Acoustic Sounds
Chris Bellman Interview
By: Michael Fremer

February 3rd, 2024



Mastering Engineer Chris Bellman Talks Record Mastering With Michael Fremer

a 45 minute "free wheeling" interview features many interesting moments

Mastering engineer Chris Bellman has an impressive catalog of records he's mastered over the decades working at Bernie Grundman Mastering in Hollywood California. Bellman regularly cuts records for Neil Young among many other recording greats.

Bellman talks about cutting Tom Petty's "Wildflowers" from analog tape for the first time and discusses with me general cutting issues such as sibilants and how he deals with them. The two discuss the great Classic Records reissues from the early 2000s and a new double LP that Chris cut for "It All Comes Down to Mood" a new soon to be released Patrick Leonard album for which I "shepherded" the vinyl release.

It All Comes Down to Mood

Leonard produced Roger Waters' "Amused the Death", two of the final three Leonard Cohen albums and many of the early and best selling Madonna albums, among others. He was also half of the Toy Matinee, a great "cult" pop/rock band Leonard was in with the late Kevin Gilbert.


  • 2024-02-04 12:05:40 PM

    Nels Ferre wrote:

    Great interview. I really enjoyed it.

  • 2024-02-06 01:03:13 AM

    Gordon Stanley wrote:

    Great interview. Like sharing coffee with two old friends. However, don’t tease me. I went and found Patrick Leonard’s album “River” and now I got’s to know… what are the details on the new album?

  • 2024-02-07 03:46:35 AM

    Paul Robertson wrote:

    Really interesting, thank you. I was aware of Mr. Leonard ONLY from my wife’s Madonna stuff he did, that has always impressed me and that I’m always happy to pull out and play because of the sound, and of course Amused to Death and it being a sonic marvel. So to hear about Ian, Tony, and Martin being involved in this new project of his. I was glad just to hear Patrick Leonard was still around, but this news WOW. And that you and Chris Bellman are involved as well, double whammy………it’s a no brainer that I’ll be in for, that’s for certain!!

  • 2024-02-09 02:32:41 PM

    Paul Daniel wrote:


    Thank you for posting this interview. I learned a great deal. I have a question and believe me I've tried to research the answer before posting because I know it's kind of basic. My takeaway from how Chris described his process was that with some exceptions like "Wildflowers" where they cut from tape, that even when they have the original tapes and master from them, that they ultimately create digital files and cut from those. Am I reading that right? Not trying to start a digital vs. analog debate or rekindle the MOFI brouhaha. I'm just looking to understand whether that's par for the course now even with the best engineers and if when we look at something like an Acoustic Sounds AAA release, where it might say "mastered from original tapes" and "lacquers cut by..." if that means the lacquers were still cut from a file that was produced from a new mastering of the original tape source. Appreciate any clarity you can shed.

    • 2024-02-10 04:39:29 AM

      Malachi Lui wrote:

      if something says 'CUT from the tapes', then at least the mastering process is all-analog (which doesn't account for whether or not there was a digital step in the mixing earlier on). if something's advertised as 'mastered from the original tapes', that could mean anything, including being cut from a digital flie mastered from the tapes.

      in the case of 'wildflowers', they finally assembled an analog cutting master from the original mix reels. it's common for 90s albums to not have cutting masters (ie, reels with the songs in continuous order) even when recorded on tape. what would happen is that they'd mix each song to a separate reel of tape then bring a large stack of tapes to the mastering studio for the CD to be mastered. CD was priority and seen as superior, so LPs would often be cut from CD masters. so yes, the core 'wildflowers' album on the recent reissue is finally all-analog.

      the bonus material, however, was newly mixed. i'm pretty sure it came from various formats, but the studio stuff was from 24-track tape. however, no one's gonna take a decades-old 24-track 2" multi and mix it directly to analog two-track. it takes too long, especially if the multis are in anything less than PERFECT condition. thus, it makes complete practical sense that the multis were digitized at 96/24 then mixed. hi-res PCM is great now. so if the final result sounds good, who cares what exactly it is? (as long as there's enough transparency about it)

      • 2024-02-10 02:22:07 PM

        Paul Daniel wrote:

        Thanks Malachi for the thoughtful response. I was aware that the Wildflowers box had a variety of different processes going on for the bonus material. I think my main question stems from the notion of an analog cutting master. In the interview with Chris Bellman, it seems to suggest that even if they have the original analog tape and do a new master off of that tape that they ultimately transfer it to a digital file which is used to cut the lacquer. Is that correct? And is that pretty common practice now?

        • 2024-02-10 04:09:24 PM

          Malachi Lui wrote:

          it all depends what the client pays for. sometimes, a mastering engineer will get a tape but transfer it to digital then cut lacquers from the files. that's either due to tape condition or cost-cutting measures (or, in cases, the mastering engineer's setup--bernie grundman mastering has a preview head so they can cut AAA).

          if a record explicitly says AAA or 'CUT from the original tapes', then the lacquers are cut from the tapes with zero digital interference at least in the mastering stage. so using your earlier example, any release from analogue productions that says 'cut from the original tapes' or 'mastered directly from the tapes' has all-analog mastering. however, a lot of releases that say 'mastered from the original analog tapes' have a digital step--that's how mofi got away with relatively little legal consequence for their DSD step, since those releases say 'mastered from' the tapes and not explicitly 'cut from'.

          • 2024-02-10 04:29:05 PM

            Paul Daniel wrote:

            Thank you so much for these details. You’ve cleared up a muddy situation and also underscored the specific language to look for in being able to trust whether a record truly can be said to be AAA. Thanks also for being willing to answer a question that is probably second nature to much of your readership.