At the beginning of May, Wellingtonian Jack Anderson aka Jack Panther independently released his debut EP ‘Retrospect’, digitally and on cassette. The first single of the EP, Heartbreakers was premiered at Happy Mag last year, with the description that it “…glides through a melancholic blend of indie and synth-pop to deliver a captivating sound, with brooding, pop-driven vocal hooks and glassy production.” There’s a reason it sounds that good. To get the song mastered, Jack went to the UK himself to sit in on engineer Stuart Hawkes (Ed Sheeran, Amy Winehouse), who he had enlisted for the task, at Metropolis Studios.
I sat on the train for two and a half hours, staring out into the English countryside as we approached closer and closer to London. Spending that time on the train did make me consider how I’d come here all the way from New Zealand, and why. It brought me back to 2015 when I was just shy of 17 and had first recorded Heartbreakers.
I walked into Metropolis Studios’ large open-plan foyer, carrying nothing but nerves and a large suitcase. I was amazed by the design of the building, connecting different floors of the studios by ramps. I waited upstairs at the bar, where, for some reason, I thought ordering an Americano would calm my jitters. It did not. Dan, the mastering manager, arrived and walked me up a ramp, past some studios and into Stuart’s office.
Stuart was sitting there comfortably in his big chair, almost exactly as I had pictured him. We exchanged hellos and Dan left us to it. He brought up Heartbreakers into a new ProTools session, began listening to it and got a feel for the track. I just chatted away as he swivelled around and around on his chair between the compressor, EQ, volume, gain and what was probably some dark arts magic, the kind only masterers seem to have.
I did ask him about Amy Winehouse. She was a huge influence on my music and it was something I was dying to ask him about.
“So what was it like working with Amy Winehouse?”
There was no way he couldn’t hear the nerves cemented in the back of my throat. He replied, something along the lines of, “She wasn’t someone to stay in one place.”
I guess you could interpret that she was easily distracted – which didn’t surprise me. Ed Sheeran, on the other hand, Stuart said he really liked working with. He said Sheeran was so active during the entire mastering session, knowing exactly what he wanted and how he wanted it to sound. Hearing that from Stuart inspired me to also be an artist who is direct in what they want.
Five minutes passed and Stuart presented me with a decision. To either have the track ‘louder’ with risk of distortion or quieter and without distortion. I pondered for a while, considering it a ‘you can’t win’ situation. I asked what he’d recommend for this track. He kind of shrugged, signalling ‘It’s up to you’.
Caught somewhere between the two I must’ve forgotten I was still holding the Americano because it slipped out of my hand, all over me and the floor. I was mortified, embarrassed and still very much jetlagged. My first thought was ‘Thank god it’s all over my white top and not on the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment’. As I looked up, Stuart had turned around staring at the mess I made, the expression on his face indicating that he sort of found it funny. He quickly ran and got paper towels to clean up. As we dabbed out the murky puddle on the floor, I made up my mind; I wasn’t going to spend four years making and hundreds of hours listening to a track for it to be distorted. I said to Stuart I’d choose the option without distortion and he got to it.
A few small tweaks and a stained, sticky t-shirt later, Stuart had finished up and ProTools was bouncing the session. I asked him what it was like to work at Metropolis and he said he enjoyed working there as it was the biggest independent studio in the UK. He did, however, continue to say he’d like to set up his own mastering studios one day, “…maybe out in Brighton, by the beach”. Gathering my things, we shook hands and I said “Thanks so much.” Dan escorted me out of the studio, back to reception where I collected my obnoxiously large suitcase and went back to the Underground, on my way.
Looking back, I learnt a lot from that trip to the UK. Earlier last year I emailed an earlier demo of Heartbreakers to a mentor of mine, who had put me in touch with Stuart. I’ve realised that if I was too scared to ask for advice I wouldn’t have had such a special opportunity to test myself, nor to put myself out there! I think it’s important to not only grasp what opportunities you can but to put yourself in situations where new opportunities can arise.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help, I’m constantly learning that in this industry there are so many opportunities to do so many cool, exciting things!