Bernie Becker of Becker Mastering in Pasadena, California has been one of the country’s preeminent mastering and recording engineers for many years, with credits ranging from Neil Diamond to Tenacious D. His son Dale Becker was practically raised in the studio, and has been following in his father’s footsteps from a very young age.
Bernie: "Through the years we’ve had a lot of other summing boxes we’ve tried, and we’re looking for something particular. We’re used to summing through consoles, and finding a summing box that has that same feel to the sound is not an easy task. When we first ran some rough mixes through the 5060 we were both drawn to it, because it gave our mixes the same feel as a console. I know that that’s not a really specific description, but it is a vibe and a sonic characteristic that really affects how you feel when the sound comes out of this box."
"A lot of people also bring in stems for mastering and this is a great tool for mixing them because of its sound and flexibility. The trade-off with a lot of summing boxes is that they end up being too colored or reduce the transients or space too much, and you have to sacrifice clarity for added tone. We’ve never had that issue with the Centerpiece; it can be as clean as you want it to be, or with the silk knob it can get pretty dirty too."
Dale: "I grew up on an 112-input AMEK Rembrandt Console. I loved that thing. I loved how easy it was to grab a fader and make mix adjustments during the production workflow – especially when it came to riding vocals during vocal sessions. When I made the jump about a decade ago to focus completely on mastering, I downscaled my production setup to a summing bus. The sound was great and everything, but I didn’t have faders. I tried using a Euphonix controller, but it’s not at all the same, especially when extra gain is needed."
"The Centerpiece is small enough that I can take it anywhere. I use it for stem mastering at our Pasadena facility, but I can also stick it in a pelican case and take it anywhere for production purposes…it’s like I’m carrying a 5088 around town. I prefer having OTB summing throughout the whole production process, including tracking. It’s a better perspective in every respect, but most especially for on-the-fly decisions such as selecting a mic or mic pre to best suit a vocal or instrument to fit into the the space of a given arrangement. I know that sounds old school, but it’s just part of the way I operate at the highest level I know how to at all times."
Bernie: "The MBP is a testament to Rupert Neve Designs in that its not just a knockoff of a 33609. It has some of the characteristics that you would expect from a Rupert Neve compressor but it goes way beyond that with the flexibility, the sonic character, the harmonics from the silk control and the stereo field editor. In production it’s a great drum buss limiter and stereo mix compressor. In mastering its helpful to have the flexibility of the blend control. We’re constantly looking for the sweet spot, and the blend really helps us find that. We’re often looking at changes of a 1/2 dB, 1/4 dB, or even 1/8 dB changes, and we use the blend control as a way to dial in those tiny changes."
Dale: "I personally love the long release times – it’s a bit counter intuitive if you’re thinking in terms of how a plugin compressor responds at 3 seconds release. It’s not the same at all. It’s a nice musical glue that when used with discretion can give a nice tone to a track, either while mixing through the MBP or after the fact in mastering. I’ve also found myself using the MBP just to add fullness to the sides and bottom to the mid via the Width/Depth controls, or just using the box as a line level tone unit with no compression for the warmth and space."
Dale: "I recently just finished two singles with a brilliant mixer named Jon Castelli for Macklemore. The songs were "Downtown" and "Growing Up (feat. Ed Sheeran)”. I’m really proud of those, but nearly all of the credit for the sound of those tracks has to go to Jon, and of course to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. When I’m working with those guys it’s mastering as it should be – it’s the final tweaks – the final 2%. They bring in stuff that sounds amazing already and I’m just massaging details.
"We’ve also worked together recently on an EP for a new country artist named Cam that were produced by Jeff Bhaskar & Tyler Johnson. One of my favorite tracks I’ve ever mastered is "Burning House" off of her debut EP. It’s such an incredible song and production."
"One other really sonically notable record was brought to me by mixer/producer James Krausse (one of my old interns!). It was for a band called Frida Gold. They just released the first single, "Run, Run, Run". It’s such a great track."
(Many thanks to Bernie and Dale for chatting with us!)