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Aussie artists
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Howzat! Archive - June 22nd 2011

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Look closely at your CD collection and you'll find the credit: Mastered by Jack the Bear. He is ubiquitous. But who is Jack the Bear? Intrigued by the mastering process - Is it really a black art? - Howzat! asked to tag along when a mate was having his record mastered by Jack the Bear. I arrived early at his Brunswick studios, expecting a sterile environment, uptight and uninviting. "G'day, mate," a large man says, hand outstretched, when he spots me sitting on the couch. "How ya going, I'm Jack the Bear."

Over the next few hours, we discover that Jack the Bear is one of music's great blokes. Not only is he happy for the artist to be part of the session, he's more than happy to explain the process. "Mastering is often touted as being the black art and that is just bullshit," he says simply. "I really try to dispel that myth. I'm just enhancing the sound of the mix. Mastering is not miracle work, but we can help the artist realise their vision." Jack laughs when he recalls his late father saying, "Let me get this straight, you sit in a room and listen to music and twiddle these knobs and people pay you?" Jack admits, "I do this gig because I love hanging out with musos and being able to listen to cool music."

Jack, who also worked as a DJ on MMM, has mastered some big records (his client list, including Jet, Silverchair and Nick Cave, can be found at but he says every record is special. He often tells his clients he's going to become a surrogate band member. "I play a very small role, and no one's ever going to buy a record on the basis of me mastering it, but you want to be proud of the work. You become successful by helping other people be successful."

A major mastering issue even has a name: "The Loudness Wars". When your parents demand, "Why does it have to be so loud?", they might have a point. In the digital age, the mastering engineer can turn the volume up to 11. Where does Jack stand? "Well, for a start, 'The Loudness Wars' is nothing new. In the old days, the engineer who could cut the loudest record was the guy everyone went to. The fact it's called a war is kind of silly, though I can see where people are coming from - records that are over-compressed can sound very lifeless. But a loud record is a commercial imperative. It's usually what a client wants, and I see this as a service business. The challenge now is how do we make records loud but still sound good?"

One last question: How did Tony Mantz become Jack the Bear? "A friend and I were coming home from a party, on the New York Subway, which was affectionately known as 'the Vomit Comet', and two drunks were having an argument. One of them said, 'Don't blame me, it's Jack the Bear's fault.' He then pointed at me, 'Him - he's the fuck-up, blame him!' My friend thought it was hilarious: 'You're Jack the Bear, you're the fuck-up.'" The irony is the "fuck-up" is now fixing up countless recordings. The difference between my mate's mixed and mastered songs is remarkable. Not that Jack the Bear claims the credit. "People sometimes forget when you're working on music, it's all about the song. The listener doesn't sit there and geek out; if the song's good, they'll like it. The production, the mix and the mastering are all bonuses that enhance the song. I'm just framing the picture, I'm not trying to repaint it."

Josie Jason was a great rock chick. As one fan recently posted at her MySpace page: "You're the coolest rock chick eva!" No doubt you saw Josie at the Espy at some stage. She was a member of Jimi The Human & Spectre 7 when Howzat! met her. You'd want to be a great guitarist to share the stage with Jimi Hocking, and Josie was. She was also a delight to hang with after a gig. Josie then fronted her own band, Josie Jason and The Argonauts, and was a member of the all-girl rock band Mother. Sadly, Josie died of cancer last week. She will be missed.

With the re-release of their classic debut, what are the chances of Flowers/Icehouse doing a secret Melbourne show next month?

Many fans want D. Rogers to do a duets album with his musical partner Emma Heeney. And tomorrow (Thursday) they'll be doing a duet as part of Dave's Builders Arms' residency. He'll be taking the Elton John role in Don't Go Breaking My Heart, while Emma will be Kiki Dee (a role Elton originally offered to Colleen Hewett). Punters propose a cover for Dave to do the next week. Last week's winning suggestion came from Kate "Duncs" Duncan, who will be this Thursday's support act.

Stan Walker has the third Aussie song to hit the Top 10 this year.

We Run The Night HAVANA BROWN (number seven)
Loud STAN WALKER (nine)
From The Music THE POTBELLEEZ (21)
Slap My Elbow S.MOUSE (37)

The Vines slip from the Top 40 after just one week.

Seeker Lover Keeper SEEKER LOVER KEEPER (number four)
Aphrodite KYLIE MINOGUE (24)
Midnight Remember LITTLE RED (36)
The Life of Riley DRAPHT (37)
Rrakala GURRUMUL (40)

Buyer's Remorse D. ROGERS
Can't Help Myself FLOWERS

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