El Dorado County Arts: Dave Collins in Sounds of Success
Dave Collins, born and raised in the Hollywood Hills and now residing in Pilot Hill, has been a mastering engineer for over 30 years. In his earlier profession as chief mastering engineer at A&M Records, Collins worked with a wide range of bands and musicians, including Bruce Springsteen and The Police, as well as on numerous movie soundtracks like Jurassic Park and Evita. After A&M’s closure, he opened his own studio, and recently built a state-of-the-art space in Pasadena, where he commutes back and forth. In 2015, Collins won a Grammy for his mastering work on D’Angelo’s album Black Messiah, and a year later earned several other Grammy nominations in the categories of gospel, rock, and traditional pop. “I’ve worked with [numerous] artists—from Sting to Madonna—but my favorite people to work with are often independent artists. Their passion in their music is pure,” shares Collins. “They’re doing it out of a genuine love for the art and self-expression, not necessarily for fame or money.”
HLB: What does mastering entail?
DC: The fundamental principal is to enhance the sound quality of music, and most of my job revolves around listening [and not critiquing]. My task is to improve it, which might require enhancing the sound of an instrument or increasing the focus on the vocals. I also remove sounds that are distracting or unintentional—[such as] the squeak of a chair, a cough from a live orchestra recording, or the buzz of equipment. One of the most important aspects is to make sure albums sound cohesive and intentional.
HLB: What sparked your love for music?
DC: Music was a ubiquitous part of [my family’s] household. My father, Wayne Collins, who was an audiophile, designed and built his own hi-fi stereo system in the ’50s. It was this early exposure that inspired my love for music.
HLB: Do you have any words of wisdom for those hoping to become successful in your industry?
DC: Protect your hearing! This isn’t a joke—there are many young people who want to get into audio, [but] are destroying their hearing by listening to loud music through headphones, attending concerts, or other events without hearing protection. Many audio engineers carry hearing protection with them at all times to prevent damage that could end their careers. I carry earplugs on my key chain! Also, don’t obsess about equipment—it’s a poor craftsman that blames his tools.
HLB: Are you involved with any local charitable organizations?
DC: I’m currently working with Reconciliation Singers Voices of Peace (RSVP)—a Sacramento choir group that raises funds for local charities through a biannual concert series—and will be mastering their next album. One of my biggest passions is sponsoring charities that make music accessible to all, especially children from low-income backgrounds.
HLB: Why do you feel music is so vital?
DC: Music is a universal language. Not only does music create and enhance emotions, but it also triggers memories. It’s like a time machine. If you’ve ever watched someone with dementia light up after hearing a song from his or her youth then you know its power. I think we take music and the influence that it has on our lives for granted.
By Heather L. Becker