So where did the idea for Glowcast come from?
The name Glowcast comes from this quote: “There are two kinds of light – the glow that illuminates, and the glare that obscures.” – James Thurber. My idea was to let the work do the talking for me. To quietly offer a service that highlights the potential of the music I work with, without being intrusive or overbearing, without changing the character of the music too much but rather to compliment it and help it to glow. I also recognized that there were no mastering studios in my area, so I thought this was something that I could explore.
I always had a curiosity for mastering ever since college, so 11 years ago (after leaving university) I spent some time in Toronto learning mastering from Joao Carvalho before I began Glowcast in Glasgow, Scotland. I rented a cheap studio space in an old community center building and began to work on audio (my own tracks and working on other peoples, paid and unpaid). I used reference files, and tried to match my masters to them in terms of quality. I went to all my producer friends who made music and asked them if i could master their tracks, I got business cards and a WordPress site and I handed my business cards out to bands and told them I would master one track for free as a trial and if they liked the results they could pay me for the next project. There were no “jobs” available in my area for studio work that I could see, so I decided I had to make my own.
The goal was to become a sound engineer, and make music my work somehow. The idea came about quite organically and almost by accident.
And did you face many hurdles in the beginning?
Many. The hard part is getting the ball rolling at the beginning. Dedicating time, effort and hours to it without getting paid enough to live from. When I began my career I was working 3 different jobs, mastering, working at a record label, and working in a bar at night time. It was exhausting but essential and just one of the many barriers to break through.
Every engineer (and musician) will face weekly hurdles. When you’re starting out, a common misconception is that you will find a job as a sound engineer. You don’t find a job in mastering, you make your own job. You build up your own reputation organically yourself with working for musicians. You slowly build up your reputation as a mastering engineer with patience and practice and networking, and then you begin to have clients. Say for example you’re working freelance from your home studio and your clients begin to tell their friends about your service. Soon you’ve gone from 2 clients to 5 clients. You’re slowly gathering momentum this way until you have more and more clients. This takes years, but this is your challenge to face as a new engineer, making a name for yourself. Eventually you get a reputation and also great skills from lots of practice. There is a steep learning curve with mastering so you must be patient and kind to yourself. You have to have a belief that you can do it and focus on the long term goal. Everyday hustlin’.
I spent a lot of time emailing people to try and convince them to work with me in the beginning, to get the ball rolling. I think for every 100 people I emailed, maybe 3 people agreed to send me something. This isn’t a high return, but look at it this way: those 3 people are not dead ends, they are a potential network of many other people as they all have musician friends. 3 satisfied customers leads to 10 new customers. You have to do everything you can to satisfy the customers that you have. I faced endless hurdles, but I tried to see them as all part of the fun. There is a lot of satisfaction to be had in struggle, brainstorming, problem solving and eventually overcoming the barrier, stronger than before. Most of the hurdles in our way are usually those of self doubt and uncertainty rather than actual resistance from the real world. Sometimes the biggest hurdle you face will be something self imposed, a belief that you have that might be a prison of behavioral patterns that you need to be strong enough to let go, and go through the uncomfortable process of growth.
What does a typical day in the office look like?
I work 9-6 Monday to Friday, I used to also work weekends but came to a burnout from exhaustion and so now I value my resting time more than before. I master something like 10 songs a day, and work on a range of genres but mostly I am known for electronic music, techno, house, etc. I drink a lot of coffee, I listen to music all day, I spend some time emailing customers, doing admin, invoices, posting on social media, maintaining the website, tax returns, and other assorted tasks to keep things rolling.
I produce a radio show called Slam Radio once a week too which keeps me busy, and sometimes I teach about mastering in workshops around the world and also here in Berlin. I make time to exercise every day, yoga, muay thai boxing, bouldering. When I get frustrated or fatigued from music I also make time to paint and socialise, meeting friends or clients as often as possible. For me the key to good mastering (once you have put the hours into learning technique) is a well rested and healthy engineer so I make sure to try and maintain my energy levels and a satisfying personal life. Work is part of your life. Work is not your life, no matter how much you like your job.
Which track makes you most proud to have worked on?
There are many. Working on some songs for Daft Punk, working on some albums from Jeff Mills, or maybe this beautiful track featuring Fink.
I can tell you a story about a track that humbled me, however. I was working on a song, a lullaby. It was sugary sweet and was sounding like something from a Disney film. The theme was “sleep, my darling sleep” and the lyrics somewhat cheesy. I thought to myself, “this song is cheesy, I can’t imagine anyone will like this”. How wrong i was, and this was one of the biggest lessons i learnt as an engineer.
It turns out that the song was written by a father for his son, who had trouble sleeping when he went to work offshore on the oil rigs. The song was a Christmas present for his son, to help him sleep when he missed his dad. It turns out the intended audience of this song was one person, and for the audience, this was the best song in the world and created an unforgettable bonding moment between father and son. This caused some deep introspection on my part and made me realize just how precious music can be to it’s intended audience whether I “like it” or not. As an engineer we don’t have the right to a personal opinion on someone else’s music, we can only help the musician realize their goal for their intended audience.
This track had the biggest effect on me in all my years and taught me that there is no good or bad music, there is only music we connect with, or music that wasn’t intended for us.
What’s the worst job you had in the past?
I have enjoyed all of my jobs even the ‘bad ones’. I cleaned dishes, made coffee, made pizzas, worked in bars, did social media work. I believe that you have to find the joy in whatever you do, and nothing is beneath you. Whatever you do, you should do it to the best of your ability and take pride in it. Saying that, the pizza restaurant was in a rough area, and there were often fights and violence to deal with from drunken punters who came in from the bar next door, that I could have done without as a 17 year old, but the free food and working with my friends was one of my happiest memories.
Do you have any goals for 2020?
Travel, learn, grow personally. Teach. I feel that most of my goals for 2020 are personal development goals rather than professional ones. As for work, I plan to continue offering high quality consistent mastering and mixing services and nurturing current relationships with customers as well as attracting new ones. Exercise and being kinder to myself in general is a goal, doing things that make me happy and worrying less. Putting more energy into personal relationships with friends and family. Living the life that I want rather than what I think is expected of me.
Can you discuss any projects you have going at the moment?
Recent mastering work for Amelie Lens, Scuba, Rødhåd, Kobosil, Slam, and many more can be found here.
Also my band Island People is finishing off its second album, with a hopeful release in 2020, and some gigs to follow.
Mastering aside, I have a little personal project going on with friends at the moment, where every day we text each other 3 things that we are grateful for (specific to that day). The thought behind this is that after a few months of this we have retrained our brains to be constantly looking for the things in our lives that are good, rather than let the world overwhelm you and bring you down. I can honestly say this has had a very positive impact on my mood and mentality recently. Feel free to try it yourself. It actually works.
Lastly, give us a track you can’t seem to turn off at the minute?
Shout out to my main man Alan Gillies who sends me great music all day long like this, or this from Jon Hopkins, or this beauty from Skee Mask, or this from Crazy P, or this all time classic.
Find more information on Conor and Glowcast here.