Behind the Music – Master Engineer Adam Ayan
The glitz and glam of the entertainment industry puts a spotlight on its stars like no other, from the musicians who fill arenas, to the household-name actors whose faces are as recognizable as our own. Rarely are the people behind the scenes as glorified for their exceptional talents. This reality is perfectly fine for Grammy Award-winning sound engineer Adam Ayan.
A little more than 100 miles north of Boston, in the bustling city of Portland, Maine, Ayan, 38, a native of Malden, Mass. who relocated to Windham, N.H. at age 14, fills one of the music industry’s most crucial roles as the mastering engineer for hundreds of albums recorded by major artists. According to Ayan, mastering is the last creative step in music production, in which the final version of a recording is prepared by creating consistent volume and cohesiveness among album tracks, as well use of equalization and dynamics processing to enhance and perfect an artist’s sound. Once a recording has been mastered, a final “master” is made for CD manufacturing and digital distribution. Ayan has worked with artists such as Madonna and Carrie Underwood, The Rolling Stones and Pearl Jam.
“The artist has a vision, and it’s my job to bring it home,” Ayan says.
Ayan’s career in music came about through a natural progression. “The very start of my career was simply being a big fan of music,” he says. He would go on to play bass in bands and take college-level music classes while attending Pinkerton Academy in Derry, N.H.
When it came time for college, Ayan knew he wanted to be involved in music, but not as a musician. Recalling an experience in a recording studio with his high school band, he decided to attend UMass Lowell to study sound engineering. “If you’re going to work your whole life, you should really do something you love,” he says.
After graduating from UMass Lowell in 1998, Ayan moved to Portland to work as an assistant to Bob Ludwig, the owner of Gateway Mastering studios. Ludwig had enjoyed a long career in New York City, where he worked for recording giant Sterling Sound, and later for the even larger Masterdisk. In 1993, Ludwig decided to change pace by moving to “a place he liked” and starting a new mastering house in Portland. Gateway was already well established when Ayan came along, but the mastering work was done almost solely by Ludwig.
“I feel really fortunate to have ended up in Portland,” Ayan says. “I didn’t have to make any career sacrifices because I knew a place like Gateway is where I wanted to be.” According to Ayan, day-to-day life in Portland offers few distractions, unlike entertainment cities like New York and Los Angeles.
After Ayan spent several years working to cultivate a client base and helping Gateway grow its business, the music industry recognized his efforts in 2006 with a Grammy Award in the “Best Historical Album” category. The award acknowledged his work on the Jelly Roll Morton box set “The Complete Library of Congress Recordings by Alan Lomax.”
In 2007, Ayan won two Latin Grammy Awards in the categories of “Best Engineered Album” and “Album Del Ano” (Album of the Year) for his work on Juan Luis Guerra’s “La Llave De Mi Corazon.” He was nominated in 2008 in the “Album of the Year” Grammy category for his work on Vince Gill’s “These Days.” And in 2010, he received a third Latin Grammy: Album del Ano for his work on Juan Luis Guerra’s album “Asondeguerra.”
Despite his successes, Ayan remains passionate about his work and enjoys sharing his knowledge and experiences. He has lectured at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill on mastering technology and techniques, and teaches a class in sound recording at the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus. And in 2006, Ayan founded the Portland Music Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is to nurture and support the local music community.
To learn more about Adam Ayan and his work visit AdamAyan.com.