What kind of questions does Wally Traugott, a man who has easily worked on more than 300 albums, get asked when he is alone with an interviewer? Oh, stuff like "Was there any overdubbing?" Sometimes the artist whose name is across the front of the album cover can't even remember the little details about this or that masterpiece, but Traugott can. As for his name, that's usually written in tiny little type somewhere on the back cover, or maybe even on the insert. But that doesn't mean people in the music business don't think he's big stuff. "Cut by the very hands of legendary lathe-master Wally Traugott" is the way one album was promoted. Music listeners who don't know a lot about the production processes behind the "product", be it vinyl, cassette, compact disc, DVD, or whatever's next, might assume a "legendary lathe-master" might be some kind of heavy metal guy on a custom-designed axe. Be it the mastering of an old-fashioned phonograph record, which requires "cutting" a master record with a sophisticated lathe, or mastering recordings with the new digital technology, or remastering classic selections in the new formats, Traugott is one of the top experts.
He is closely associated with Capitol, where for many years he was one of the staff mastering engineers. The industry has given him many awards such as the 1985 TEC prize for best mastering engineer. His name appears on more hit albums than most session musicians, and unlike them, his skills are not limited even to the options the most versatile session player might carve out. Traugott's services do not go out of style with one form of music or another, in fact his job is to keep an eye on the technology, and in a sense, forget about the music. While the informational intake of a rock or pop musician during the mid-'60s could have included everything from mastering Delta blues slide guitar to studying Indian raga, all Traugott had to worry about was instructions such as these: ". . .roll off high frequencies above 12 kHz and low frequencies below 47 Hz when cutting 45s." Of course, it would be wrong to infer that mastering engineers don't need to know anything about music, and in actuality, there are examples where Traugott is quite hands-on in processes such as editing. A good example would be the Bob Seger mega-hit "Night Moves," especially since it illustrates how the process of crediting producers and engineers sometimes goes astray. The Seger opus was originally a good five minutes long; the single, after mastering and editing by Traugott, came in at three-and-a-half minutes. This was supposedly what was needed to make radio disc jockeys happy, except the guys looking for a long song that could be used to cover a bathroom break.
Mastering engineers often complain that the credit of "producer" is too vague. To this point of view, the aforementioned process of mastering and editing should actually qualify one for the top production credit. In the music industry, however, the man called the producer might often be some guy who has hired someone like Traugott to do the dirty work. In this case, Seger's producer was Jack Richardson, who apparently turned purple when he saw "Night Moves" charting for the first time, but with a production credit for Punch Andrews! Richardson did not actually have to punch Punch Andrews in order to have the credit fixed, but it wasn't easy, and it was never really fixed, either. The credits now say the record is produced by Jack Richardson and Punch Andrews, no mention of Traugott except as mastering engineer. "Punch wasn't even at the sessions," Richardson said in an interview.