Engineers

Jason Ward, Bob Weston, Shelly Steffens, and Matthew Barnhart.

 

Jason Ward:

Jason has had a lifelong interest in music that began with trumpet at age 11, guitar at age 13, and bass guitar at age 15. He began his career in audio engineering doing live sound mixing at Emo's Alternative Lounge in 1991 in Austin, TX. In 1992 he began working as a touring sound engineer, a career that took him around the country and abroad for 6-9 months per year with acts such as Sebadoh, The Offspring, Social Distortion, Braniac, Barkmarket, Superchunk, The Spinanes, Sleater-Kinney, Elliot Smith and many others. During breaks in this touring schedule he pieced together his first home studio setup around a Tascam 1/2" 8-track machine and began recording local bands on a shoestring budget. Eventually he moved into Austin's Sweatbox studio, a local focal point of independent music recording. He worked through the mid-90s with bands such as Paul Newman, Drums and Tuba and Monroe Mustang. A few years later, he moved on to freelance recording at a variety of local studios with artists such as Rhythm Of Black Lines and Sixteen Deluxe, as well as playing bass and keyboards for the noise-rock outfit switchHitter.

In the spring of 1999, Jason relocated to Chicago to work as a staff engineer at the newly built Engine Music Studios. There he worked on the wiring and installation of three studios and recorded artists such as The Gaza Strippers, del rey, the puta-pons, and many others.

A few years later, after purchasing a two-flat home with his wife, he built out a studio in the lower half of the house with the plethora of analog and digital equipment he had acquired over the years (including contributions of choice vintage guitars and amplifiers from his musician wife), and Prole Arts Studio was born. Here he could afford to give the luxury of ample time and quality equipment to artists without the budget to camp out in more expensive studios. Prole Arts Studio has hosted Implodes, Ken Vandermark, The Safes, L'Altra, Taking Pictures, Rhythm Of Black Lines, AM Syndicate, The Dials, Big Buildings, and many more.

Additionally, Jason has engineered the audio mix for films including short features by writer/director Michelle Mahoney (The Undergrad, Traverse City) as well as the independent feature film "Somebodies," which screened at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. He also spent 6 years working for Full Aperture Systems, specializing in audio calibration for 35mm motion picture and digital video exhibition. Projects included installations for Northwestern University's Block Museum of Art, The Art Institute of Chicago's Siskel Film Center, and REDCAT Theater in L.A.'s Walt Disney Concert Hall among others. In addition to installation work, he has worked on specialty events such as the Chicago Outdoor Film Festival and other film festivals as well as numerous feature film premieres.

Other projects of note over the last few years include the broadcast mix for the November '08 Austin City Limits appearance of Arcade Fire, ongoing audio work with the Third Coast International Audio Festival as well as live sound work for The Shins and Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks. He still can be found very occasionally filling in on live sound for Andrew Bird and Superchunk.

Most of Jason's time is spent these days mastering 150+ projects per year at Chicago Mastering Service, where he can often be found at the Neumann cutting lathe, observing the CMS motto of "ABC" or "always be cutting!" He is still keeping a hand in musical projects as well, playing in recent years with Kid Congo Powers and the Pink Monkeybirds and Swiss Dots. He currently plays guitar and keyboards with del rey. He is also currently working towards an economics degree at the University of Illinois at Chicago and is an avid cyclist.

Jason. Photo by Jason Ward.

 

Bob Weston:

Bob's lifelong interests in both the artistic and the technical sides of music began at an early age. His elementary school memories are of an aching desire to operate the filmstrip projector, movie projector, or cassette player for any A/V requirement. It was an irresistible and unexplainable urge. He felt the same urge in the fifth grade when music lessons were offered and he was immediately drawn to the trumpet.

He went on to play trumpet in every possible school ensemble through college, including a few summers with the world champion Garfield Cadets Drum & Bugle Corps. At the same time, he expanded his technical audio/visual abilities by: learning black & white photography and darkroom skills; working in the high school's closed-circuit TV studio; learning about theatrical lighting and becoming the master-electrician for a local summer theater; and becoming active at his college radio station. He DJed at the station for four years, and also held the positions of General Manager and Chief Engineer. During his time at WJUL, he co-founded a weekly show, "Live from the Fallout Shelter", which featured bands playing live in the studio. Bob handled the audio mixing duties for this show and it is where his musical and technical abilities began to intertwine. It's still on the air more than 20 years later.

Bob graduated from the University of Lowell (Massachusetts) in 1988 with a BS in Electrical Engineering and a minor in Sound Recording Technology. During college, he spent most of his free time learning about tape recorders, transmitters, and audio electronics from upper-classmen at the radio station. He also taught himself how to play electric bass and started playing in bands with friends from the radio station. The station also exposed Bob to the underground / independent rock music community that he's been a part of ever since. He started going to see bands play in Boston and befriended some of them. He convinced many to let him engineer their live sound at shows. Eventually he joined a band (Volcano Suns) and went on to play on four records with them, making many friends and contacts while touring the US multiple times; and even touring Europe once before the band broke up.

While playing in bands has been Bob's main hobby since then (his current band, Shellac, has released four albums and regularly tours around the world), it has never been his profession. After college, he worked for a few years as an RF Engineer, designing broadcast antennas. Then he worked for an acoustician, Bob Alach, doing studio-wiring and installation. (Bob Alach did the design work for Chicago Mastering) He also worked for a few years as a studio maintenance technician for WHDH-AM, a 50,000 Watt station in Boston, doing audio installation and maintenance, as well as some transmitter and tower work.

In the fall of 1991, Bob hopped in his Saab 99 with his cat and moved from Boston to Chicago for a job as a maintenance technician at the studio of his friend, engineer Steve Albini. There was the understanding that when the studio wasn't in use by Steve, Bob could use it for recording sessions. And so, very slowly, Bob started recording albums for bands that he had met on tour and become friends with. He gained clients and after two years had to quit his position as full-time studio tech in order to concentrate on recording. Work as a freelance recording engineer has been Bob's main source of income ever since. He has worked at different studios in Chicago, as well as studios all over the US and the world.

To supplement his recording income Bob has worked as a freelance broadcast engineer for NPR's Chicago News Bureau, and does freelance studio consulting. He's designed and installed audio wiring systems and electrical systems for a few studios in the Chicago area.

Bob has found a niche in the underground music community that keeps him busy and happy. He's recorded music by bands whose music he loves and whose members are friends from the music community. He works with area studio owners on studio design and construction. He mixes live sound for select bands and plays music in a band that he loves with two of his best friends. He still does occasional technical, maintenance, and repair work for friends; and he still works in radio as well, as an engineer for NPR.

Over the years as a recording engineer, Bob attended a smattering of mastering sessions for records that he had worked on and has always gotten that same instinctive urge that he's had since childhood to pursue this next step in his musical / audio / tech career. This drive, coupled with the obvious and somewhat mysterious lack of professional mastering studios in Chicago put him on the path toward opening Chicago Mastering. After being approached in the fall of 2005 by neighbor and fellow recording engineer Jason Ward, who had been thinking similar thoughts about Chicago's lack of mastering options, the two partnered-up and got to work. The doors opened in April of 2007 after much hard work and Tremco.

Bob's partial discography

Bob. Photo by Liz Clayton.

 

Shelly Steffens:

Chicago native Shelly Steffens graduated with a degree in radio and television broadcasting from Marquette University. Since her college days, she's honed her audio skills at commercial studios: Bosco Productions and Harpo Studios. She's recorded for film and music projects at Chicago's Experimental Sound Studios and has recently done recordings for bands such as Lichens and Shredd Aquarium. She also tours doing front of house mixing for artists such as Neko Case, Joanna Newsom, She and Him, Roy Harper and M. Ward. Additionally, Shelly plays guitar in the internationally unknown band A Tundra. We're delighted to have Shelly on staff as our assistant mastering engineer.

Shelly.

 

Matthew Barnhart:

Matthew is a native Texan who has had a lifelong love of music, recording, and records.

In 1997, he co-founded The Echo Lab recording studio in Denton, Texas, where he has recorded and mixed albums for Shearwater, The New Year, Brave Combo, Pinkish Black, Overseas, and many others.

He has also been running live sound since 2001. He is currently FOH engineer and tour manager for Superchunk, Bob Mould, Destroyer, and The New Year, and has toured with the Dodos, The New Pornographers, CHVRCHES, David Bazan, Shearwater, Swans, John Vanderslice, and St. Vincent.

Matthew plays in the band Tre Orsi. D. Boon is his hero. He loves bicycles and coffee and is happy to be a part of the Chicago Mastering Service family.

Matthew.