When Vlado Meller was 21 years old, he turned up at CBS Studios intent on doing one thing with his life: mastering records. Rather than pursue the more popular careers of mixing or producing, Meller was resolute on becoming the record’s sound enhancer, and his perseverance paid off. The big boys took him in that day back in 1969. They trained him on the job, and before Meller knew it, he was cutting vinyls and working with one of the most impressive musical catalogs imaginable. His first big client — Pink Floyd. From then on he worked with everyone from Michael Jackson and Weezer to Metallica and Duran Duran.
“I’m not a genius or anything,” Meller says of his remarkable resume. “I just worked for the labels, and they fed me work. I had a huge clientele in every genre — classical, country, rock, Broadway, Christian music. I mean, whatever they had, I worked with them. So in the morning, they’d drop Streisand off to me, in the afternoon, Johnny Cash — next day, Aerosmith. So I was used to this catalog. I didn’t know any better — I thought this was normal. I was just constantly fed the top-line music. It was delivered to me on a silver plate. They sold millions of records, and it worked out very nicely.”
Meller hasn’t skipped a beat for the past four decades, despite leaving New York City back in March. After visiting the Lowcountry often while his daughter attended the University of South Carolina, one day he decided to trade the skyscrapers for steeples. A colleague of Meller’s had also told him about Truphonic Recording Studios in West Ashley.
“I thought, ‘Who has a studio in Charleston?’ I was very skeptical,” Meller says with a smile. “And he said, ‘No, no, you have to see it. It’s a little gem. It’s behind a liquor store. I said, ‘Behind a liquor store?’ I’m used to Fifth Avenue, you know. So I came over here, and I was pleasantly surprised.”
Now with a growing number of local clients like The Royal Tinfoil and Dangermuffin, Meller is comfortably settled in the new space here in the Holy City. Massive speakers reminiscent of jet engines swallow his studio whole, while gold record after gold record line the walls of the lobby — it’s like a museum in there. He points to a Paul McCartney record and recalls working with him while the Beatle’s kids were in a playpen. There’s a story with every artist: Wham, Oasis, Elton John. The list is seemingly infinite.
During the height of the record-selling business — back when a hit meant selling millions of records rather than the laughable six-digit numbers of today — Meller even went on vacations in exotic, far-flung places with successful clients, the names of which he keeps under wraps.
One of only eight professional mastering engineers in America, Meller has also picked up a couple of Grammys (via Shakira), though many more of his clients were Grammy winners. Meller says that his eligibility to get the award is only a relatively recent thing. Since mastering is the final step in the recording process, the role of the audio mastering engineer is an important one. And these guys are finally getting proper recognition. But in order for the engineers to get a Grammy, the clients have to win Album of the Year. Take Kanye West, for example. Meller mastered six of West’s hit albums, and the musician picked up a slew of Grammys, but never for Album of the Year. Instead of trophies, Meller has a stack of certificates — not that he’s complaining. He is more than content with what he’s accomplished.
“It’s a very interesting job,” Meller says. “It’s a very beautiful job, and I enjoy every minute of it. I’ve never had any regrets. Now in my later years, I hope I can also help teach the younger generation.”
Meller instructs mastering workshops at the studio now. He’s led two so far, with one three-day class planned for December. Next year, he plans to expand to a five-day workshop where students can learn tracking, mixing, production, editing, and mastering. Today, he can comprehensively pass on his extraordinary knowledge while continuing to do what he loves, and that helps make the move down South another triumph for Meller.
“I’ve made my transition, and this is my life now,” Meller says. “I never worked in any other industry. I never did anything else except mastering. Many are mixers for a few years and they move on to producers, and some master for a year or two, then go back to mixing. I stick with what I do, and I’m very happy that I stuck with it.”
Vlado Meller Mastering is located in Truphonic Recording Studios, West Ashley and can be reached at vladomastering.com.