The Art & Science of Sound -

Masters of Sound: Industry Veteran Chuck Macak Talks About Sound and Music

Chuck Macak is a 30-year veteran of recording and producing music. Chuck has worked with White Lion, Fleshold, Cyclone Temple and Crowbar, as well as many young musicians who went on to form some of today’s top acts–Dan Donegan of Disturbed, Sean Glass and Tim King of Soil, and Josey Scott of Saliva. Chuck’s work with dance, R&B and hip hop artists earned him multiple gold and platinum records for his work on hits from Gillette, Max-A-Million and Roula. His collaborations with 20 Fingers and Jamie Principle helped shape the glory days of the Chicago house music scene.

Chuck has always stayed close to his hard rock roots, working with Pamela Moore of Queensryche, Travis Brown of Split Habit and Dave Knox of Real Friends, and on critically-lauded albums by The Fall Of Troy, Letlive, Starkill, Oceano, Born Of Osiris and The Sky We Scrape.

Chuck sat down to talk to us about music, sound and recording as part of our Masters of Sound series.

MOS: You’ve been using LS50 passive for mixing. What drew you to them?

Macak: The reason I like the LS50 so much – I look for a musical speaker – and the LS50 gives me a lot of detail but it’s very musical. I’ve used all the super-high-end $10,000 speakers in the studio, and I’ve liked them, there’s nothing wrong with them but they’re just not musical. Studio monitors fall into two categories – surgical and musical, and I tend to get fatigued with surgical speakers. With the LS50 I can work a twelve- hour day and I’m never fatigued. Plus, they bring emotion back to me. When I mix a record, I want it to say something to me and the LS50 brings that out. I feel good listening to music on them. I use Reference 104’s with my listening system and the LS50 reminds me of those.

MOS: Where is the industry right now?

Macak: It’s a lot of people trying to figure out how to make it work. Artists, whether they’re big or small are just trying to figure out how to make it financially work and get the best product out, which has led to a new mindset. A lot of bands are learning how to record on YouTube University and doing their own tracking and sending things out for mixing, so I find that my job now has become more fixing problems. You maybe get one of every twenty projects recorded at a great studio that sound great when they get to me so [mixing] has become more of an editing thing.

MOS: Are a lot of the problems artists are facing self-inflicted? Has the whole DIY mindset taken too big of a chunk of the business and do you think it will swing back where the audience will expect better production?

Macak: I think mediocrity is the new greatness, I mean, people are listening to music on ear buds. I recently finished a record, and I bounced between my LS50s [and my other studio monitors] listening to it to make it the best it can be and I get a call from the customer and he was like “hey we’re not happy with the mix,” so I asked what we needed to revise, and he just said “well, it’s really just not banging in my earbuds.” That’ becoming the norm. I actually have customers who are approving mixes on their phone’s speaker. But as engineers we don’t care, we still need to hear all of the data. I can’t mix on earbuds, so there is a reason why really expensive studio monitors are important and are not going to go away.

MOS: Is the scene all that different from what it was twenty-five years ago? Consumers haven’t really changed their habits all that much – we all start on cheap systems and work our way to better and better equipment, it’s just that the technology has changed.

Macak: Music is less of an event now than it was. Everything is instantaneous. Younger people have not experienced waiting for music and having their music become an event. And now people are just getting inundated with new music. It used to be that the record label was the final filter, but that’s pretty much gone now. People are at the point where it’s like enough, I just can’t listen to everything that comes up on my [social media] feed, but the downside is I think we may wind up missing out on some really good music.

The engineering community still cares about the quality of music so that’s not going away. I still talk with engineers on a regular basis about getting the best possible gear we can get. We’re buying less gear but more expensive gear. The importance of sound will never go away. We’ll keep fighting the good fight.

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