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Interview: Kevin Metcalfe – The Master of Mastering

Interview: Kevin Metcalfe

Kevin Metcalfe is one of the cogs that keeps the music business spinning. An audio mastering expert by trade, he is one of an elite few who’s been in the game long enough to remaster his own work (as he’s currently doing with The Cure’s Disintegration album). In a near 40-year career he has worked with everyone from Queen to Wiley via Yello and Underworld; and in the past year he’s been busy mastering for a diverse range of artists such as Mr Scruff, Fink, Judas Priest, Orbital, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Friendly Fires. As you can imagine, he has a story or two to tell. Aaron Coultate paid a visit to his studio in west London to find out more.

When did you start working in this industry?

I started in 1973, when I came down to London from Teeside and tried to get a job at BBC tech. I didn’t get it, but I applied for a job at RCA as a disc cutter, and out of 60 people I was chosen. I stayed there for two years – it was good training, very regimented. Back then disc cutting was only with cassettes and 8-track. After RCA I went to EMI, it was more of a technical role. I had to take the tape, and transfer it to disc. There was not much of a creative element, because you know, tape is tape, disc is disc. But in those days I was mastering classical records as well as pop – it was good fun.

And where did you go next?

Then I got a job at the music centre at Wembley. It was built as a one-stop shop, the idea was you could walk in with your guitar and do everything under the one roof. The main studio held 135 musicians – they scored all the Bond films there. I’d watch and there would be 135 people giving it their all, it would make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. I was working in the disc cutting department – I worked on film soundtracks, and there was also a large West Indian community in that part of London. I was working there 1975-79, and in those days there was lots of reggae. You’d get guys coming with tapes straight off the plane from Jamaica. These guys would want to dub it up, you know, but we were doing these cuts live, they didn’t care if you made a mistake, they would say “wicked” and get on with it (laughs).

How did the music scene change in that time, in the early days of electronic music?

Well during that period, the disco 12” came into being, from the US, and that changed everything. It was incredible to compare the 12” to the 7” – it blew our minds – you could cut at a higher frequency and a lot louder. The reggae boys soon got into it, because you could do an extended mix or a vocal and a dub.

So … did you stay there for a long time?

I was there for four and a half years, then it was to Utopia Studios in Primrose Hill, which was run by the drummer from Procol Harum. There was a big fish tank across one wall, they were great studios. I worked with bands like Roxy Music, and at that time, 1979-82, it was all about the New Romantic scene; Duran Duran, Ultravox and Japan. The punk scene started in 1978. I worked with The Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees, loads more. I was recently working with Siouxsie, remastering my own mastering, how many people do that (laughs).

Tell me a bit about your time at Utopia studios.

That’s where I built my reputation. You cut one record that gets into the top 10, and people come looking for you, even if they are not necessarily the best cuts. I got asked to join Virgin in 1982 and I ended up staying for 15 years. Then CDs came in around 1985. That changed everything. At first, it was just a by-product of vinyl.

“I remember in the early 80s John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin produced some tapes. We spent ages doing test cuts, and when we finally finished, we left them in reception and went home. Next morning we came in and they were gone. The cleaners had thrown them in the skip, binned the lot”

How did you keep up with changes in technology? Has much has your equipment changed over the years?

When CD’s first came in, we’d cut the whole album in one go. Everyone gets a job, the producer, the engineer and me, it was all done live. Very stressful! But with digital technology, you could compile one track at a time instead of the whole lot. But I’m old school. I’m not into computers, not into software, although I do use them. I’d still say my favourite piece of kit has to be the Neumann compressor – I still use mine now.

You’ve worked with the likes of David Bowie and Queen in the past – is that right?

Yeah I worked with Queen quite closely. Freddy (Mercury) used to sit in the studio and call us. But Roger Taylor and Brian May would come in and argue. Brian wanted the guitars louder and Roger wanted the snare louder. It was a great time, there were great parties afterwards!

Do you find some bands or producers are more hands on than others?

Some were, some weren’t. As I said, Robert Smith from The Cure wants to oversee everything, and I don’t blame him – they are his records. But with many people, you develop working relationships with them over time and they come to trust you and leave you to your own devices. I do prefer working closely with artists, because I can make a record sound poppy when they may have wanted it to sound dark. I just try to make records sound good to my ears. That’s what I have learned, if you can please yourself you are on the way to pleasing everyone else

Who have been your favourite people to work with?

So many … Prince Fari was great – what a fantastic voice. I remember one album where he just read out all these psalms over a heavy dub. He’d come in and lie on the sofa and smoke a spliff, and have it turned up to the max, he’d be like “yeah, fantastic tune” (laughs).

The main studio held 135 musicians – they scored all the Bond films there. I’d watch and there would be 135 people giving it their all – it would make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end

You must have a few stories to tell…

I remember in the early 80s John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin produced some tapes. We spent ages doing test cuts, and when we finally finished the 7” and 12”s, we left them in reception and went home. Next morning we came in and they were gone. The cleaners had thrown them in the skip, binned the lot (laughs). A few days later we located some kids trying to flog them off in Ladbroke Grove, so we got them back. That was a close shave. .. I also remember Pete Burns from Dead or Alive – he and the rest of the band were a bunch of scallies basically. I had Nick Heyward from Haircut 100 in one day, and Nick had just reviewed a Dead or Alive single for Melody Maker or NME, and given it a pretty bad rap. Anyway he went to the toilet and disappeared…he came back an hour later as white as a sheet. Didn’t say a word except: “Can I see your studio manager?” I later found out Pete and the boys had followed him into the khazi and let out six fire extinguishers on him!

Kevin is chief mastering engineer at The Soundmasters in Notting Hill. His services are also available online via – a reduced cost mastering service aimed at independent producers & record labels. For more information please contact

Kevin Metcalfe – Career Highlights

Some of the albums he’s mastered (in no particular order)

David Bowie – Diamond Dogs/Pin Ups/Outside
ELO – Out Of The Blue
The Who – Who Are You?
U2 – The Unforgettable Fire
Depeche Mode – Songs Of Faith and Devotion
Happy Mondays – Pills & Thrills & Bellyaches
Ultravox – Vienna/Dancing With Tears In My Eyes
Siouxsie & the Banshees – 2009 catalogue remasters
Underworld – A Hundred Days Off /Everything Everything/Beacoup Fish
Orbital – most Catalogue
Yello – Entire Catalogue
Queen – Entire Catalogue remastering for original CD release & latest album ‘The Cosmos Rocks’
Pulp – Different Class
Supergrass – X-Ray
Roots Manuva – Slime & Reason
Wiley – Playtime is Over
Paul Weller – Illumination/Studio 150/ As Is Now/Catch-Flame
Simply Red – Blue/Love and the Russian Winter/Home/Simplified
Feeder – Greatest Hits (more than 500,000 copies sold)
Robert Plant – Mighty Rearranger
Ash – Meltdown
Finley Quaye – Maverick A Strike
The Little Ones – Morning Tide
Friendly Fires – Friendly Fires

Some of the singles Kevin has mastered:

Ultravox – ‘Vienna’
Yello – ‘The Race’
Duran Duran – ‘Girls On Film’
Japan – ‘Second That Emotion’
Shaggy – ‘Oh Carolina/Boombastic’
U2 – ‘Pride (In The Name Of Love)’
Dead Kennedys – ‘Holiday In Cambodia’
David Bowie – ‘Rebel Rebel’
The Clash – ‘Radio Clash’
The KLF – ‘Justified and Ancient’
Underworld – ‘Born Slippy’
The White Stripes – Blue Orchid/My Doorbell/The Denial Twist
(The Denial Twist made the UK top 10 exclusively on sales of the 7” that Kevin cut!) and Conquest/Icky Thump/You Don’t Know What Love Is
The Raconteurs – Broken Boy Soldiers/Store Bought Bones/Steady As She Goes/Hands
The Prodigy – Hot Ride/Girls/Spitfire
Jack Penate – Have I Been A Fool
Passenger – Walk You Hom

Leave a reply

  1. Wavatar Nico says:

    Not everyone is impressed with Kevin. See this detailed review by Scott Davies of his latest remastering the back catalogue of Siouxsie and the Banshees for the Boxset Siouxsie And The Banshees Classic Album Selection. I must say I have to agree with Scott on this one.

    “Let me just say that for the price it is not a bad deal. But for those expecting something new and exciting, guess again. Only the first 4 albums have been newly remastered. The problem is that they’ve been remastered by Kevin Metcalfe, so he now has the honor of destroying the entire Banshees back catalog. What is it with this guy?? He seems to absolutely hate the high end of music. The treble on ALL of his “remasters” always falls way short, though he has hit a peak of disappointment with this latest hackwork.

    Before I received my box set, I read reviews on the Banshees Facebook page about some audible shortcomings. No surprise there. After all, it is Kevin Metcalfe. But what I didn’t expect to hear was how absolutely atrocious Kaleidoscope was going to sound. It seems that with each CD release of this album, it gets worse and worse. The reel of tape used for the side 2 tracks is destroyed. It starts out a bit muted but by the time of ‘Paradise Place’ and especially ‘Skin’, it sounds like an old worn out cassette tape. Even the dreadful 2006 remaster is better than this.

    Now, on to Juju. All of the tape fluctuations and dropouts from the 2006 remaster have carried over. But the added bonus now is that you have the songs with the treble dulled down and the dynamics squashed. Again, by far the worst CD version of this album. The other two “remastered” albums are not as bad but have been compressed with poor high end detail. Dreamhouse and Nocturne are the same 2009 remasters. Dreamhouse is awful, and my review from the time still stands. Nocturne is surprisingly tolerable. I never thought I’d say this, but I miss Gary Moore (i.e. the guy who did the 2002-2006 Banshees remastering). Attached are a couple of screenshots to display the dynamics. The first is ‘Icon’ from Join Hands, the other is ‘Voodoo Dolly’ from Juju.

    The highlight of the box is…, well, the box itself. I do like the artwork. I also like the mini-sleeve reproductions and the gatefolds with the band photos. But we couldn’t have a Banshees release without a fault in the first pressing, right? I mean, that would just be blasphemy. Our screw up this time around, other than the aforementioned remastering, is the gold layer on A Kiss in the Dreamhouse was forgotten, so the band name and some of the symbols on the sleeve have gone missing. Good ole’ Severin posted an acknowledgement of this and quickly minimized it as no big deal, while the cyberdrones gleefully boasted about how the fault makes this is another great collector’s item. I’m just breathless at the nonsensical way people justify being screwed over, especially when they know a band member is reading their ignorant fawnings. And in typical fashion, Severin announced that the sleeve is being corrected on the next pressing, as well as some missing credits on the box itself, so you can buy another copy and keep your “collector’s item” hidden away for safe keeping. Lucky you!

    The soon to be released part II of this box set series will contain no new remastering, just the previous 2009 and 2014 Metcalfe remasters. It’s probably for the best considering what happened with the new remasters in this set. I just can’t wait to see what screw up will make the first pressing of that set a “collector’s item”

  2. Wavatar bob white says:

    hi kevin

    just want to thank you for the absolutely beautiful work you’ve done for us on meanwhile gardens (the levitation album) a couple of weeks ago..

    i haven’t heard it like that since we were in the studio making it and the intervening 20 years seemed to just vanish in the twinkling of an eye! it’s amazingly transparent and you’ve allowed it to really breathe and the detail is so well captured..

    it sounds so natural – i’ve always felt the essence of great mastering is to make it sound like it hasn’t been mastered… a bit like editing.. if you notice it then it’s probably not very good!

    so thank you once again for such a beautiful job

    all the very best
    bob white

  3. Wavatar thatboytim says:

    ha.brilliant interview. amzing that he mastered LFO and dead kennedys holiday in cambodia. a keen set of ears obviously.

  4. […] parkety na světě? No jasně, Born Slippy a za tou Kevin Metcalf stojí taky! Rozhovor čtěte zde. Poděl se s […]

  5. Nice one Kev – You show ’em how it’s done!

  6. Wavatar sim says:

    That faderless studio looks really nice!