythm, meter or tempo as the songs in which they reside play out over

time. Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin defines these five parameters, along with

harmony and melody, as the factors that structure sound into music. He argues

that when the parameters are in a state of obvious and controlled flux, a listener’s

expectations are challenged and so a listener responds to the music on an

emotional level. With this concept in mind, it is therefore important to consider

how, in the context of recorded popular music, all of this is reconfigured and

finalised by ‘mastering engineers’. In this sense, they shape the listener’s

emotional response to every major recorded music release heard at home, on the

Internet, or through the airwaves.

This contribution draws on my own experiences in music production and

research, citing relevant technical literature where appropriate. It first describes

how, at the ‘micro’ level, the mastering engineer can affect the felt qualities of a

vocal performance in a recording. Secondly, this contribution will position the

mastering engineer as an agent for controlling a vocal’s “temporal organization”

[sic] – that which, at the ‘macro’ level, Prof. Keith Negus would argue is

“fundamental to [music’s] creation and reception”.

Alex- The Mastering Engineer -Manipulator of Feeling and Time