Mastering Engineer

Helsinki 2012

(c) Mika Jussila Official

"From a Hobby to a profession"

After welcoming us very nicely and a private showing through the halls of the infamous Finnvox studios we sat down to talk a bit about his job, what he likes about it, how he got himself into that professional direction and how easily he can combine his new passion for photography with his work. 

Suiciderock: First of all, thanks for having us over. You have over 20 years of mastering behind you. 20 years is an impressive amount of time. How and when did you decide that you want to go into that job direction?
Mika Jussila: It was in October in 1984 when I started to work here at the Finnvox Studios. I came here right after my school was finished. I didnít want to study anything. I have always been interested in that kind of studio work. I was shortly working for a company called Agva. Of course, everybody knows Agva for the films and so on but they also made studio tape. I was driving that studio tape back than. Every time I came to deliver that tape to Finnvox I asked them if they have something to do for me there. After a couple of month they probably got bored of that so they gave me a job. I went straight to the mastering studio after that. Of course, at that time it was still all about cutting vinylís.

Suiciderock: When exactly did you decide that this is what you want to do for a living? Was it when you started to drive this films and tapes or did you already have the wish to work in a recording studio before?
Mika Jussila: I think this already started during my time in high school. I tried to get into a university but when I sat over this tests and started to read them it became clear that this is definitely not what I want to do for a lifetime. The imagination to go to study right away after I had finished high school got me really bored. I realised that I wanted to go straight to work instead of sitting another five or six years in some kind of hall surrounded by all different kind of books. I did some work for one movie of a very famous Finnish film maker, Aki Kaurismški. I was an assistant there. Many Finish rockers took part in that movie. This would have also been cool to work behind the film business especially for Aki Kaurismški. But I ended up here and I really like what Iím doing and itīs still pretty cool every day.

Suiciderock: So you donít regret your decision not to study?
Mika Jussila: No, not at all. But only because of the reason that Iím not only working in some kind of job that I like a lot, Iím still living my dream that my work is actually my Hobby. You know, no matter how many hours I have to spend here I love it. I couldnít even tell the difference when the Hobby becomes real work or the work becomes a Hobby. Iím enjoying that I get paid for my Hobby. That makes me happy and so there is no reason to regret any of my decisions.

Suiciderock: When talking to some of your colleagues we found out some of them had an educational background, such us engineering / technical studies before starting to work in the business, but some of them also educated themselves in the learning by doing kind a way. How was it in your case?
Mika Jussila: It wasnít possible to go to some university or whatever to learn how the mastering or whatever works. When I started my job it was like you said, learning by doing. The only place where you really could go to learn something concerning this field was the broadcasting company YLE at this time. They had some kind of education when it comes to studio or technical work. But that was all you could get. Everything else had to be achieved by yourself. It is funny when you compare it to these days. Nowadays we have about 500 people graduating from the university or school every year to work in the field where Iím working in. That is crazy if you compare it to my beginning years. Of course, you could get some basics from here and there but in the end it was all on you to work with.

Suiciderock: Did you have anybody who showed you the basics or how did you get familiar with the work?
Mika Jussila: There have been to mastering engineers when I started to work here. There was my older colleague who showed me everything in here and one other guy who was working for MTV. So we have been 3 mastering guys in whole Finland if you count me in. This older guy I was talking about told me everything about the technical stuff in lets say two or three days. After that he said that he has told me all I need to know and now it depends on me what Iím going to do with this knowledge. Than he was gone. But also after all this years there is still something left to learn. You never stop to discover new things or new ways of working. You have to stay informed about what happens out there, you have to adapt to the things that happen on the big music market. The world of music grows and so you have to grow with it to provide your customers with the best service possible.

Suiciderock: Would you be interested in teaching somebody this skills like you have been taught?
Mika Jussila: To be honest I donít have the nerves to do that. Itís not that I have that kind of unique way of working but I really like to work alone. It is nice that I can make the decisions very fast when Iím working alone. I donít have to discuss that with someone else which would cost a lot of time. So working alone in my case means that everything is done smoothly and fast. I like it that way. I mean think about it. If I would have the whole band plus maybe one label guy, plus one guy from the promotion team or whatever, it would take ages to get the whole thing finished. It has happened that I had to leave the room when there were many people around and everybody had its own different opinion about how everything has to be done and so on. I told them that I leave know and that they would have all the time in the world to make their decisions. However I also told them that they could sit there and keep on arguing as long as they want. I mean it costs only 100 Euro an hour. So whatÖ Normally I didnít get far and they called me back into the room. What I want to make clear with that story is that working alone is an advantage as you need half of the time to master the record.

Suiciderock: How long does it actually take you to master a record?
Mika Jussila: Well, if one day for the mastering is booked, I can do it in one day. Thatís also something I like about my job. If you compare it to the mixing of an album it is very easy when it comes to your nerves. If you take the Nightwish album for example that took about six weeks in the mixing. I would have gone crazy to work such a long time on one album. If I have to work on fife albums per week it is really different as there are different projects and musical directions. That makes the mastering very refreshing.

Suiciderock: You thank on your website for instance Mikko Karmila and you also said that to get where you are now required also a lot of support from all different kind of directions.
Was it easy for you to establish yourself in that field or did you feel that you had to role some stones out of your way first?
Mika Jussila: No, it was easy for me. As I told you there were so less people in that kind of job field so it was not a big problem. Finnvox had a monopole position in the 80īs when we started the CD mixing and mastering. There have been some semi professional studios around but at that time there was only me and Pauli Saastamoinen who did the mastering in a professional way. The only competition was between Pauli and me and that happened within the house. That made it very easy. Nowadays it is a different thing. The internet makes everything very easy. A Finnish band for example doesnít have to get their album mastered here in Finland. They can go wherever they want to get their record done. It was an easy situation for us when all this other studios started to pop out of the ground as we had done all the mistakes already. We where prepared when all the others started up.

Suiciderock: It was in the good old 80`s when you began to master your first vinylís. You called this time yourself  ďthe golden years of Finish rock musicĒ. We are in 2012 now. Itís natural that there happens lots of changes during the last years but what would you say, are the most significant changes when it comes to todayís music biz?
Mika Jussila: Thatís true, the situation back than was indeed crazy, I even would call it abnormal. But it has calmed down a bit and we have reached some sort of normal level when it comes to the recordings, mixing and mastering. We still have a lot of work to do but it is not that super crazy anymore as it has been back than.

Suiciderock: During the 90īs you had a very busy time, you said it was a crazy time for yourself as you found yourself mastering almost 250 albums during one year, which is a lot. You said on your home page that after things have calmed down a bit nowadays you can replace the quantity with quality. What did you mean by that? Couldnít you choose for example the band you where working with?
Mika Jussila: I could never really choose with what band I want to work with. I do everything thatís offered to me. Itīs my job and as I said many times during this interview, I like what Iím doing. What I meant by saying that, was that when I was mastering that 250 albums in only one year there have been more than one album per day sometimes. Of course all of them have been important to me but there where projects that have been less important than others. But only because I didnít have the time to give them all the equal attention. It was just impossible with that amount of work. That doesnít have anything to do that I didnít want to concentrate on a certain record but it just wasnít possible. However Iím still proud of all Iíve done so far. Todayís situation is better because I can offer the clients the same prize but they get almost the double amount of time for it.
Suiciderock: Working in a studio isnít a normal 9 to 5 job. So please tell us, how can we imagine an ordinary work day here at the Finnvox?
Mika Jussila: Thatís true it isnít like one of this normal 9 to 5 jobs where you have to spend your 8 hours working before you can go back home. I can basically decide by myself when I want to come in to work on an album. The time doesnít really matter as Iím working alone most of the time. Nowadays everything is so easy due to the internet. If the band is from abroad for example they can send me the music via the net and I start working on it. But it is totally up to me on what time of the day I do that. Of course there are busy periods for me as well. For example now, June is the busiest time for me. The reason for that is that everybody already knows that I will have my vacation in July. It always feels a bit like I have to put my phone off and blog my emails when it gets closer to that time as otherwise I would be buried in work. You have to know that Iím that kind of person who canít really say no. That doesnít make it any easier. However I decided not to work on weekends. That decision was made a long time ago. You know, if you give somebody the small finger, they gonna take the whole hand. I need my free time as well, just like any other person out there does. But that doesnít mean that Iím out of reach. I keep my phone open 24/7.

Suiciderock: Are the bands afraid you are not returning from your holiday or whatís their concern?
Mika Jussila: No, no, I donít think so. Itīs just that Iím like any other person out there. I want to have my work done before I start my vacation and that wouldnít be possible if I would accept one job after another. But to get back to your question. It really doesnít matter to my boss or to Finnvox when I work on an album. I just have to make sure that I donít cause extra costs for the client. That means as long as Iím doing all the work Iím offered to do in time itīs totally up to me when it comes to the working hours. Plus working with your ears also means that you have only a limited time that you can work on an album. There comes a point when your ears shut down after working with them lets say about 6 or 8 hours. You simply have to stop and continue the next day. Otherwise it would affect the quality of the album and you can come back the next day and start all over again. That wouldnít make sense for anybody. 

Suiciderock: What kind of advice would you give a young talented guy who wants to step into your footsteps?
Mika Jussila: I donít know if there is any advice regarding my particular job. But when it comes to the music biz itself I would give the advice to think seriously about the things you want to do. Nowadays you have to have more than just passion in my opinion. It doesnít matter if you are working in the studio, for the radio, a record company or if you play in a band. Itīs definitely not so much fun anymore than it was letís say 20 years ago. Back than it all had to do with culture. Nowadays itīs pure business work and itīs 99% about the money. That is a really annoying fact but if you still want to chose to work in that kind of direction donít be scared about it. Itīs not so bad in the end. Also if the whole music biz is in a bad situation there is still music, there are still artists who need your work.

Suiciderock: What about technical skills?
Mika Jussila: I personally have pretty bad skills when it comes to the technical aspect. Iím really lost when something gets broken. I have to call someone who can fix it. My strength and the quality I serve our customers is me, my long time experience and my ears. If you hear  the sound of an album you could say that maybe 45% come from the gear in the studio. Than another 45% comes from the people and their personalities. The missing 10% is just luck or destiny or whatever you want to call it. Of course, it makes a difference with what kind of gear you are working with. If you have really cheap stuff it wonít do the job but 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. We always have to keep in mind that we are talking about art here, you canít really plan it.

Suiciderock: Besides your Mastering career you have found another passion: Photography. How came that? How did you discover that new Hobby for yourself?
Mika Jussila: A friend of mine had this article in the Sanomat, which is a big daily newspaper here in Finland, where he said that ďPhotography is more important than Rock`n RollĒ. Well, I wouldnít agree with that but itís a great way for me to do something else than music. Photography has always been an important factor in my life. My daddy has already been a passionate photographer. Maybe I have taken over that passion from him. Again it is just a Hobby. Me and Mikko Karmila came up with it together. We bought the same type of camera at the same time. After that we started to photograph everything that came in front of our lenses. People already got bored and annoyed by us cause we were every time everywhere. You could easily say that Mikko is some kind of mentor to me when it comes to photography. He probably doesnít take that many photos as I do but he knows every tiny detail about the equipment and everything around it. If I have to buy something for my photography I would always ask Mikko first.

Suiciderock: You shot a lot of bands you have worked with during their life shows?
Mika Jussila: Yes that is true. This came pretty easy. We have been working here at the studio during the day time and in the evening one of the bands has a gig or they play at some festival. So they ask me if I would like to come along and take some pictures. Iím kind a lucky in that sense cause I can shoot the bands from a different angle as for example the other photographers. I m allowed to go to places where nobody else is allowed to go. It was a great experience for example at one of the Nightwish gigs. There where about 15.000 people in the audience and I was able to take pictures from behind the drums. That was pretty awesome. But it all came up like a Hobby. The more I did it, the more I wanted to do it. Because it is just so much fun. I first asked the band if it was ok to take some pictures during their show, than they asked me if I would like to come to take some pictures at their gig. Iím still waiting for the next step which would be to get paid for my pictures. Letís see what happens to that.

(c) Suiciderock.com