Audio engineer Justin Perkins returns to Madison

The Wisconsin native opens up about mastering and the importance of saving one’s work.

The Wisconsin native opens up about mastering and the importance of saving one’s work.

Photo: Justin Perkins sits in a rolling chair, leaning towards a desk full of audio control equipment, staring intently at two wall-mounted monitor screens. Acoustic paneling lines the walls. The monitors display soundwaves and sound levels during playback. (Photo by Steven Spoerl.)

Visiting Justin Perkins’ relocated studio, the first thing that stands out is a commitment to meticulousness. Everything’s neatly organized and positioned for production maximization, betraying a need for tidiness and consistency. It’s in perfect keeping with the image many artists might have about Perkins, one of the region’s most in-demand sources for audio mastering. (Full disclosure: Perkins has mastered a few of my own projects’ releases.)

Perkins started his engineering career when he was playing music in the ’90s and had limited access to recording facilities, stoking a curiosity born from necessity. He credits Green Bay’s Tom Smith (Time Bomb Tom, to some) as one of the biggest forces in developing his fondness for engaging with music. By the end of 2009, he’d launched his own company, Mystery Room Mastering, with a dedicated mastering studio in Milwaukee. At the end of 2020, he returned to Madison, where he’d lived and worked for a brief time in the mid-2000s. Over the course of roughly 20 years, Perkins has gone from recording his early Fox Valley bands on a rented cassette eight-track to handling high-profile national projects like The Replacements’ forthcoming 100-track deluxe reissue of Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash.

During that two decade-plus span, Perkins would go through several stop-start career tangents, including joining bands like Bash & Pop, Screeching Weasel, and The Promise Ring on tour as either a bassist (Bash & Pop, Screeching Weasel) or to handle live sound (The Promise Ring). All of those experiences heavily informed his decision to focus solely on mastering, finding that the time commitments of touring were unsustainable and that the demands of running live sound weren’t compatible with a number of preferences, both personal and professional.

Through all of those left turns, Perkins kept mastering. Finding himself unable to completely separate from his mastering schedule while on the road, the decision to divorce the two elements was inevitable. Mastering won out. These days, it’s not unusual for Perkins to handle the mastering for enough material to fill two records on a daily basis. While his clients tend to lean more towards local, independent artists—the result of a deliberate decision to appeal to those bands—it’s not unusual for bigger clients or their representatives (Ol’ Dirty Bastard, En Vogue, Michael Franti & Spearhead, North Mississippi Allstars, Busta Rhymes, etc.) to seek out his services.

Talk to him for more than a few minutes and it’s abundantly clear that Perkins cares deeply about his chosen craft. He’s the first to point out that he’s always learning, a lesson he’d attempt to impart on his students during a brief stint as a Milwaukee Area Technical College instructor. Engineer-focused publication Pro Audio Files has hosted a number of articles he’s authored on the nuances of mastering. In dozens of interviews, he’s expounded on the importance of mastering and its similarly overlooked subcategories.

Perkins’ impact on Wisconsin’s musical landscape is undeniable. In addition to being the state’s go-to mastering engineer, he’s also been one of the craft’s strongest advocates. He’s remained one of the most constant fixtures of the state’s collective music output since the late ’90s and his name’s been attached to hundreds of Wisconsin-based releases.

From growing up in the throes of Neenah’s small music scene to rising to prominence in Milwaukee and eventually returning to Madison, he’s accumulated a dizzying array of stories and experiences. He recently sat down with Tone Madison to take us through the accompanying highs and lows of life as an audio engineer.

Selections from Perkins’ discography will be embedded at various points throughout the following interview. An abbreviated list of his credits can be found here and here.

Tone Madison: What brought you into mastering?

Justin Perkins: When I was in fifth grade, I was already interested in music. I had a cheap guitar and I was really into The Beatles, but then I had a fifth grade teacher who was super into The Beatles and he would bring his guitar to class every Friday afternoon and sing songs. It was how he ended the week. That’s what got me wanting to pick up and play the guitar and write real songs. Then Nirvana’s Nevermind came out. Coming out of the ’80s, music was so bizarre and over-the-top. To hear [Nevermind], especially at however old you are in fifth grade, I’m like “Wow, I can really identify with this. It’s not ridiculous.”

It dawned on me that music can be normal. It can be guitars, bass, and drums, and maybe something we can play. So me and my friends started a band in fifth grade. By sixth and seventh grade we were playing a couple shows at actual venues and that kind of led to me figuring out recording. Because we were so young, back then you couldn’t go to Best Buy and get a laptop and have a studio. You had to seek out the local recording studio and it was usually grumpy old guys. And at that time, studios were busy.

So that led to me figuring out how to record. There was an advertisement at the instrument store that said “I have an 8-track cassette recorder and you can rent it.” So I just called the guy up and we started renting it. We started renting it as a band and I took the charge of figuring out how to work the thing out and record on it. And that led to other bands asking me to record them, like “Hey, we heard you were recording.” This was by the time I got into high school.

That just led other bands to ask me to record them and I became their recording guy, just kind of by accident. It wasn’t a job until after high school, of course, but like with anything, it was a slow build. People call you and want to record them and then somebody hears it and wants you to record them and it grows from there. When I was in eighth, ninth, tenth grade recording, had I known the kind of bands I’d get to record after doing it a bit, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. Eventually you get to that point, if you just keep doing it. I think I got into [mastering] through playing music and the need to have ourselves recorded. At some point I realized that it’s easier to make a living recording versus playing music.

Tone Madison: You’ve worked in multiple studios across the state. Could you fill us in on that trajectory?

Justin Perkins: There was a really good studio [in Green Bay] called Simple Studios. I don’t know if you know the band Boris The Sprinkler, but that’s how Simple Studios got on the map. Even when it wasn’t a Boris album, you knew when you put in the CD, from the first few seconds [it was like] “Oh, this sounds amazing, they must have done it at Simple Studios.” Eventually, I started working there.

The owner was a cool guy but he worked at a factory and had the weirdest hours. He would work four days in a row, 12 or 16 hours, ridiculous shifts. There were these huge chunks of time when his studio was empty because he was either working or sleeping. When he was there, he was there for like half a week. I ended up working at Simple Studios and that’s where I really cut my teeth learning how to record bands.

Even though I didn’t know what I was learning, it was a How To Run A Studio crash course because suddenly, I was just doing it. He was like “Oh, you know how to record and I trust you and I can only be at the studio half of the week, so here’s the keys.” Sometimes it was bringing in my own clients and sometimes it was bands that would call him but he didn’t have time to record. This was way before my Milwaukee time. It was the early 2000’s and I was in my early 20s.

I moved to Madison in the mid-2000s to work at Smart Studios and, same deal, they wanted another engineer to bring in some work but also pick up sessions where the band didn’t have a preference—”We don’t care who’s the engineer, we just gotta record.” I was employed by Smart but I also brought in my own projects so it was kind of half-and-half with no guarantee of hours, just “Do you want to move to Madison? We can give you a lot of work and then you can rent the studio for your own work.”

And that worked for a couple of years but I could tell the studio was going to close because they were only getting one or two huge projects a year. Compared to what the ’90s were like for them, I just knew that a building with that much overhead [wouldn’t last]. They had a studio manager, a technician, a huge building on East Washington, I just knew it wasn’t going to sustain.

I knew that having my own studio was inevitable and if I was going to do that, I’d rather do it in Milwaukee. I’d been there a lot for shows, I knew a lot more people there, it was more my vibe. I didn’t start my own studio right away [after moving], I freelanced at a few studios, until I stumbled into a mastering studio there called Mastermind.

[Mastermind’s owner, Trevor Sadler] was the guy but he decided he was going to move to Charlotte. So he said “Hey, I heard you’re getting more into mastering, I’m moving but I’m not selling my building because I want to rent my room.” That’s what pushed me into mastering. I had been interested in it but when I was able to rent his room… I did the math and was like, “Well, I’m renting other studios enough, every month, I might as well just have my own studio. I can stop moving my stuff around and set it up how I want.”

Tone Madison: So, in terms of a timeline, you went from Neenah to Green Bay to Madison to Milwaukee and then back to Madison?

Justin Perkins: Yeah, I never moved to Green Bay, I just drove there. It was a 45-minute [drive], sometimes I’d stay overnight. Neenah was where I was born and I had a studio in my dad’s basement. Then I transitioned to Simple Studios and then a couple of years in Madison in the mid-2000’s. At that time, I was playing a lot of music. I was in Yesterday’s Kids and The Obsoletes, bands where me and my friend Tim [Schweiger] were the songwriters.

After [those bands wound down], Blueheels lost their bass player. He didn’t die, but he quit. So I jumped in on bass. I was living in Madison and they talked me into it, so I did that for a couple of years. And then I was in Milwaukee for over 10 years. I was definitely there in ’08, so I moved there in either ’07 or ’08 and then just moved [back to Madison] at the end of 2020. I’ve enjoyed the progressiveness of Madison in ways I didn’t quite realize [when I first lived here].

Tone Madison: How long did it take to transition the studio?

Justin Perkins: I didn’t move the studio until April. I did a lot of commuting but I don’t know if you remember, it was pretty snowy this winter, like the second half of the winter. So I ended up working from home. It was a total mess down here but I had a little setup on a desk with headphones. And [everything currently in the Madison studio] was all in Milwaukee.

I was a little nervous to move rooms, because no matter what you’re doing, when you’re mixing, mastering, you get used to how the room sounds. You know how it’s going to translate to the real world. Like the low-end, you know, I never have to do the car test, where I mix it in here, master it in here, and then go check in my car. With mastering you don’t have to do that, that’s the whole point about mastering. It’s just to have it be perfect and trust it.

And it could be that I do rely on headphones a little more, because for a while that’s all I had down here was headphones. Like, I had to remaster the first Busta Rhymes album, and that’s a pretty big one, and I did that all on headphones down here. Kind of because of the deadline and the timing and the weather. I just did it down here on headphones and it got approved on version 1. And I have pretty good headphones, these are kind of insane headphones. But they’re better than a bad-sounding room, you know what I mean? Not that this room sounds bad but I don’t know. Then there’s guys that master just to headphones now. Years ago, it was harder but there’s really good headphones available now.

Anyways, this room’s been working out great. I want to keep it, not mysterious, that’s a dumb word and it’s in my studio name, but my point is that it’s more about the body of work or the experience versus the space.

Tone Madison: You recently tweeted: “I know I’m busy because mastering a 6-song EP feels like a light day.”

Justin Perkins: Yeah, that was a few days ago. It was a Saturday. My wife went on vacation last week, so I kind of did too. I was bouncing in and out of the studio. Last Saturday, not a few days ago, but a week and a few days ago. I was trying to ramp down into vacation mode and it was actually a Madison hip-hop thing [which has yet to be officially announced]. I didn’t want to make them wait until I was back from our trip. Mastering a six song EP, if everything goes smoothly, that’s a three hour job. You can do an album in a day comfortably.

So I’m like “I better just [do this].” But the fact that I just did that and stopped, I was like “I still feel like I have the whole day off.” It’s been the busiest year. The commuting took time out and the studio setup took time, so I feel like I’m finally able to catch my breath. Going to a show tonight, maybe. Stuff like that. I do think it’s still important to get out. I’m looking forward to being able to get out to more shows as they start happening again, and as I’m feeling more caught up again.

When I was recording, mixing, and mastering, it was this cycle of record, mix, master. If you compare now to my days at Smart when I was mastering some stuff, I probably mastered one or two projects a month back then because I was also recording and mixing, whereas now, mastering two projects in a day is pretty normal. You just get so many more repetitions and better at it, hopefully. You hone in and sharpen your skills a bit better.

Tone Madison: What’s a specific aspect of the mastering process you wish artists would treat with more consideration?

Justin Perkins: I think, honestly, mastering’s kind of boring to a lot of people because you’re not making beats or producing the thing, adding the layers. You’re not really creating anything. It’s already created by the time I get it. I’m just doing a combination of enhancing and quality control, cohesion, making sure that all the songs work together as a group. That’s the other really big thing, so many people are doing singles now. It’s easy to put out a single. And I get it. You want to stay top of mind, you know, if you release a single every month or two, people remember you. If you release an album every two years, you get remembered for a few weeks and then forgotten.

But what’s happening is, bands and artists are doing those singles every few months. Five singles, or even 10 singles, is not an album master because you still have to make sure all the songs work together as a group. You have to make sure all the song spacing is good. I had a case where, this isn’t that example, but an artist sent me a song, their first single, to master. And it was really acoustic-based. And I mastered it and it sounded good and they liked it but it was just voice and guitar. So I mastered it kind of loud, because I could, and then I got the rest of the EP and it was rowdy, full-band Americana.

But I had no idea that was coming or meant to fit with the song so, the acoustic song I did, I had to remaster it to be a little less loud so that there was room for the loud songs to be loud. Because it just didn’t make sense. That’s an extreme example but even if you do five singles and you want to do an EP now, I don’t have to start over but it’s not nothing. It still requires some thought and it still requires some care.

Tone Madison: Does this play into why you have so many how-to’s, tips, and explainers hosted on your site?

Justin Perkins: Kind of, yeah! Usually those come out of necessity. If I realize I’m typing the same email over and over, it’s probably time to do an article. The biggest Pro Audio Files [article] came out of that, because I was going to post it on my website. It was an overview of all the master files you might need when you’re done and it’s going to change if the distributors change.

When that happened, [Pro Audio Files] was like “Can you write some more articles?” This was five or six years ago. I did a lot of them because I had a little more time on my hands. Now I have a list of topics but never any time to write them. I try to update the ones I’ve done now because things change a little bit, but it’s been a while since I’ve wrote (sic) one from scratch.

But it usually comes out of, like I said, if I’m having to write the same email. And I was really lucky to find a really good website person. My website is like my assistant because you can go on it and everything is there to get started. You can go on the website, you can see the price per song, and any add-on’s you might need: vinyl, cassette, instrumentals.

It also helps inform people. I might master a project and then three months later, someone’s like “Oh shit, I need instrumentals. I never even thought about it.” But you go on the website, it says “Instrumental Masters” and it says why. And I’m not trying to be a salesperson and raise the cost but it tells you why you might want instrumental versions of your songs: you can license them and make more money. It’s better to have them in your back pocket if someone comes along and says “Hey, I love your song, but I need a version without vocals,” and then you’re scrambling. Not only are you scrambling, then you need the mix engineer to make it, then you need to get it mastered, and you might have lost your chance because time ran out, maybe the mix engineer didn’t save your session and he or she can’t make the instrumental. So it puts questions in front of people that they don’t think about.

And then submitting projects, stuff like that, saves me so much time instead of having to ask everybody for the same information. Really, what I need is the artist name, release title, the song order with the correct spellings, all the formats you’re going to need from me, and then the files. Sometimes people have special requests: do this, don’t do that. But that’s basically what I need for 99% of the projects. The fact that it’s somewhat automated really helps me out.

Tone Madison: You’ve also earned a reputation for being committed to proper metadata.

Justin Perkins: Yeah, that’s the other thing I honestly didn’t think that much about when I was mixing and mastering, but it is very important to get the titles correct. When CDs are being made, the text is right on the CD, it’s not physically, but it’s embedded. When you stick the CD in your car stereo, it’s reading what’s called CD text that’s right on the disc. When you stick the CD in your Mac computer, it’s not reading CD text, it’s getting it from a database online. That’s why you can sometimes put in a CD and it says it’s something totally different. All it’s doing is looking at the number of songs and how long they are. It’s not actually reading anything from the disc itself.

Metadata can be important. I like it because with so many people doing vinyl, they do mp3 download codes and that’s different than distribution on streaming services. With mp3 download codes, you just submit the files you want them to download when they have the code. It’s really simple, they don’t do any conversion. So I like to make sure that those files have the correct metadata and artwork when it’s available. That way when the fan or listener downloads it, it looks like a legitimate release that they would’ve purchased on iTunes. The files are nicely named, the titles are correct, it doesn’t say “Mix 7” and then a date, and all this gibberish.

And with Bandcamp, if you download the full resolution file, you’ll see my metadata for those exact files. iTunes is bad at showing metadata in wav files but other media players are better. You just never know. Maybe in the next operating system, maybe iTunes will start to read wav file metadata better, you just never know. So I’m a big fan of putting all the information in there. It also future-proofs it too. Imagine going to a garage sale and you see a record in a white sleeve with no information. That’s kind of like what is going to happen when you find a hard drive with wav files and there’s no information other than the file name. You’ve got to leave them something.

Tone Madison: You said your average workload is about two projects a day?

Justin Perkins: Usually an album and a few singles or maybe a short album and an EP in a day. Yesterday I mastered, I think, nine singles only. Sometimes this happens, where you get bombarded with singles and I’m like “Well, I might as well just block off this one day and knock them all out.” It’s a little more exhausting, though. It’s a lot easier to master a nine-song album from one artist and get in the zone. Nine singles is like doing nine sprints in a day where it’s start-stop, start-stop, start-stop, start-stop. Every single requires figuring out what it is, how it should sound, finishing it, emailing the link, then doing it again. It’s so much more exhausting.

And I should not complain because it’s not like I’m working outside, doing physical work. But it’s mentally exhausting, doing nine singles versus doing a nine-song album in a day. I usually leave a little time in the morning for emergency singles or emergency revisions and do an album. I just have a project management app that has all the stuff that needs to be done and I can prioritize it and keep going down the line. I like that. I think I slowly got into that instead of recording and mixing because it takes a lot out of you mentally. Long days. I could do it when I was younger but I appreciate having my own schedule now that I’m older.

A lot of bands are not ready to record at 8 or 9 in the morning. I remember I used to get annoyed. When I was younger I could always count on bands, mostly when I was in Green Bay, I’d be like “Okay, we have an 11 a.m. session.” I would get kind of mad if the bands showed up at 10:30 or 11, because I’d be like “You’re early!” I was banking on them being late. Like, I’m just getting [there] and I still have an hour of set-up to do, so, those would turn into long days for sure. And I enjoyed it and am very thankful I was able to do it but I really got interested in what mastering was and [what makes it] different. Why does this studio have different tools and how do you get it to be a CD that has the metadata and be ready for production, distribution. All of that fascinated me and led me down that path.

And then I realized there was no one else doing it locally.

Tone Madison: Right, which seems significant. You touched on it earlier but there still aren’t really any other dedicated mastering studios in Wisconsin.

Justin Perkins: Yeah. [Back then] Trevor from Mastermind was the mastering guy. If you had the budget, that’s where you would go. One thing I took away from that [experience], and this is nothing against him, but he had a special “indie band rate” or local. And I don’t want to make it seem like I’m doing indie bands a favor. I know what it’s like and I grew up in those types of bands but I wanted to be the place for independent musicians. And it was a different era, back when more record record labels were doing record deals. This is 20 years ago now, probably, so I kind of get where that came out of but it was right when things were shifting where you could self-release more easily. So I was like “I don’t want to seem like I’m giving anyone a handout by having an independent rate. I’m just going to put my rate right on the website and you can choose to do it or not do it.”

Tone Madison: Were there any specific experiences that helped shape that decision?

Justin Perkins: I was in this band called Yesterday’s Kids. We were on Lookout! Records, and I was working at the studio in Green Bay and I knew what mastering was, and we mastered a lot of our own releases at that studio. Because it was bands from up north and they didn’t know what mastering was and we certainly weren’t going to drive to Milwaukee to do it. The budget was small.

Anyway, when it came to mastering this record, the studio was like, “Yeah, we have this mastering studio in California we use.” So we were like, “Great, we’ll send it to them.” And when they sent it back, I didn’t even really know we could ask for changes, I just thought it was, “Okay, it’s mastered now. It’s done. Great.” It’s not like today where it’s like, “Can you turn it up a half a decibel?” It wasn’t that nuanced. And part of that was because of the communication. That would’ve been a phone call or an email and that would’ve taken half a day to send an mp3 file. Or maybe not a half-day, but people weren’t Dropboxing files back then. It was so much slower. That was a different time when budgets were bigger and things like that. I know, especially now, streaming isn’t paying anything.

But I do offer a service in a specialized room and that doesn’t come for free either. I have expenses too, to keep it all running. I feel like there’s mastering studios that are cheaper but usually they’re like people that are doing mixing, mastering, and recording, or maybe they’re just doing it [with a] laptop, speakers, and a pair of headphones, and that’s fine too.

Tone Madison: Has COVID significantly altered your project intake?

Justin Perkins: I don’t know what the deal is, but with COVID, I’ve definitely been busier than ever. Obviously people are at home, making more music, digging up old stuff they never finished, but I also feel like I have a lot of momentum now. More than ever before. It’s hard to say how busy I’d be without the virus but, thankfully, I mean, I remember last March I was mastering a record and this was right when everything was shutting down and I was like, “I wonder if this album is going to be the last one I ever master.” We just didn’t know what was going to happen. Ended up not being the case, but it was a weird time. It was a weird week or two and then it just exploded.

I remember right after that, I got a Replacements project and that was another big undertaking with a lot of songs. Like I said, I can do an album in a day but those box sets take more like a week because it’s a lot of songs and a lot of variables. “Well, this will keep me busy for a while, so I’m not too worried about it,” and then it just never quit.

Tone Madison: How much of your mastering sessions do you try to save?

Justin Perkins: I save everything. Those two black boxes on the ground back there, that’s over 30 terabytes. I have six huge hard drives, full. The first one goes back to 2010, but there’s probably some older stuff before 2010. 2010 and before I was working slower because I was still mixing, so it was less projects. But if you go to archive 5, it’s probably like one year. It’s going up a lot faster now, is what I’m saying.

I always keep the original files too. I remastered an Ol’ Dirty Bastard album, the first one, and it was less than a year, but later on they were like “We want to release all the instrumentals on vinyl for Record Store Day,” and they didn’t have to send [the files back over]. I already had the session archived and was like, “Yep, I can have it ready in a few hours.” I just had to plug in the hard drive, arrange it, they didn’t have to send me anything. So mastering studios kind of become the gatekeeper for all this stuff, because no one else is going to hang onto it and I just can’t delete it. I just can’t do it.

I don’t have everything I’ve ever done, just because when I was younger, I was less careful. And when I was at Simple, I shouldn’t have, but I was young and wasn’t really thinking about this stuff, but I relied on [the studio owner] to archive everything and he kind of disappeared. So, I just have to keep it. I can’t get rid of it because it’s too important. You never know.

Do you know who Wesley Willis is? I mean, I’m sure when they were first recording the sessions the engineer was like, “What in the hell is this?” but it ended up being very important music. I don’t know how well it’d been archived or if they just had to recover it from pressed CDs or what, because that happens too. You just never know what’s going to be an epic project. You know, I wouldn’t be able to decide which projects I should keep and which to trash because I know that whatever ones I do trash, there’s going to be one that becomes important or, even if it’s not important, the person’s going to call me and say, “I want to remaster this, can you do it?” And I want to be able to say, “Yeah, I have the files.”

Tone Madison: You’re a member of The Recording Academy. How did that come about?

Justin Perkins: I forget what year it was but that was a while back. I was at an awards show or something for Radio Milwaukee and some guys from the Chicago chapter came up and I think that was their job, being part of the outreach. They were basically looking for young engineers to join, because they were trying to diversify the membership. They talked me into doing it and, you know, the Grammys are obviously, to some degree, cheesy, and to a large degree, very non-inclusive.

You could say a lot of bad things about the Grammys and as the years go by, I know less and less of the people who are winning, of course. But at the same time, the nominees are the nominees in part because of the members, so I think it could take a while, but if the right people joined… I was surprised to see the band The War On Drugs won a Grammy a while back. And, compared to a lot of other stuff, they’re way up my alley. I saw that maybe there’s a chance that something I personally think is cool could potentially get recognized, so that’s good.

And they do a thing called MusiCares. There are some good things they do too. Basically, they just asked me to do it and then I just had to supply some credits to make sure that I was still actively working. You can only do it for five years in a row but I did get to do it a number of years and vote. So Best New Song and stuff, there’s a wild pool of voters for that but when it comes down to best engineered album and producer of the year, they have craft committees, they don’t want just anybody voting for that, they want people that know about engineering. So even though I thought it was silly for me to go there, they’d fly me to New York, I’d sit in a room and listen to like 90 seconds of each song and then we’d vote.

It totally could’ve been done remotely, even 10 years ago, or whenever I started doing it but I still keep up with it. There’s a small fee to be in it every year but there are some benefits. Like I said, even though there’s a lot you can nitpick, there are some good things they do and I’m still part of it because, I don’t know. I don’t really have a good answer for why I’m still part of it. There’s good and bad but there’s not a lot of things like that that people in my position can do, you know?

But, again, if you can get enough people with the right thinking, maybe it can change.

Tone Madison: Do you have any recent or all-time favorites?

Justin Perkins: The Replacements stuff I’m always proud of because I’m a big fan of them and it’s cool that I get to work on that stuff. I’ve done a lot of jazz stuff for Madison for some reason. This guy, Tony Barba, did something for him. On the national level, there’s this guy named Malcom Holcombe, who’s a really legendary folk singer. His album’s coming out this week. There’s one other [local] jazz guy I did, Tony Catania, that was kind of the same group of people. Aaron Scholz, that was a cool one, he works for WORT. Squarewave just put out a digital EP that I didn’t do, but I did master their last album. They just had their release show last weekend at the Bur Oak for the vinyl. Reptile Fund, Graham [Hunt]‘s new thing, I did that.

Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Busta Rhymes. Michael Franti. En Vogue, I forgot about that one. Abby Jean was pretty big in Milwaukee and then she moved to New York and I don’t know what she’s doing. Tenement… I think it’s been announced but [Tenement’s Amos Pitsch] is putting out his solo album called Acid Rain on vinyl. He had me remaster it. He mastered it originally himself, might’ve been right around when the pandemic hit. And that’s the kind of guy where I would’ve just done it. I mean, I really love and have been a fan of his forever. I mastered it for digital and then made a vinyl master, so I think that’ll be out soon. Die Kreuzen was a cool one, that was their demos. Julia [Blair] from Dusk has a pretty cool solo album. I did it a while ago now but it’s in the works.

Tone Madison: Excellent. Was there anything else that you wanted to get across or express in some way?

Justin Perkins: No, I don’t think so. I think I got to everything that I wanted to say. I covered it more than once but technically I lived here before I lived in Milwaukee. And I do want to convey that it’s not like I don’t work with Milwaukee bands anymore and even when I was in Milwaukee, I did a lot of stuff for Madison and now I’m just here. Looking forward to digging deeper into the Madison music scene.

If you enjoyed this story, sign up for the Tone Madison email newsletter. It’s the best way to keep up with our work, and it hits your inbox every Thursday morning, complete with our special Microtones column and more.

Help us publish more weird, questing, brilliant, feisty, “only on Tone Madison” stories


This site uses cookies to provide you with a great user experience. By continuing to use this website, you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy.

Scroll to Top