What makes Masters At Work, er, masters at work?

Last Friday, I published a post here declaring that the Masters At Work label, effectively dead for many years, has been gloriously resurrected. Most of the label’s output has been digitised and is now available on the digital stores.

Amongst those is a bunch of versions that never came out – presumably due to the fact you could only put so much on a vinyl release – and a brand new release called “Mattel“. What do I think of it? You’ll have to wait until the next Six On Saturday column to find out!

Many people have been listening back to those records and wondering how they managed to get everything sounding so good. One of those forums was the Underground Music Production group on Facebook. It’s one of the more sensible ones out there.

I initially made the following comment on the subject…

“That’s what you get when you have a big budget, access to the best studios, the best musicians, and the best mixing and mastering engineers that were available at the time.”

I stand by these words. They are correct in themselves, but on reflection, they are not the whole story. My initial words downplayed the role that Louie Vega and Kenny Gonzalez played in the process.

This is extremely unfortunate, because that role was pretty sizeable. I believe that a fairly average musician could go into a studio, hire a bunch of session musicians and come out with something pretty good. It would be unlikely to be repeated, though, as session musicians are meant to take direction, not provide it themselves!

But the same cannot be said of Vega and Gonzalez. These two are exceptional musicians in their own right. This is why they used to be able to charge top dollar for remixes back in the day – and probably still do.

I can’t help but think that it was all a bit of a melting pot, in that Vega and Gonzalez provided the direction, but that the likes of Gene Perez, Steve Barkan, Dave Darlington and so on might also have provided some ideas too. They must all respect one another considerably, because the same team is frequently associated with both men to this day.

What I don’t think can be denied, however, is that every little bit of help you get counts. Yes, Vega and Gonzalez are talented in their own right, but they also know when to bring in someone who specialises in a particular job. And this is not to reduce it just to money, but I suspect they also know intuitively how much such help is worth.

So, what makes Masters At Work the masters at work? Being extremely talented themselves but also knowing when to bring in someone to provide that extra little bit of magic. That’s my two cents anyway…