Like a lot of the music business, Steel House Mastering’s Brandon Allshouse has spent some time in the restaurant world. Unlike many others, Allshouse has worked in renewed restaurants like Husk in Greenville, SC, and worked kitchens with Michelin starred chefs. When he’s asked about parallels between the culinary and musical arts, team work comes to mind. “If there’s one thing working in kitchens has taught me, it’s that we have to do this as a team. If you don’t, it’s never going to work out for you as best as it could.”
Brandon takes lots of lessons from the kitchen with him into the studio. “Culinary has always been and always will be my first real love. It’s the thing I got into first, and a skill I’ll be able to carry on and use the rest of my life. I always like to compare cooking to music. Both involve seasoning, careful preparation, and a certain order of meticulous care.”
Getting Started in Mastering
Like the majority of mastering engineers, Brandon got his start as a musician, eventually getting into recording, mixing, editing, and producing. Mastering always seemed like a unattainable dark art, as it does to many, but eventually Brandon realized that processing a mix on the 2 buss wasn’t entirely that different from the art of mastering itself, thus began his journey.
Allshouse explains how mastering is a totally unique part of the music creation process. While there are resources here and there that teach mastering, the only real way to learn is to get your hands dirty and start working.
“To this day you’ll notice that it’s a tough topic to find anything out about, and I don’t really think it’s an intentional “gatekeeping” thing. It so heavily depends on the material you’re working on, as well as your specific approach to music. It’s easy to say “this is how you should EQ a kick drum,” and regardless of the kick drum, it’ll probably sound ok. It’s much harder to flip that around to apply to mastering, with every song being a case by case scenario. Eventually through experimentation and working with more and more artists and producers, I started figuring this whole thing out and what does and doesn’t work. There’s no substitute for knowledge from real world experience. The best part of mastering for me is being able to constantly work on a wide variety of music.”
In 2015, Brandon launched Steel House Mastering to help bring artists’ music to the finish line. I’ve personally enjoyed watching Brandon’s studio evolve from a typical rectangular room into a custom, acoustically treated mastering suite.
Brandon is a self-described gear addict. “When I started with guitar, I was always looking for what cool pedals were out there. Can I mod a pedal? This eventually turned into me building several pedals. Through all that gear tweaking, it really helped me have a much more solid foundation for the engineering side of things, and even more so for the Mastering world, where it’s a game of inches sometimes. If I upgrade the vacuum tubes in this unit, can I lower the self noise a little and get a more desirable tone? Should I or should I not use transformer outs on this piece, and how will the impedance of this unit react with this other one?”
When it comes to mastering equipment, it’s all about precision. “In terms of what I look for now in gear, I need stuff that most importantly is precision grade, meaning I wont get a weird imbalance from poorly matched channels. I also need gear that isnt going to degrade the signal with excessive noise. Most of the time I want pieces that give me something I can’t get in the box, or at least, not as easily. For example, take this HCL Varis varimu that I use quite often. It’s extremely tweakable, offering pentode and triode modes, feedback and feedforward modes, 2 side chain options, Mid Side, Stereo and Dual Mono modes, as well as an x2 function which allows it to work much faster in the release and attack times, allowing it to be used where normally a varimu would be too slow. In addition to all that, it’s got this very euphonic and 3d sound by just turning the unit on, and has very often been used as just a tone enhancer, no compression at all.”
Brandon recently upgraded his monitors, which is a big deal for mastering engineers. Making the jump to new speakers can totally change the way that you work.
“The most important gear purchase of last year was undoubtedly moving to the Dutch and Dutch 8C monitors. The most important tool a mastering engineer can have is a set of speakers, and moving to something of this caliber has been an absolute revelation and a complete joy to work on. I know people say all the time with a monitor purchase, “wow, I can hear things I never heard before” and that’s usually the case when you step up in quality to a better monitor. I thought I was pretty well set with the Barefoot’s before, but this really did take things to an entirely new level. They are my microscope into every detail of a mix. As a mastering engineer, my job is to make your music the best it can be and do a final quality control check. These allow me to do that with absolute surgical precision!”
Stress Relief on Two Wheels
Besides being an experienced chef and prolific mastering engineer, Brandon is known to hit the road on his bike. “Biking is just a hobby and a way for me to detox and destress from this world. I’ve grown up with bicycles since I was a kid. When I got into my teenage years, my brothers and I started building wood ramps to jump our bikes. As I got a little older, that turned into getting into BMX and going to skate parks. Eventually, in my early 20s, I gave that up due to injuries and a lack of health insurance, as well as trying to be more responsible as an adult. I took a several year hiatus, until I eventually met up with a buddy who lent me a bike to go on a ride with him. Little did I know that ride was about 17 miles of hilly countryside.”
“I got hooked since that ride, and routinely do rides double that distance, with last year topping out around 3500 miles and over 200k ft of elevation gain of climbing. It has gotten me in shape and has given me more energy, as well as allowing me to view scenic areas in ways I never would have before. “
The Journey Continues
Since 2015, Brandon’s career in mastering has been on an upward trajectory. As his sound, room, and equipment has improved, so has his list of credits. “Last year was the best year of my career. Not sure about total songs, but I know I sent out close to 200 invoices (projects), which included albums and songs. I’ve had a few cool projects, including one that was produced by Mike Shinoda (Linkin Park). That was a wild project, and funny enough, didn’t even realize who produced it until I was done with the project. I remember telling the mix engineer, wait, what? lol. I just don’t ever expect to work on projects that well known individuals have been a part of, so it’s always humbling and shocking to me when it happens. This past year, I’ve worked on several projects with an engineer who produced on Kanye’s “Donda” album. Music can take you to some really cool places and allow you to meet rad people!”