Bob Ludwig has helped tweak and fine-tune the work of music’s biggest stars over the last 45 years, from Bruce Springsteen and The Rolling Stones to Mumford & Sons and Daft Punk.
So he’s not easily star-struck.
But Ludwig admits he was pretty excited when he found out that he has five Grammy Award nominations this year for his work as a mastering engineer, after winning three Grammy statuettes over all those years.
“It’s a different feeling to be mentioned in the (Grammy Awards) press release, as one of the people with five nominations,” said Ludwig from his home in Scarborough. “This will never happen to me again.”
Ludwig’s nominations this year are: Record of the Year for “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk with Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers; Album of the Year for “Random Access Memories” by Daft Punk; Best Historical Album for “Charlie Is My Darling – Ireland 1965” by The Rolling Stones; and two for Best Engineered Album, non-classical, for “Annie Up” by Pistol Annies and for “Random Access Memories” by Daft Punk.
He plans to be at the Grammy Awards on Sunday night in Los Angeles.
Ludwig has never had the thrill of stepping on stage to get a Grammy handed to him.
He won last year in the category of Album of the Year for “Babel” by Mumford & Sons, but a Maine blizzard grounded his plane and he missed the ceremony.
“I could have been on stage for that one; I could have gotten a kiss from Adele,” said Ludwig of the singer who presented the award.
Ludwig’s two other Grammy Awards, in the Best Surround Sound Album category, were awarded at separate ceremonies, not at the televised Grammy Awards.
He has worked on many recordings that have won Grammy Awards, but mastering engineers are eligible to be named in only five categories. In past years, there were even fewer categories in which a mastering engineer could earn a Grammy.
Ludwig’s business is mastering, the last step in the recording process. An album or song is recorded, and mixed, somewhere else. Then, the almost-finished product is sent to Ludwig.
He listens to “every single beat of every song,” looking for ways to make it better. Sometimes that means using a computer program to take hard “s” sounds out of lyrics, making sounds louder or softer, eliminating reverb, and other such technical tasks.
“It’s my job to hear everything, imagine how it could sound, and know what knobs to turn to make that happen,” said Ludwig.
Most of Ludwig’s clients don’t come to Portland to watch, or help, him master. Some do. Springsteen has come many times, and Eric Clapton has, too. For the Daft Punk album, duo member Thomas Bangalter came to Ludwig’s Gateway Mastering in Portland, at High Street and Cumberland Avenue, for several days in December 2012.
“We did a lot of work on that one. We used five different formats, different kinds of digital technology for different songs, mastered songs at different levels,” said Ludwig. “They had the budget for it, and they left no stone unturned.”
Ludwig grew up in the Westchester County suburbs of New York City, studied music at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., and was a trumpet player in a symphony in Utica. He began his mastering career in 1967 at A&R Recording Studios, working with, among others, the legendary engineer and producer Phil Ramone.
Ludwig worked in mastering studios in New York City for about 25 years and gained an A-list of clients before opening Gateway Mastering in Portland in 1993.
Ludwig, who is married and has two daughters, said he picked Maine as the location for Gateway Mastering partly because his parents were living here at the time. And because he wanted to live “in a beautiful” place where it wouldn’t cost as much to open a studio as it would in New York.
Ludwig planned to fly to Los Angeles from Portland on Friday, bringing his oldest daughter, Alexandra, with him.
He doesn’t know exactly where he’ll sit for the ceremony, or whom he might see on the red carpet. The one thing he knows for sure is what to pack.
“I have to remember to pack my earplugs; the music is so loud there,” he said.
Ludwig usually has full control of the volume when he listens to music. But at the Grammy Awards, all he can do is sit back and listen.
And keep his fingers crossed.
Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: