Mastering engineer and producer Katie Tavini is no stranger to the studio. Interested in programming and music audio from an early age, she has worked with a huge range of clients – from artists such as The Charlatans, Skepta, Rookes, Deerful, Abi Wade and Elle Exxe to industry outfits like the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Classic FM and Decca Records.
Katie also hosts the engineering sessions for Red Bull Studio’s Normal Not Novelty network – a series of female-only workshops for sound engineers, DJs and producers.
Keen to learn more about the world of mastering and her career so far, I caught up with Katie for a chat.
Hey Katie! Can you give a brief introduction to the work you do as a mastering engineer?
Mastering for me, is largely about quality checking. So, critical listening for little clicks and pops; is there any unwanted distortion, is the mix there in its entirety (a common thing I see is people not exporting the full track, so it might cut off during a fade out or something) and, most importantly, is the mix functional. Is everything sitting right, does it flow, is it balanced, does it get across the artists vision as well as it should. There is a part of audio processing, but for me, less is more.
Then there’s track spacings – how an album fits together – which I love working on with clients. And finally, embedding metadata, running parts, creating formats and archiving. I know it might not sound like it, but it’s actually a really creative job!
How did you first get into producing and engineering?
When I was about 13, my dad bought me a copy of Cubasis(!) and I used to go to the library and get out loads of books on how to program music. I’d spend all my free time as a kid making MIDI music and being a huge nerd.
I didn’t really know of any audio schools when it was time to go to uni, so I did a general music course instead. I’d been playing violin since I was about seven, so it just felt like the thing to do. The course had a tiny recording studies module. Because I was way more interested in the tech stuff, I spent all my free time in the studios there – experimenting and trying to learn as much as possible off the amazing lecturers we had. One day, one of my lecturers came and asked if I’d like to do some work in a real studio and I was like, hell yeah!
Who were your main role models or mentors at the start of your career?
At my first ever studio job, I was working with keys player and studio owner John Ellis and producer Bill Leader. I am so grateful that I was able to learn from them – seeing the way they created such beautiful music together is something that continues to inspire me.
You help run the Red Bull Normal Not Novelty (NNN) workshops – a networking space for women working in music production. Can you tell me a bit more about that and why it’s important in today’s music industry?
I’ve been hosting the engineering sessions since January 2017. It’s amazing to see how the Normal Not Novelty events have grown over the two and a bit years we’ve been running them. They’ve changed my life completely; I really believe that if Brendon Harding (former Red Bull Studios manager and founder of NNN) hadn’t asked me to host these sessions then I’d no longer be working in audio.
Each month, we run a workshop on a different topic. Last month’s workshop was with Olga Fitzroy (Dua Lipa, Hans Zimmer, Coldplay), showing how she would produce vocals with an artist. We were lucky enough to have Kota Banks singing on the session; she’s a super experienced vocalist with loads of studio experience. Learning from both Olga and Kota was a next level experience.
The Normal Not Novelty sessions are so important because they give women a safe space to learn and ask questions without feeling judged, and without having to justify their attendance. The best part of doing these workshops is getting to meet so many interesting women – before NNN started there were very few women in my life and now we’re all a big supportive network, it’s amazing!
Do you think there’s been any progress in addressing the gender imbalance within the music industry over the last few years? How do you think it could be further improved?
There’s been LOADS of progress with groups for women in every part of the industry. To name a few: Women in Live Sound, Omnii Collective, She Said So, Yorkshire Sound Women Network. This is amazing and I really wish all this had been around when I started engineering. These groups make a very real difference. However, I really can’t stand the events that get put together to discuss what it’s like to be a woman in the music industry. It seems like talking for the sake of talking. In my opinion, be proactive or go home.
Further improvement for the gender imbalance within the audio industry is a tricky one. I’m a firm believer that if women don’t want to be audio engineers, then we shouldn’t try and convince them to be, but we should support the ones who do. It’s a huge topic, which really goes right back to how we treat girls and boys very differently from a very young age.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve had to face in your career so far?
Imposter syndrome. But I’ve never met an engineer who doesn’t suffer from it. If anyone has any advice, please email me, because I’d really like to know!
You’ve got a pretty impressive client base. Is there anyone you’d particularly love to work with in the future?
Thanks! My favourite thing about mastering is how diverse it can be and I’ve absolutely fallen in love with types of music that I didn’t even know existed! Obviously there’s a whole load of artists who inspire me and that I’d love to work with, but honestly, I really love the surprise of not knowing what I’m going to be working on next.
What advice would you give to aspiring engineers or producers?
Don’t wait for advice from people, just do what you want to do. But don’t do anything if you don’t love it.
Be nice to people, work hard, make an excellent brew and you’ll be fine. And if you have to get a job to fund your audio work, then that’s totally cool, just don’t get too caught up in it. And mainly, just have fun!