Tom Walker
& VC Pines:
The Making of 'Masterclass'

2019 BRIT Award-winner, Tom Walker, and alt-soul artist VC Pines descend on Alchemy Mastering in London to shoot a short documentary on creative thinking, songwriting, and the dark art of mastering with audio wizard and Alchemy co-founder, Barry Grint. The film was shot by Benjamin Edward Simmons using Canon cameras, and the audio was captured using Lectrosonics M152 mics and SPDR recorder. Much fun was had, and much Guinness was consumed (after filming, of course).

Watch the Movie

Watch 'Masterclass', an educational and hopefully entertaining film which explores the intricacies and technical nouse that goes into mastering music: from a single, to an EP, to a whole album.

Tom Walker & VC Pines

How Mastering Transforms Music

“I thought it was just like putting a song through a lot of expensive analogue gear in order to make it sound good,” says Tom Walker, whose mega-single, Leave a Light On, was mastered at Alchemy, and has been streamed more than 200 million times on Spotify alone. He also picked up the 2019 BRIT for British Breakthrough Act.

“Sprinkling the magic dust on top,” smiles Jack Mercer, whose first two [VC Pines] singles, Garden of The Year and Vixen were mastered at Alchemy. Both received critical acclaim from both BBC 6 Music and Radio 1.

Grint has been working with Mercer on his VC Pines evolution for two years, and did the whole Tom Walker debut record, What a Time To Be Alive. He asks Mercer what kind of feeling he gets when he receives the mastered tracks back from Alchemy.

“Well, how we work is a rarity in that we have quite a close relationship; I feel like there are a lot of artists where the mix gets sent, and it’s kind of like this strange forbidden world, to the mastering engineer,” Mercer explains. “You spend however many months it takes to do a project, then you send it off to this person you have never met, and you know something’s going to happen to your songs. The only way I can describe your mastering is that it brings the songs to life; it makes them wider, it makes them bigger. Then being able to talk to you about it, and to try to understand why this happens, and how this happens, is really interesting.”

Grint turns to Walker and points out that his album has had four different mastering engineers work on it at various stages.

“[laughs] I’m very picky,” smiles Walker.

But did Grint get it all to gel?

“Yeah, absolutely. It took us a few goes, didn’t it - over email. At the time we started, I was in America, then I was in Australia, and then by the end of it I was in Mexico, so I was trying to do it on various pairs of headphones - some of them amazing, some of them terrible – and various different rental car stereos, and a few studios I was in at the time.

“For me, mastering is the last 10% that is impossible to get. I could sit there and try to make an audio file that’s already done, sound better, but I just wouldn’t get anywhere; it would just get steadily and steadily worse! But mastering really smooths it all out, especially for an album. For me, the gap between songs was super important; I didn’t want anything lingering around too long, I wanted it to be a comfortable journey where there’s room to breathe. I feel we got it really good in the end; I had a little tear in my eye when it was finished, actually. I was pretty emotional, because it had been a long journey getting the album done, but I’m super proud of it, and very happy.”