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Focus Mastering: Perfect Sound Forever

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: Feb. 20, 2008

Focus Mastering
Open House

Saturday, March 1, noon to midnight
Focus Mastering
14910 Grover St., Suite 100

There is another common denominator to Nebraska's successful indie music scene other than the state's borders.

Take a look at the liner notes of almost any Saddle Creek Records release. There, among the listings of guest musicians and thank you's to family and friends, is a common phrase found in the technical credits: Mastered by Doug Van Sloun.

If the Mogis Brothers are the Great and Mighty Oz of Nebraska music, Van Sloun is the man behind the curtain -- the hippy looking dude with the bat-like ears and the magic touch.

Van Sloun is a mastering engineer. What exactly is "mastering"? This is how Van Sloun defined it in an interview five years ago: "It's the last step in the process before a CD goes to production. Half of it is creative, half is technical. The creative side is getting the recording to sound a certain way. The technical side involves error checking to make sure you have the best master possible. The ultimate goal is to make the recording sound like a record. You want to have a certain amount of cohesiveness, so that the loud songs rock and the quiet songs have their perspective to the loud songs."

The definition hasn't changed over the years. After the tracks have been laid down and the recording has been mixed, it's handed to Van Sloun who, using the best audio technology along with his amazing hearing and creative mind, makes everything sound better.

In fact, Van Sloun has been making things "sound better" for more than a decade as part of Studio B, a company originally located in North Omaha on Mormon Bridge Road near the headquarters of that other famous Omaha record label, American Gramophone. Over that decade, Van Sloun mastered almost every release by Saddle Creek Records, including albums by Bright Eyes, The Faint, and Cursive, as well as hundreds of non-Creek bands from Nebraska and across the country. As a result, Van Sloun's name has become a mark of quality on the finest indie recordings. So much so, that he's left Studio B and struck out on his own as Focus Mastering.





The move came shortly after Studio B relocated its operations from the Mormon Bridge compound to a new facility on 49th and Hamilton in the summer of 2005. "I saw an opportunity to start my own company and expand upon what I'd been doing," Van Sloun said. The first step was finding a building that he could transform into his vision of the ultimate mastering studio. He found it in a 1,000-sq. ft. vacant garage at 14910 Grover St. What made it ideal was the building's 16-foot ceilings. "I was looking for cubic volume instead of square footage," Van Sloun said. "Cubic volume is what makes a room sound good."

Half the space was taken by the lobby, office and bathroom. The remaining 450 square foot was dedicated to creating a state-of-the-art mastering suite, the ultimate listening station. To get there, Van Sloun hired Chapel Hill studio architect Wes Lachot, who designed Mogis' ARC Studio and The Faint's Enamel Studio, as well as Mitch Easter's Fidelitorium Recordings, David Barbe's and Andy LeMaster's Chase Park Transduction and the redesigned Electric Lady Studios in Greenwich Village, originally owned by Jimi Hendrix.

Entering Van Sloun's mastering suite is like walking into a glowing fabric-and-oak sonic temple. On the wall across from the Starship Enterprise-style Crookwood mixing console is an oak sound defuser surrounded by large fabric-covered bass traps and acoustic panels. "This room isn't square," Van Sloun pointed out, "It's trapezoid -- 18 feet wide in front and 20 feet wide in back. That keeps the sound moving." An acoustic "cloud" hangs overhead, covering R25 insulation and drywall mounted on springs to absorb mechanical energy.

In fact, every construction decision -- from installing a $3,000 oak floor to placement of the cushy leather couch -- was made to create the perfect listening environment, not only for Van Sloun but for his clients, who can sit back and hear their recording as if for the first time.

How's it sound? Van Sloun demonstrated the room using trusted reference recordings by Donald Fagen and Alison Krauss, as well as music he recently mastered by Tilly and the Wall and Beep Beep. It was like an audio thrill ride. For someone who spends too much time listening to music on an iPod, it was like giving sight to a blind man.

Van Sloun said he's always had the finest audio equipment; now he has the perfect space to use it. "It was like having a Lamborghini stored in a carport that you only drove to the HyVee," he said. "This room is a premium race track."

Find out for yourself at the studio's open house for past, present and future clients Saturday, March 1, noon to midnight at Focus Mastering, 14910 Grover St., Suite 100. For more information, call 402.504.9624 or visit

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Published in The Omaha Reader Feb. 20, 2008. Copyright 2008 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.








Van Sloun in his old digs at Studio B.

"It was like having a Lamborghini stored in a carport that you only drove to the HyVee. This room is a premium race track."