I’ve had the pleasure to meet and work with Mickie, studio manager at Masterdisk, through various email exchanges while assisting clients / musicians we were both working with in different aspects of their vinyl projects. She was one of those people that you immediately connect with and enjoy getting emails from, always funny and nice in some way, so I knew I’d wanted to learn more about her and have her do an interview. I didn’t imagine she’d dedicate so much time and be so candid, I really appreciated and loved hearing about her journey.
Mickie works with Owner and Chief Engineer Scott Hull to help coordinate or work through projects in some aspect from start to finish. She is a “jill-of-all-trades” as a Mom, musician, mentor / teacher, and studio manager. When she’s not doing all those things she loves dancing, old movies, reading, and laughing… now and then a good Food Network show too. She clearly has a great sense of humor. I’m happy to introduce you to Mickie!
How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?
Do you want the “War & Peace” long story, or the “Reader’s Digest” condensed, …or the Cliff Notes version?
…Sorry, I don’t know why I asked, or even offered that!… I don’t actually do brief enough replies for Cliff/Spark Notes!
In my early twenties, I had gravitated toward inspirational music genres, and had a sweet “church family” I enjoyed being a part of and singing for. Honestly, we put on a few really astounding Passion Musicals for such a small town! Anything I poured out – I received back at least 10 times over. Inspired by Russ T. (“Rusty”) the pastor’s son, I put together a solo Holiday concert, and the sound was run (and it was recorded) by a kind soul – fresh out of college with a degree in what had become a new field of study: pro-audio recording and engineering, and music. He’d come back to the local area, and at that point, was just hired at Masterdisk (we’d actually met a couple years earlier when he, Scott, was interning there). Anyway, by the time I rolled out that concert, I’d already married, and then actually, went on to have 6 lovely kids, to my surprise… In fact, nearly every one of them was a surprise as I think about it (!), and I read many books on life topics… obviously, I must’ve been – I kept popping out new lives! I realized about now, how much I’d missed that creative and collaborative outlet Rusty and I had… it left a sort of vacuum when he moved. Those kinds of collaborative relationships don’t often come along – it was all voluntary – but it was so fulfilling!
Going forward a decade, once the kids weren’t quite so small, I’d begun to give my free time to coaching young singers, teaching adult continuing ed. music classes in piano and singing; and then another real joy fell into my lap – vocal direction for high school musicals. The coordinator-producer had an opening to fill in 2005, and she recalled seeing a talent show act I’d put together for my 2 oldest kids – it was probably 1997 – so all those years later Karen, the co-ordinator for that job, called and asked if I’d be available and interested – I was ready for a new challenge! I enjoyed it, encouraging young people to give their all and to bring their best – really, I absolutely loved it…I even thought about getting a teaching degree.
Anyway, add nearly another decade, or so and I’m now many years out of college, I met up again in 2012 with that Masterdisk intern, Scott Hull, by now the owner/chief engineer of Masterdisk. This occurred at a point in life when I was perhaps in a mid-life crisis. Somehow, with juggling several part time jobs and sending kids off to college, and maybe was experiencing some “emptier” nest depression (not all of them were gone yet), or maybe it was some burn-out of being a housewife and mom, and feeling pretty isolated, sometimes rather unappreciated, and like I was living under a rock … or maybe I was under a pile of laundry raising 6 kids. I don’t know … I loved my family, of course; and being a mom is a huge, important job; but I was in a dark place somehow and maybe you can only step on so many cheerios before you begin to ask, “Is this all there is? Am I not fit for anything else other than meal prep, cleaning up, and laundry and running here and there and to 3 different, mostly small paying jobs?” … Several times, I’d considered taking my turn at college for a masters degree in teaching; but there always seemed to be too many other needs ahead of that. A new pursuit seemed enticing; maybe it came as an answer to a search for significance, in 2014 I began getting involved very peripherally at Masterdisk as a volunteer to start, and to get familiar with the business, and in 2015 a full-time entry level paid position was able to be created for me. And pretty soon I was getting beyond over-extended and crashed and burned. I couldn’t juggle all of those jobs and the commutes. So, it seemed, the other jobs had to go as more time was being invested at Masterdisk.
From sort of voluntarily helping as needed: Namely, taking some administrative hassles and headaches off of Scott’s plate, by paying bills, following up on some things that fell through the cracks as he moved the studio, and overseeing a sub-let; to becoming more involved as invoicing assistant, and beginning to interface more with clients and vendors, there was a lot to learn – I’ve had my challenges, and still do! There are still some days I suddenly realize there’s something else I never knew about doing this job. But, starting as a part-time administrative assistant, and a brief time as co-ordinator, I was eventually named Studio Manager – which is a blend of the 2 jobs.
But there was something else that motivated me in 2012 when Scott first mentioned he wanted to get into direct to disk recordings – I thought about these unique recordings being cut to vinyl; and even more so, about vinyl making a come back, in general. And something in me wanted to be part of all of that! There were some wonderful people there when I was volunteering who’ve since moved on. Still, today, we have such a talented team – they are so dedicated to excellence! We really care about what we do. I’m very privileged to get to spend my days working alongside such fine individuals, and to get to relate to some really wonderful clients and some truly awesome vinyl plant technicians and their support staff. It’s not exactly easy and some aspects don’t come naturally to me; but, it is a sort of dream-job to be managing Masterdisk – I do love it.
What is a day in the life like?
I usually check email, answer the “quick” ones, review the calendar, check in with Scott – see if there’s something pressing that he needs done, and then relay anything to his assistant that is high priority for the day. Then I check tasks and the projects that we have up and running, I create new ones coming in, as well as generate the invoices, get projects on the calendar, pay the bills, sometimes I order inventory, … make calls… reply to client questions and calls… It’s really a lot of emailing.
I’d have to say that I like that we have expanded, too, and have a studio for recording, and a shop for repairing – there are so many different things that cross my desk, and new people I get to speak with or relate to over email, my days are never really “same old – same old.” I also create quotes to answer inquiries, and that leads to the invoicing. I am sort of in an “interesting” place of interfacing with the both the client and the owner – and sometimes spend time weighing number crunches and trying to find the point of “happy compromise” to get something done that both sides feel great about.
Often I have a longer discussion with clients if they are making their first vinyl album – and as they begin to realize the time and costs of vinyl (since there are so many different steps and hands that need to touch it ) sometimes some of them call us because they tried before and were discouraged, or something went wrong. I try to find ways that we can still come through for them, despite limited resources and time. We even try to reach out to plants for prices, turn around times, and might even ask about constraints related to the run size, if any. We want to help any one’s vinyl dream to be realized – and we know we cut great master lacquers! In fact we have some new Asia based clients now who are practically turning cartwheels because they found Masterdisk and their projects have improved dramatically! Do I sound too proud of my team and our fearless leader? I hate to brag …but…
Off topic of vinyl for a moment; but definitely part of any given day: Digital projects entail a lot of attention to detail. Face it. We make the mastercopy — so the audio and the metadata must be exact – everything must be perfect – every title must be double and triple checked for spelling and capitalization that the artist wants for a CD text so it is replicated perfectly; the audio is quality checked too, one last time, after all the metadata is added.
The latter part of the day is often spent creating shipping doc’s and packing slips for vinyl projects; and making sure we have the info needed for everything we will be cutting the next several days. Sometimes I help to seal the lacquers in the special containers we use to ship them so they will not get scratched while in transit.
As I do these tasks, the lathe is usually humming along, and I can hear the lathe vacuum running and honestly, some days, I have to laugh to myself as it is shut off after an album is completed. The back story there is, I had a brief career as a dental assistant, I guess decades ago now, and the dentist’s suction vacuum system would be shut off after the doctor was through with drilling or polishing teeth; hearing the lathe vacuum shut off, takes me right back! I still expect to hear the voice of the dentist saying, “You may feel free to rinse and spit now Mrs. Blunthorn; let me prop the seat back to the upright position for you.” LOL!
What has been your favorite / the coolest thing you’ve worked on?
Hmmm… It’s been so fun to work and connect with our artists! But here’s an early experience: When I first came to help out, just as Masterdisk was on the brink of leaving Manhattan, the studio was getting packed up, and Scott was mastering an album for an artist who had 2 renditions of the same song on the album – one was an instrumental and sounded sort of player-piano-like, as I recall, or sort of barroom honky tonk piano… maybe with some extra flourishes. The other was the full band rendition with vocals – they ran about the same length so Scott had gotten in his head that he wanted to see if he could cut a dual groove record out of those 2 tracks and he had let me watch and do a little to help track cycles, as he set some other knobs. After it was done – hearing him play 2 different songs as the first band on the record, depending on where the needle dropped…I mean… That was pretty awesome! And a couple years later he was asked to do a dual groove cut for a European band – Shy Shy Shy. It turned out great!
But more recently, I’d have to say a really fun treat was a jazz project that came in from overseas and Scott offered to make some mix changes. Eventually, the artist expressed a desire for some vocals on one of the tracks and said “have Mickie put something in there.” I should explain – the kindness of strangers can be a really mind blowing thing – and this client, a particularly kind soul from Ireland, had just been coming aboard right around the time I’d lost my Dad to Parkinson’s disease (the last day of April 2018) And then, one evening a few weeks later – just 9 days after the memorial for my Dad, I got the worst phone call of my life:
My eldest son reached out to me and asked if I was sitting down; I said, “No, I’m in the last steps of cleaning up the studio” he emphasized again, “I need you to be sitting down!” As I went to sit, I sort of blurted out with exasperation “What happened? and who, is it Grandma, or Dad?” Andy wailed into the phone, “No! It’s Kenny! He was hiking on Breakneck and apparently he fell and…he didn’t make it.” My ears were ringing and I was shocked and crying, and I asked does Dad know?” And he exclaimed “No! No one’s been able to reach him – his phone must still be in airplane mode or something. I’m hacking his email to get the hotel phone number.” I remember saying, “No posts – no texts – none of that until we get him in person, and we all keep trying til he answers.” Then my daughter, Valorianne, who’d be rowing in Florida called and she was weeping and shaken up, asking if she should stay and row for the last Championship meet of her college career, or should she start heading for home; would it be bad to stay on down there? I said well, Dad’s almost there, and I’ll handle things up here for now, and there’s not much you could do yet, there’s no wrong answer here. Knowing her team is like a family, and might give her the greatest support right now, I told her, “…if you’re up all night on adrenalin from the shock, and just can’t because you are suddenly tired and have no strength, then feel free to bow out – no one would fault you for that. But if you want to row one more for the ‘Gipper,’ since Kenny got you into rowing, then, do that!” And she did, and the event was dedicated to his memory, and some wonderful people down there had already rearranged her flight home and immediately after they whisked her off to the airport. Many of the team came for the memorial service a few days later. Such a beautiful thing – such kindness, it helped take a little of the sting out the whole nightmare-ish, surreal Holiday weekend of reclaiming my son’s belongings from the Park Police station, and making other arrangements.So, tragically losing my 25 year old son to a hiking accident on an evening in May just weeks after my Dad passed away – let’s just say life has not been the same for me.
Anyway, several months after these events, we were still working with this Irish client on his mixes, and having been in the know about this news, I think this dear person thought a little something for me to add to his track would be both fun, and therapeutic, for me! So, I was a little nervous, not having recorded in quite awhile – but, vocally, I went places I’d never gone to before to add back- ground vocals (BGV’s) that sounded sort of like goat-herd calls on the hills in a country afar for a spot where the mix gets a bit more esoteric. I think maybe he’s keeping a good part of it on the track! Somewhere along the way it suddenly became fun for me again to just be playful and unrestricted and to let the audio engineer sort out what to keep, what to pitch, and clean up any mess! Honestly, I think he requested that vocal track work more for my benefit than for his, we really do encounter some very big-hearted, truly wonderful people.
What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?
Uhhh … the most difficult thing? Ummm… answering the phone, there’s an inside joke there somewhere, lol! Keeping all the dishes spinning – suddenly finding out what dish dropped – what didn’t get done – I so hate to let anyone down. I might forget to note a task that needs doing as a project progresses – like, maybe I missed the approval email. Or worse, I see it and note it on the project but get derailed before I got to place making the Production Masters on Scott’s calendar, I hate when I drop something like that – but there are dozens of interruptions to my workflow on any given day. Keeping all of the projects updated when we may have up to 40 or more open, and all at various points in progress, all at at the same time, can be a challenge.
But, probably having to at times, prioritize a nearly impossible work load to do is the hardest – deciding what might wait – while taking care of the routine things, while other stuff that comes up suddenly with a pressing need, and meanwhile all that other music still needs to happen, and we must meet deadlines; let’s just say some days are a bit crazier than others. And when my choices did not align with how my employer would see it, or maybe how a client would have hoped – that is not always a fun pill to have to swallow. I take it to heart.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?
Be a hard worker, and look for ways to serve, and have a “can do” spirit! Be willing to, or better yet, expect to put in long days – in this industry, it’s sort of a lifestyle to “be available” to clients. That’s sort of how I fell into it! And I also tend to live by “maybe it’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.” Treat others well and with respect. If you are interested in the mastering and engineering aspect, check out Dave Moulton’s Golden Ears and his blogs. Listen to all kinds of music and learn to appreciate the various genres. I am so thankful I had some classical training along the way. A client was completely blown away that I had heard of Samuel Barber’s “Sure On This Shining Night.” I really like to find ways to connect to our clients and it seems the more receptive you are and the broader your spectrum the more likely you are to find some common ground.
Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?
As a little girl I listened to vinyl, my parents had a nice turntable and amplifier set up, and they could put the Mary Poppins album on, and I’d go sit on the floor in front of the right speaker behind a Danish designed white chair in our little living room, and be content and completely taken away from the first beat of the overture that the orchestra played until the last notes of “Let’s Go Fly a Kite!” I could picture the opening scene of the movie all over again, and I loved to view the pictures in the double jacket!
We had a small record player that we kids were allowed to touch, we listened to old folk stories and fairy tales on vinyl – so charming, as I look back! And we could spend our allowance on 7″ vinyl – we had some great classics “These Eyes” by The Guess Who, “This Magic Moment” by Jay and the Americans, The Righteous Brothers on “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’ “ and I feel like we had Dionne Warwick’s rendition of that and also “Do You Know the Way to San Jose.” The Poppy Family’s great hit “Which Way you Goin’ Billy” – we even liked the B side: “Endless Sleep,” ” Simon and Garfunkel “Cecelia” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” B: “Keep the Customer Satisfied” … Motown fav’s like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Love Child” OMG that 7″ list goes on!
Eventually our 7″ record player blew up – that awful, burnt up fried electronics smell took over the playroom one day when I went to use it, my 3 siblings scowled and practically shunned me for days unending, as it happened when I went to plug it in, so I was labeled as the one who broke it. Alas, our collection of 45’s were deemed unfit for playing on the good family stereo – we’d played them into the ground, some were so scratched up. … A sad day indeed -“The day the music died” – Ha! Well, not entirely, but from there on permission had to be granted to play music.
As I grew up I listened to stand up comedians on vinyl, Stan Freberg‘s hilarious radio shows, and also on vinyl, Monty Python; and my sister joined Columbia House when she reached High School and it was all over! We listened to Paul Simon, Cat Stevens, Carole King, Carly Simon, The Beatles, Elton John, Billy Joel, and Paul McCartney & Wings, we still liked the Carpenters for the fun harmonies and Karen’s voice was such a gift – how I wanted to grow up to sound like her! My older brother brought home BTO, Men at Work, ELO, Boz Scaggs, Michael Jackson, and we loved Chicago, Eagles … anything we could get our hands on we devoured. My sister discovered it was fun to exercise to Disco-Biscuits! And in high school I began to study music more seriously and found my Dad’s Deutsch Grammophone recordings of Rachmaninoff, and Chopin, and Beethoven, I still have some of that library from the past.
I also have a CD collection (gasp!) that began in the late 80’s into the present, and a growing collection of music from iTunes and Amazon as wav files – Melanie Goudot, A Fine Frenzy, Snarky Puppy (Family Dinner 2 – I love Chris Turner’s “Liquid Love!” and the real amazing mind blower is Jacob Collier’s, “Don’t You Know” – Wow! The tear jerker is seeing Crosby singing again – and honoring his life long spouse. Check it out!) And there’s Lettuce, Rob Mathes, Melissa Errico, Sting, and The Lord of the Rings Soundtrack will always be near and dear to my heart, for personal reasons (Kenneth Christopher Steier) I don’t want to leave anyone out – to list a few of my friends: local songwriter fav’s Joe DeSanctis, Dan Pelletier, Peter Calo, Natalie Forteza, Felix Van Dijk, KJ. It’s so wonderful to know such special people in the field!
…And we have many Indie clients that send us some really great music, too! There is no shortage of music for me to listen to. Depending on what the activity or occasion is – that dictates what sort of play list I want to accompany house work, or socializing, celebrating the holidays, and music for working out – which I admit, have been lax about. Now I enjoy having a composer in the family, my 23 year old son Thomas is getting serious about it and I think he’s got some great material!
What types of things are happening in your industry / with vinyl that you’re excited or worried about? i.e. innovation, or trends you’re seeing.
I’m pretty darn excited about the HD vinyl concept coming into fruition likely this year! I can hardly wait to see what happens with the launch of that in the not too distant future. I am putting away my pennies and hope to attend the grand unveiling of the first HD vinyl project! I think Gunther Loibl and Andreas Wagner and their team over in Austria are onto something very valuable to the music industry! I hope it is highly successful and wish them the best! Our friends at the NiPro Optics plant have been making innovations for keeping lacquers clean and secure, too.
If the surge in vinyl continues to rise – I think we will need to see more turntables manufactured – and good ones that play well, and that don’t destroy the records; and ones for little kids like I mentioned we’d had. And recently a possible first step in the thousand mile journey for something sort of new and exciting and dear to my heart was done. I’ll hope there is more to tell soon! That’s what you call a teaser, I think!
I feel there are many of us who want to see vinyl find its place again, and for kids to slow down the pace a little to enjoy the complete listening experience that vinyl albums offer. Make it an event when you bring home a new record – invite a friend over to take it in – We did! Read about who was involved – check out the journey the musicians and the composer want to take you on (in order) from Track 1 Side A through to the end of Side B or all the way to D …Not jumping tracks like one does with a CD or a device. And by all means – make popcorn… or light a fire in the fireplace… have s’mores! Make it more like going to the theatre: dim the lights, relax, and give it your full attention!
Anything else you want to share / I know we covered it some but what are you listening to?
Hmmm… “Smitty” – Michael W. Smith, one of my heroes since my mid 20’s. He’s blown me away with his music and message over the years! I love Funk, …and Salsa for dancing to. Rob Mathes, Michael League, Paul McCartney, Sir Elton – these guys have been writing, arranging, and producing such amazing music. Hugh Laurie‘s a favorite, too – such a talented actor and also an accomplished New Orleans Jazz musician, to boot! I still love Sting, I still pull up 70’s classics, And I still am drawn to some classical music, to crossover singers like Andrea Bocelli ( I used to dream of singing a duet with him), I also love the soulful sounds of Glen Hansard, and Celtic music, and some show tunes – I am a Les Miz fan. And movie underscoring and sound tracks fascinate me – one of my favorites is You’ve Got Mail – I bought the CD of the underscoring! And as mentioned earlier – Lord of the Rings…I’m sure I’ll get the Mary Poppins Returns. I like a lot of variety! I find it so hard to choose! Lately, I have been watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon, and love the soundtrack choices.
This excites me, and if you are looking for more education about vinyl records, Record Store Day, and what’s happening out there, look these conferences up: Making Vinyl – The 2019 will be in LA. They are educating the next generation – it’s exciting to think that those of us who grew up on vinyl can pass the torch to our younger peers. And it’s even more confounding that what barely burned as an ember for a couple decades has been fanned into a flaming torch. That we even have that at all to pass along, it’s somewhat miraculous, perhaps! I could go on … But I’ve been long and uber chatty!
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