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New Lillywhite Sessions Release Follow-up: Interview With Karmageddon

April 24th, 2006

The Headless HorsemenAfter all of the well-deserved praise for the Karmageddon master of the Lillywhite Sessions last week, we decided to hunt down the guy who put the work into making the leaked album sound like a real release.

He goes into quite a bit of background on his history as a recording engineer and the other work he's done. If you're interested in going into music production you might especially enjoy the latter portion of the interview.

Here are the questions:

WDS: How did you first find out about the LWS and how your perspective of DMB changed over the course of your work?

Karmageddon: I found the disc online in one of the Bootleg trading hubs I OP'd at. A friend suggested that I try it out. I thought, why not...it's free, I never really gave the band a chance and I was a big fan of Steve Lillywhite.

After downloading the SHN's (not very long after the original leak) I helped spread them around, just like any good seeder would. After awhile of listening I put the disc away as I was just not in the right frame of mind to "understand" it. few months later me and my girlfriend were going through a separation and a very good friend of mine from the net asked me to put my magic touch on this as it was a favorite CD of his.

He had heard my work on some Smashing Pumpkins & Pink Floyd shows & demos and suggested I take it in to one of the mastering studios I could get into. I did and as I worked on it for a few days, I realized how the lyrical content matched what was going on in my personal life. It motivated me to make this a great sounding release that I could end up listening to over and over again.

I haven't really given the band a chance outside of this album, as I feel that Steve Lillywhite really brought out certain aspects that get lost in a lot the band's other recordings. As a live band, I have the utmost admiration for them. They are a very tight band and are much better live than in the studio.

WDS: Can you give a more detailed explanation about what mastering is and how it is specific to your Lillywhite's release?

Karmageddon: Basically Recording Engineering is the recording process and the technical aspects behind getting the recording. Mixing is what happens when all the recorded elements are blended together to make a cohesive whole. Think of this as like cooking: the engineering is the recipe and mixing is the processing of the food.

Production means many different things, but usually is associated with someone (or the band) who "directs" the music into a cohesive flow and gives general direction on the engineering and mixing. Basically the Boss. In the cooking metaphor the Producer would be the head chef. Now Mastering is the final art applied to a finished set of mixes to create a final CD for mass- production.

Usually the band nor the Producer are involved. This process is strictly technical as volume levels are adjusted accordingly to match each other, EQ levels are adjusted (slightly, and only if necessary - unlike mixing) pops and clicks are removed, fades are applied, dither and noise shaping is done (think of this like dolby Noise Reduction on cassettes..it is basically a carrier signal well below the noise floor of CD's...it helps to retain dynamic range without creating distortion) and stereo imaging is balanced.

Sometimes some production techniques are done in this stage, but that process is rare. As well, there is some compression that is applied and nowadays, some peak limiting to boost the overall level without going into digital distortion and clipping.

The original music that was leaked was a final set of mixdowns done by Steve Lillywhite (who mixed and produced the sessions) that were proposed for the actual CD release. These songs were mixed to DAT (Digital Audio Tape) which has now been the standard for 15 years as the master tape of choice. Supposedly when the album got shelved and Steve was fired (stupid stupid) - either himself or one of the engineers at the studio decided to leak it.

From what I remember someone made a CD-R of the DAT and then turned that into SHNs. I could be wrong on the exact lineage. What I ended up doing to the original files was listed in original torrent's description, and is basically the TRUE industry standard as to how a CD gets finalized before mass-production. The original leaked SHNs (and sourced DAT tape) were never mastered as they were just the raw mix-downs from the mixing board.

WDS: What sparked your decision to release this master?

Karmageddon: I needed to release this as I had been asked to by numerous people online I have known for a while. Very few people have had copies of this and it has remained that way for almost 3 years. I did like the idea of being "elite" and waiting for the initial hoopla to die down from the initial leak. Plus, numerous people tried to "master/remaster" this title right away and I didn't want my version to get lost in the shuffle.

Now after months of promising to share this at a certain torrent site, I came across another members' computerized remaster. I thought, OK - I will make a comment about mine and download a few trax to compare. I received numerous emails and messages from users requesting my version to compare as well, as it seemed a lot of people didn't like the previous release.

My personal opinion of the previous release was that it used too much compression creating distortions in the low frequencies (bass) and losing the dynamic range and whallop the drums should have. The EQ was very wrong (overly bright) and everything just "felt" squashed - like there was no room for the instruments to "breathe" in the mix.

WDS: What is your educational and professional background as a recording engineer?

Karmageddon: I am 27 years old and was born (and currently reside) in Vancouver, BC, Canada. I have been into recording & music in general since I was about 3 years old. See, I had a hippie for a mom and a punk for a dad, so I was exposed to all sorts of music at a very young age.

I was given a turntable when I was 4 and hundreds of my parents old records. I was also given a cheap tape recorder as well. When I was about 6 years old, I learned how to record over pre-recorded tapes, and started making odd mix tapes of needle drops, backwards audio, slow speeds, etc..etc.. and then I would take out the tape from its protective shell and start cutting and taping it up in weird places...or chewing it up or flipping it around....I then started playing in bands in my teens and started experimenting with early simple multi-track recordings on my old Atari 1040 ST computer.

After years of playing around in bands on guitar & drums and being a DJ at clubs & raves - I decided to go back to school. I chose Trebas Institute here in Van, because it was known for having top-notch graduates ( i.e. Mike Plotnikoff...) - but little did I know when I went there that the school was having some serious problems...

I was trained in the "art" of Audio Engineering and received my diploma. Graduated top 4 in my class in September 2000. I was asked to do programming work on the 1st Pop Stars TV show here in Canada, but declined as it went against my "moral" principles.

In the Mastering field I was trained by Bud Bremner who owned Coastal Mastering and knows all the big-wigs in the Mastering industry. Now, I took the program to learn more about the technical aspects of recording, mixing, production & mastering - all four very different arts and I ended up applying these techniques in well over 300+ hours in the in house pro recording studio & mastering house. I did this with my band, Anomaly and a live hip-hop band I co-produced, Big Bottom.

I ended up recording an EP with Anomaly (I played guitar & synth and engineered, mixed, mastered & produced it) which got a little bit of interest from some labels. We currently are writing/recording/scripting/fiming our debut album/film.

I recorded an album with Big Bottom (10 songs) at two studios and mixed in four, with the final assembly done by me at my mastering house/project studio, The Spanking Room (named after a Beck b-side). In this case, many songs comprised of multiple mixes to create the final song that appeared on the disc (like the Beatles used to do), as one of the mixing engineers I worked with made it sound like a "Rock" album instead of Hip-Hop.

At the same time I was attending school, I hooked up with another local act in 2000, Warjunk, to assist them with Mastering a 3 song EP for NewMusicWest (an industry music fest similar to South by Southwest) - which recieved some good reviews.

In 2004 I also mastered Warjunk's 5 song promo EP, Fluff, that was done in 2000 with producer Garth Richardson (of Rage Against The Machine & Kittie fame). Last year (2005) I was asked to join the band as a "4th member" co-producing, mixing and mastering their 3rd CD - Without Wax at their studio, Hole In The Ground - which I am now working out of.

In the music trading community, I have been involved for well over 7 years. I have contributed numerous rare "bootlegs" to the scene and worked on a load of others.

WDS: You've mentioned you've done work for bands like nirvana and NIN, was this for personal projects as well? What kind of professional mastering have you done?

Yes. I have done hundreds of masters/remasters, just for my own personal pleasure or the pleasure of a few chosen friends...I have done well over 50 CD's for the Pumpkins, and demo CD's for Nine Inch Nails.

I have also released a few complete B-Side/Rarity compilations for many band, most notably Smashing Pumpkins- Graceful Songs Of Never, this is a set of 13 CDs of every single B-side and official release as well as every demo Billy Corgan released online.

It took well over 4 years of compiling, research and mastering to get it done. It includes songs sourced from vinyl, reel to reel, cassette, CD-R and DAT. It is now in process of going through an upgrade, as I want to release it as a set of DVDs containing lyrics, pictures, album art, interviews, etc..etc..the plan is to actually get Billy a copy and see what he thinks....

Radiohead - Parting The Waves - The Complete Rarities this is a 15 disc set, again, of every single B-side/Rarity/official demo ever released. 6 CD's of studio material, and 6 CDs of live material. As well as a disc of collaborations & 2 discs of remixes. Lots of vinyl sources and acetate sources, all remastered.

Nine Inch Nails - Purest Feeling This was the demo tape the get Trent signed to TVT. It has existed in bootleg form for years. I received a better source years ago through a friend of the bands' and remastered it for my own pleasure. It has been circulated online for a few years now, wrongly titled the "Kirby remaster"

With professional work..here is my recent resume:

2004 - mastered 4 song demo EP for Robyn Mercer
2005 - co-produced, mixed & mastered CD "Without Wax" for Warjunk
2005 - co-produced, mixed & mastered CD "Dissonance" for Eden's Threesome
2006 - filmed, edited, mastered & authored promo DVD "Dr. Doctor" for Eden's

Check out these websites for demos of my work:



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