Journalist: Katarina Misailović
Mika Jussila started his career at Finnvox in 1984. In the beginning, he mastered vinyl records, but became a full-time CD-mastering engineer in the early 90’s. According to his words, he have done masterings for approximately 2000 LPs, over 3600 CDs and innumerable amount of singles, which makes about 100.000 songs in total.
Nowadays, Jussila is more well-known for his masterings in heavy metal and hard rock genres. As a hobby, he have been a singer-guitarist for a few bands, and nowdays he’s a passionate photographer.
– As a youngster back in 1984, I wanted to work in a studio and Finnvox gave me an opportunity and that’s the way I’m still on. I ended up in the vinyl mastering studio and after three whole days I was left alone doing cutting by myself. My elder colleague told me just the necessary technical stuff and how it depends on me what I was going to do with that knowledge. Then he was gone. When I started It was not possible to study how mastering works. It was – learning by doing. Everything had to be achieved by yourself. So, I didn’t choose mastering, mastering chose me.
But also after all these years there is still a lot left to learn. You never stop discovering new things or new ways of working. You have to stay informed about what happens out there. You have to adapt your methods in what happens in the big music market. The world of music changes so you have to change with it to provide your customers the best service possible. First eight years I did that vinyl cutting or disc mastering, any name you call it. We started CD-mastering in Finnvox quite early, 1987. First few years I did both masterings, CD and vinyl together, but became a full-time CD-mastering engineer 1993 because vinyl pressing was dying in Finnvox at that time.
You seems like you’re a “workoholic”, and it is obvious that you love your job very much. Your career in Finnvox, brings also a great number of bands and their albums that you have brought to the final form… In Today’s world, when people become so robotic, chasing a money, and doing their job without a passion, do you think that working in Art, with true artists, especially in music, is a privilege of a few? Do you think that Happiness also lies in a joy of doing your job with Passion and Love?
– You have to know that I´m a kind of person who can´t really say no. I will do all work offered to me. However I have decided not to work on weekends. That decision was made a long time ago. If you give somebody the small finger, they’ll gonna take the whole hand. I need my free time as well, just like any other person does. But that does not mean that I´m out of reach. I keep my phone open 24/7, read my e-mail all the time and hang in my mastering-facebook site every day.
It was a lot of passion, appetite and determination in the beginning. That’s how I managed to achieve my goal. I´m working in a job that I like a lot. I´m still living my dream that my work is actually my hobby. You know, no matter how many hours I have to spend in studio, I love it. I can’t even tell the difference – when the hobby becomes real work, or the work turns to hobby. I’m enjoying that I get paid for my hobby. I’m a huge music lover, open minded, humorous and curious person. I love to help all kind of bands, artists, producers, studios, labels and record companies by doing the best mastering in the world. I have never worked because of money but because of passion to music.
This post of mine is really a privilege for me. I have worked with over 2000 different artists and bands and over 1200 labels and record companies. Most of the members of well known Finnish bands have became my close friends and I can hang around with these people also after working hours.
It t is very important to work in a professional space that comforts and fulfill the creative process. Tell us something about Finnvox? It has a long time tradition (since 1965), and till now, it has nine studios?
– Finnvox has over 50 years history in Finnish music business. It has always been the best and the biggest commercial music studio in Finland. We used to have full service house with recording, mixing, vinyl mastering, record pressing and c-cassette duplicating but in early 90’s we decided to focus only in recording, mixing and mastering. Nowadays we have also Cinepost which is a unit for film/movie sound designing and cinematic audio post production.
What does that fact means to consumers/musicians? What deal/kind of comfort and professional satisfaction Finnvox gives, when it comes to musicians?
– We are discussing about DIY-thinking (Do It Yourself) nowadays in every stage of making music and records… recording, mixing and mastering. But one very very important thing is the studio space. How can you make any adjustments if you are not 100% sure that what you hear is definitely and absolutely right. You don’t have this quality at any other place than in a professional control room. Then you need absolute pro monitors, professional gear and hard ware. And the most important thing to make a mental note is that never ever any gear, hardware or equipment have done masterings. It’s always a job of a human. I have several times left the studio in the evening and a project undone. After returning next day the project is still undone. Nothing has happened during the night time… so non device makes any work alone. You always need a human, a person, a character, a professional.
Nowadays you are offered for mastering from totally different kind of places. Almost everybody opening a laptop can “do mastering”… or recording (with garageband for example). Saving money on this stage is the most stupid thing I can think of. You put thousands of euros for making records and then you save couple of hundreds in shitty mastering and you need to live with this record for the rest of your life.
What is the most important thing about mastering an album? Am I right when I say it requires a critical listening, technical knowledge, and a specific aesthetics?
– I start every mastering by listening the mix files. After that I will master the sound and second comes the editing. It’s always the same, not depending on any genres. With experience and passion for all kind of music comes the best sound for each record, and you need good ears and a skill to listen. The sound of an album compounds of… you could say maybe 40% from the gear in the studio, another 50% comes with the engineer and his personality. The missing 10% is just luck or destiny or whatever you want to call it.
It is not all about the gear, its about the person who works on the stuff with his hands and his ears. It is quite important to have personality. My strength and the quality I serve to my customers is me in person, my long time experience, my ears and the way I dedicate to all masterings. With experience and passion for all kind of music comes the best sound for each record. You need good ears and skills to listen, and you must be a fan, a music lover, a bit artistic… If you only are an engineer the result will be cold and faceless sound without any character.
– I hope and believe that bands and artists are hiring me to do mastering because they know they can trust me, they like my previous works and other bands have given good credentials. So, they are already expecting the sound I’m doing. But still I have to keep in my humble mind that I’m just a “tool” between the band and it’s music. I’m not mastering any albums to myself, but for the band. So, they have always the final word.
Nowadays I work very interactive way. So we can have really good and constructive discussions about the sound and way to work together with every client before mastering. That way I can explain my thoughts and give reasons to my choices and other way around.
What do you prefer – analog or digital mastering, and why?
– I have a really simple signal route and it includes both good quality analog and digital gear. Of course we all work in a computer based system nowadays and it’s usually Mac. I use Pro Tools and Sound Blade HD mastering software. When I started it was only hard ware and after getting used to it… maybe this sounds romanticised but I have always worked with hard ware, never had to work with plug-ins. I definitely have nothing against any plug ins. I just have managed well without. I sure know the quality of all plug-ins nowadays is very high and if I ever feel I need a help of one I will procure that, but working with real gear, turning those knobs and feeling the heat of all tubes… that gives me extra chills and vibes and you all can hear it mastering result.
Besides your profession, you also have many artistic interests. One of them is photography, especially Live stage photography. You said once “I let my eyes decide, just in the same way as I let my ears decide when it comes to music”. That is so beautifully said… Do you still hold on to that quote, and what photography means to you, when it comes to your interests, and hobbies? Do you feel that photography is some kind of passion?
– I have always photographed. My father taught me the basics, and I shot a lot of both negatives and positives (dia). But this live photographing started growing soon after I got my first digital camera. My first released band photos are from 2006. It’s special hobby… or profession, because in daytime I’m working with same bands in studio, than I’m in the night time shooting photos in a club or festival. I’m kind a lucky, because I can shoot bands from a different angle than other photographers. I’m allowed to go places where nobody else is allowed to photo. All came up like a hobby, but the more I did it, the more I wanted to do it. First, I asked bands if it was ok to take some shots during their show, then they asked me if I would like to photograph. Quite many artists and media have already used my photos on books, album covers, magazines, newspapers, commercials etc.
It’s just a pity that people won’t respect copyrights and credits anymore when it comes to music or photos. The attitude that everything must be for free or everything that is already in internet can be taken and shared. Lots of people are creating new pages and artwork by using other people’s work without crediting, asking a permission, or without paying even though they might do business with that creation or art of theirs.
You spend a lot of time with musicians in the studio, and you have a unique kind of friendly /professional connection with most of the bands in Finland. Musicians like you very much, and love what you do in Finnvox. One of the newest Prize is a special Award you got from Nightwish. You have worked with Nightwish for 19 years. What does those awards and recognitions means to you?
– The best award I can imagine is a happy customer who returns to me with next album/project again. Of course I’m also honored to receive all kind of prizes, gold records, platinum records etc. but the most important thing is to have an opportunity working with all these bands and artists who also are my friends. But those awards sure puts you work harder and harder every time. Nothing comes easy and are for free.
What is your favorite music? What bands, or music genre you love the most?
– Although I master mostly metal and hard rock I definitely love all kinds of music as long as it is good enough. I have got a very wide musical education from home. It included lots of jazz legends and even country and western. In the seventies my brothers led me into rock music and after punk rock arrived I was totally fascinated by all the aggressive punk bands, especially The Ramones. Nowadays I hardly listen to anything after a mastering day at Finnvox, my ears just won’t tolerate so much music in one day. But if I have the opportunity to relax and enjoy music I usually get back to my all time favourites: AC/DC, ZZ Top, The Who, The Beatles, Neil Young, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, The Doors … there would be hundreds and hundreds of names to list!
People, remember to listen music, not CD, vinyl, mp3 or any amps, cables, monitors, headphones… Listen MUSIC, playing, singing, songs and compositions, solos, choruses, lyrics… Get the best vibrations by letting the Music flow! Get excited about Music, let the music turn you on, and make Love with Music. AND start listening to Music again, don’t just use it in the backround, but sit down and listen!
Last year, Amorphis celebrated ten years Anniversary of releasing Eclipse album. You have been working on many albums, including Eclipse, and live CD (An evening with friends@ Juhlaviikot – Huvila) in Helsinki, which is a part of the new special Under the Red Cloud Tour edition (Nuclear Blast). Amorphis played a couple of times in Serbia. What is your experience working with the band?
– I have worked with Amorphis in ten different projects. Three in a row albums of Amorphis, which I call “Tomi Joutsen trilogy”, Eclipse, Silent Waters and Skyforger are unbelievable fucking crazy good-sounding metal albums. Those guys are not the easiest mates to work with because of equal membership of each and very democratic band making decisions together. There have been a lot of wrestling and boxing while working with them but always with a good feeling, hah hah. They all are good friends of mine.
In your opinion, what is the Magic behind the music in Finland? What is that specific Essence that makes Finnish music so creatively unique?
– It must be the long and dark wintertime, light summer nights and and all the depression this nation is feeling between east and west 🙂
Seriously… We have an excellent music educating system in Finland which begins already in schools. All talented and interested kids are offered different levels of education, both playing and creating and not only classical but in all different genres from rock to jazz, and from folk to ambient.
Thank you Mika!
– My pleasure!