Ahk-toong bay-bi covered – Q Mag Album
Mastering notes from Pete Maher:
The ‘ahk-toong bay-bi covered’ album was my breakthrough project. It all started in August 2011 when I received a text from my then manager, Justin Pritchard. It read ‘Are you available tomorrow? It’s U2’. I looked away and looked again. U2? My first thought was that Justin was having a laugh! However, after a quick call it was quite apparent that this was indeed U2 and that the project was a ‘supergroup’ album celebrating the 20th anniversary of U2’s landmark album ‘Achtung Baby’. U2’s producer, Flood, had recommended me and U2 were happy with that and happy for me to proceed. I then spoke to U2’s manager and was instructed to keep it quiet and not let anyone know who was on the album (the buzz within the industry was immense). They informed me that they were up against a very tight deadline and needed me to complete the project within two days (so I was well and truly in at the deep end!). They arranged a courier to come to my studio at 7am next morning to deliver the master files. At 6:59am the doorbell rang and the goods were delivered. It was like Xmas morning for me. Jack White, Depeche Mode, Snow Patrol, Nine Inch Nails, Patti Smith, The Killers and Damien Rice had all sonically entered the building. I lined the tracks up and started working on them. I knew that blending song levels and EQ was going to be a mighty task but easy enough for me to do. However, there were two tracks that challenged the process. They were ‘So Cruel’ by Depeche Mode and ‘Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses’ by Garbage. The instructions from Depeche Mode were ‘Do not apply compression or increase volume!’ Problem here was that their mix was relatively quiet, so not being able to increase volume meant that everything else had to come down to the same volume. To make matters worse Garbage had blasted their mix so it was 6db’s louder than everything else (so they won the loudness wars) but I had to turn it down by 6dbs. Anyway, I completed the project on time and sent the album to Flood to approve. He approved it and sent it off to U2 management.
The next day I received a call from Declan Gaffney who’d produced ‘The Fly’ by Gavin Friday. This was a beast of a song that no one, including Jack White or The Killers, dared to cover. Declan had done an excellent job with the mix but had run it through a ‘hot’ mastering plugin to make it loud. In order to blend it with the rest of the album I had to desaturate it and turn it down. Declan wasn’t happy! ‘What have you done to my song?’ He asked. ‘I don’t know you Pete and I don’t want to fight you but I don’t like what you’ve done!’. I calmly explained that if he sent me a new mix with more headroom then I would remaster it and improve it by 100%. He seemed quite happy with that and sent me the new mix. This one had more depth and headroom so I gave it a nice big dynamic boost. Next day he called me back and was super happy ‘Pete you’re a LEGEND, I am amazed by how great it sounds now. I’m going to go play it to the band’. At this point I realized that Declan was part of the U2 family and was their chief engineer so I was happy that he was happy! Ahk-toong bay-bi covered was released on the cover of Q Magazine in Oct 2011 and then via iTunes the following month. It was a worldwide smash and another huge success for U2 (and a mighty big one for me too!). The video below was also released to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Achtung Baby (ahk-toong bay-bi covered).
“Buzzwords on this record were trashy, throwaway, dark, sexy, and industrial (all good) and earnest, polite, sweet, righteous, rockist and linear (all bad). It was good if a song took you on a journey or made you think your hifi was broken, bad if it reminded you of recording studios or U2…”