×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Vinyl Mastering Fixture Ron McMaster to Retire After 38 Years in the Capitol Tower

A favorite of producers like Don Was and T Bone Burnett, he has cut LPs for the Beach Boys, Radiohead and most of the vintage Blue Note catalog.

At one point, Ron McMaster, Capitol Studios’ renowned vinyl mastering engineer, was thinking about retiring because he wasn’t busy enough. Now, at last, he’s really and truly retiring… because he’s too busy.

McMaster, 69, revealed his plans to Variety on the eve of invitations going out for a July 12 retirement party in the Capitol tower that promises to draw bold-faced names that usually appear higher in the album credits than his own. A favorite of producers like Don Was and T Bone Burnett, he has cut LPs for the Beach Boys, Rolling Stones, Radiohead and virtually the entire vintage Blue Note catalog.

In the basement of a building shaped to resembled a stack of vinyl, he’s been at work mastering CDs as well as LPs for 38 years. But it’s vinyl he’s most associated with, and that medium’s wild resurgence over the last decade has turned him into something of a cult figure among collectors as well as the producers and artists who value his touch at the vintage record-cutting lathe that sits alongside his console.

“The fact that [vinyl] is still strong blows my mind,” McMaster tells Variety. “It makes me real happy. I never thought it would be ending like this, for me.”

In the early 2000s, LPs were just starting to make a comeback, but the prevailing winds still seemed to be leading him out the door. “There was a time when it slowed down quite a bit, and I was almost going to retire then,” he says, “just because I felt like the digital world and the different things that were coming up weren’t really my bag. And then all of a sudden vinyl exploded, and I became the only one around here in this building that could do it. I still had the lathe here, so then I became extremely busy, busy enough where we brought the other lathe that used to be next door out of storage. Someone hooked it up, and then I trained him how to operate it, and now he’s cutting full-time, too.”

It was the full-time part that got to McMaster, a little shy of four decades into his tenure in the subterranean studio. “I just couldn’t take the workload demand. I’m 69 years old, going on 70. I can only do this for so much longer, because I actually do about two to three albums per day and ship them out of here, which is quite a bit of work. And the company loves it, but Ron gets real tired after five days straight of doing that. I go home and rest and I found I just don’t bounce back as quick as I used to.”

In the ‘80s and ‘90s, McMaster’s name was best known to jazz buffs, because he was the go-to guy for the Blue Note label, whose vinyl re-releases continued to find a thirsty audience even as LPs fell out of favor in the rock and pop worlds. This century, while continuing to work on jazz reissues, he’s mastered or remastered vinyl versions of well-known works by the Beach Boys (“Pet Sounds”), Radiohead (“Kid A”), Frank Sinatra (“Only the Lonely”) and George Harrison (the recent “Dark Horse” boxed set) as well as working on new projects like T Bone Burnett’s “Hunger Games” soundtrack and Robert Plant/Allison Krauss collaboration. Last year, Blue Note head Don Was got him to master a very non-jazz-related project he was producing, the Rolling Stones’ “Blue and Lonesome.”

McMaster even became his own client a few years ago, cutting the vinyl for Jack White’s Third Man label on a release of a psych-rock album, “Gotta Survive,” that he and his Sacramento-based psych-rock band, Public Nuisance, recorded but had shelved back in the late 1960s.

McMaster doesn’t plan on exiting the business altogether after he clears out the last of his things at the end of July. “My goal is just to kind of slow it down a little bit, and still stay in touch, and if I can help people out, I’m more than happy to,” he says. “Ron just needs a little more time outside of the console. I’ve been humping over this board for a long time. So, I’m teaching someone now that’s learning very well and will be able to spend a good amount of time cutting a lot of those records. And then if I can help out, they know where I’m at. I’m still going to be in town. So it’s not like I’m gonna disappear.”

He’ll miss the tower, he says. “Capitol’s a very interesting place to work,” he says. “It’s like this little family; you can come back. I still have people that come back in to that used to work here in the late ‘80s or the ‘90s that I knew, and you just pick up where you left off. It’s different from a lot of places. It’s not the same as ‘I worked at Macy’s for 35 years.’”

One thing that’s different at the end of his tenure than the beginning, or middle: His studio is a popular stop on private tours of the tower. And that includes tourists who are coming down from the upper levels of the building, which didn’t always happen in vinyl’s more fallow years. “Now I get [Capitol Music Group chairman/CEO] Steve Barnett coming down here, and I know his wife. It’s kind of crazy.”

For a full career overview interview with McMaster, look for the July 10 print edition of Variety.

More Music

  • Kanye West Shares a Memory of

    Kanye West Shares a Touching Memory of His Mother in Letterman Interview

    In a preview of David Letterman’s interview with Kanye West, which begins streaming next Friday, May 31, the musician’s wife Kim Kardashian West, tweeted a clip of him sharing a touching memory of his mother, Donda, who died in 2007 after a surgical procedure. While his wife looks on smiling, West answers Letterman’s question about [...]

  • Dan the Automator

    Heeding the Call of Olivia Wilde, Dan the Automator Scores 'Booksmart'

    Dan The Automator, aka Daniel Nakamura, knows a thing or two about setting a mood. The Bay Area-based producer has worked on projects such as Gorillaz’s debut album, Handsome Boy Modeling School (with Prince Paul) and multiple projects with rapper Kool Keith. Now, Nakamura has set his sights on film scoring, and will make his [...]

  • Santino Fontana Tootsie Broadway Illustration

    'Tootsie' Star Santino Fontana on the Challenges of His Tony-Nominated Dual Role

    Santino Fontana is doing double duty on Broadway this year. The “Tootsie” star scored his second Tony Award nomination this month for his hilarious portrayal of struggling actor Michael Dorsey and Dorothy Michaels, the female persona that Dorsey assumes to win a role in a play. The musical, based on the 1982 comedy starring Dustin [...]

  • Kanye West Slams Liberals for ‘Bullying’

    Kanye West Slams Liberals for ‘Bullying’ Trump Supporters in David Letterman Interview

    The Daily Beast today published a preview of David Letterman’s interview with Kanye West — which addresses music, fashion, West’s late mother and of course his much-criticized support of President Trump — on his Netflix show, which begins streaming next Friday, May 31. The article praises the hour-long session as “not only one of the [...]

  • Richard AshcroftThe Ivors, London, UK -

    Richard Ashcroft Talks About ‘Emotional’ Legal Battle Over ‘Bittersweet Symphony’

    On Thursday, nearly 22 years after the Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” was released, singer Richard Ashcroft announced that the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and Keith Richards assigned to him the songwriter royalties and rights from the song, which samples one of their compositions, and removed their writing credits. The songwriting royalties and rights had been assigned [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content