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Atmos: In Conversation with Matt Colton

Atmos: In conversation is our series of interviews about all things Atmos and 360 RA. 

In this issue we sat down with Matt Colton, mastering engineer at Metropolis Studios, to talk about his recent work on James Blake’s recent album “Playing Robots Into Heaven”.

How long have you been working with Atmos? 

Matt Colton: I have been working with Atmos for a couple of years now since Apple adopted the format.

Is your workflow different when you work in Atmos? 

Matt Colton: It’s different in that I work entirely in the box when doing Atmos mixing and mastering, whereas in stereo I often use a bit of analogue outboard equipment. 

But the principles I bring to Atmos are the same – trying to be musical and focus on the musicality of the project over and above all else. Trying to best serve the music, and present it in the clearest and most honest way to the listener, whatever the format is that I am working towards, be it digital, vinyl, Atmos or whatever.

Is it helpful to the engineer who has mastered the project in both stereo and atmos? 

Matt Colton: I think it’s a massive benefit; the stereo currently invariably is done first, and that means I have gone through the whole approval process with the creative team to get the stereo masters approved and over the line. I know what the creative are looking for, I know what they are listening out for, I know their aims and ideals, and I know what pitfalls and problem areas exist in the album.

If I have done the stereo masters, then I have been through this whole stage of learning about the record, which a third-party engineer hasn’t. As a result, I can bring all that knowledge to bear on the Atmos part of the project as well, whether I am Atmos mastering or Atmos mixing and mastering.

I think it brings greater sonic consistency between the various different delivery formats, and I think also makes communication between the engineer (i.e. myself) and the creative team quicker and easier, because those lines of communication are pre-existing.

Have you worked with James Blake before?

Matt Colton: I have worked on most of the music James has released, from the ‘CMYK’ EP onwards. I mastered his first 3 albums for all stereo formats, did the vinyl mastering for his 4th album and now have mastered all stereo formats and mixed and mastered the Atmos release for this album, ‘Playing Robots Into Heaven’.

Tell a bit more about the project. 

Matt Colton: It’s one of my favourite things James has done, it really harks back to his early output, when he was a young experimental electronic producer living in London, and it’s heavily indebted to London and the sound of this city.

He’s much better at writing hooks now than he was around the time of his first album, and that shows on this record, but it contains much more of the spirit of wild abandon that made his debut album so compelling.

He called me up and said that he didn’t want to get this record mastered in the States, it had to be done by me, because he wanted to maintain the heavy dancefloor bass throughout.

What is your favourite track and why? 

Matt Colton: ‘Tell Me’ and ‘Loading’ are obviously great, but I also really love ‘If You Can Hear Me’ because it’s so unadorned – the emotion really comes through on that track.

Why have you decided to bring Corinne Bailey Rae’s Atmos forward and talk about her album in this interview as well? 

Matt Colton: Because it’s the best record [Black Rainbows] she’s ever made and one of my albums of the year, it’s breathtaking, the performances are great, and the writing is incredible – inventive, psychedelic, wild and engaging. The whole record totally moves the needle of what a lot of people might think of Corinne as an artist. Everyone should check this record out.

It works so well in Atmos because the sound stage on a lot of tracks is vast. The stereo mixes are very upfront and in your face and work great because they are so bold, and the Atmos is a kind of counterpoint to that in certain ways in that we were able to open up the space a bit more which creates a slightly different listening experience. It’s another way to immerse yourself in a truly great album.

Listen to our latest Atmos releases here.