Timeless tips from the Masterclass with Steve Albini


13 Jul 2016




Timeless tips from the Masterclass with Steve Albini

13 Jul 2016

In December last year, SAE Melbourne hosted Steve Albini for a once-in-a-lifetime Masterclass. We look back at the event and share the timeless tips, quotes and ideas he presented on the day.

Steve is one of the most respected figures in the international independent music scene. As a renowned artist, music journalist, industry commentator and recording engineer, Steve is a champion of independent business models for artists to thrive and to release their work outside of the corporate music industry structure. He is regularly quoted in the media for his views on topics ranging from piracy to crowd funding to royalties and recording.

Steve Albini at SAE Institute Melbourne

Steve speaking at the Masterclass at SAE Melbourne

He has engineered over 1500 albums, including for some of the world’s most seminal and pioneering rock acts such Nirvana, the Pixies, PJ Harvey and The Stooges.

Open exclusively to SAE students and Alumni, the sold-out event packed participants into our 360sq ft sound stage. We highlight Steve's classic quotes, knowledge and tips he shared, his approach to the recording process and how he interacts with the artists he works for.

Classic Albini quotes

I want the recordings that I make, for the bands that I work with, to outlive everybody in the room, at the time...

Make the record sound as good to you in the control room as you can...know that when you send your master off, what you are listening to sounded awesome.

Not everyone is going to get the chance to record in a custom-built acoustic space and I don't think it's important. It is quite common for me to use non-studio spaces...

When I'm mixing I'm trying to make it sound awesome, according to their (the recording artists) aesthetic...

Iggy (Pop and the Stooges) was adamant about singing live takes with the band.... he is going for it...blazing, shirtless and every take was like he was doing a private concert for me - it was... awesome.

The best mastering engineers do very little...they will do what you instruct them...any technical changes...

We are in a service industry... the community of musicians needs people to record them and that's what [sound production professionals] are there for...

A lot of music that I listen to...(are) a kind of catastrophe, where you can tell the people making the record were going through something in the process of making the record...

All the aesthetic decisions... how many voices should we have in the backing vocal chorus... should we cut that bridge out.. is that guitar solo too long...those artistic decisions are none of my business...

Sound engineer Steve Albini

Audio lecturer, Tim Dalton, with Steve Albini at SAE Melbourne


1. Conversation

"Sit down and have a conversation with the recording artists;

What kind of record they want to make? What kind of records they like?
What were the previous recording experiences like?
What are their aspirations?
What did they enjoy last time in the studio?
What they want to avoid?"

2. Set up

"Get the band physically set up and the session start by band playing as a live band
Proceed from live takes to doing vocals, overdubs and "any special secret sauce"

3. Refinement

"At some point during the session, you get to a point where a number of songs are finished, in terms of recording, and then a number of songs who still have things left to be done. At this point you can do anything:

You can mix a song;
You can do an overdub;
You can do a vocal;
You can do whatever you needed."

Steve Albini speaks to SAE Institute Melbourne

Captivated SAE Audio and Alumni students at the Steve Albini Masterclass

Tips from Steve Albini

  • "Don't create a linear session and do all the tracking, all the overdubbing, all the vocals and all the mixing... you end up telescoping...a stupefying number of decisions to the last moment... Everything you could have decided along the way you now have to make right at the end...which I find terrifying"
  • Vocal recording: For some vocalists, sending a raw feed from microphone to headphones can assist in helping vocalist modulate intensity of voice as opposed to compressed, processed signal.
  • Experimenting with flipping the polarity of headphone sound can reinforce the natural sound of the vocalists voice.
  • "We have several hundred microphones at our studio" and their will be one that resonates most with the vocalists aesthetic.

 To view the entire Masterclass click here

 PROMO CLIP - Link through to full Masterclass with Steve Albini

Steve Albini in the News

The Top 20 Steve Albini Recorded Albums
Pitchfork's 10 Best Steve Albini Albums

What is your favourite Steve Albini album? Share with us @SAEInstituteAUS