Emily Lazar may not have the same social media following as Beyoncé or Taylor Swift, yet hers is a name you should know. Lazar is a mastering engineer, and during her 25-plus-year career, she has broken through the glass ceiling in her industry time and time again. Not only that, she’s super-talented, with one Grammy Award and eight nominations so far, including three this year in the Album of the Year category, for Coldplay’s latest, Everyday Life, HAIM’s Women in Music Pt. III, and Jacob Collier’s Djesse Vol. 3, making her a triple threat in this category.
But it should be no surprise to anyone who has known Lazar for a long time that she ended up with a successful music career. Growing up in Westchester — first in New Rochelle, then in Rye — she was surrounded by music. Her mom was a guitar teacher and taught out of the home, while her dad was interested in stereo equipment and sort of an “amateur audiophile,” as she puts it.
“My dad played; he was a noodler, making great harmonies, but my mom was the backbeat of the whole operation,” says Lazar. “It was an amazing, formative time because I was around music all the time.” Lazar studied classical voice and in high school and college was a singer, songwriter, and guitarist in bands with dreams of playing rock arenas. But it wasn’t until she attended Skidmore College as an undergrad that she discovered sound engineering.
“I was in a band with my boyfriend, who was taking a studio class, and I said, ‘Wow, there’s a class for that?’” says Lazar. “I had some great professors, who really opened the door for me. There were no women in the college classes; I was the only one for a long time. Back then, it wasn’t a positive thing [for girls] to be involved in science or STEM fields, except for maybe being a doctor.”
“The song is the artist’s baby; you love it so much, and you have a relationship with that song, rearing the song the way you would a child. I think being able to help deliver that baby into the world is thrilling.”
She says it was frustrating trying to fit into what had traditionally been a boys’ club. “I was even intimidated going into Sam Ash or Manny’s to get guitars. They used to think I was shopping for my boyfriend — I couldn’t possibly be there buying a guitar or an amp or anything for myself,” she says. “It got really infuriating when I got past the intimidation. Because it was so uncomfortable, I worked 10 times as hard and 10 times as fast. I had to know everything, so I couldn’t be knocked off my block, because I knew it was coming. I knew there was going to be extra pressure and tests or a way to keep me out of the boys’ club. I spent a lot of time making sure that would not happen solely based on my gender.”
She had some inspiration and mentors along the way, including producer Keith Cleversley, whom she met at a recording studio near Skidmore while recording with her band. He had worked on some great records for bands such as The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev. When she got into the studio with her band at the time, she was hooked. “I was mesmerized by all of it,” says Lazar. “I had always had a specific way of hearing things. It was very clear to me when something sounded pleasing. Songs, music, performers, and certain timbres had color to me. When I’m working and listening, I can decipher sounds as different colors, and that’s how I sort things out.”
She became determined to get the sounds she heard in her head onto a recording and started taking every class she could.
After Skidmore, she moved to New York City and didn’t slow down. She was attending NYU to get her master’s while maintaining a graduate fellowship, a part-time job at a clothing store, and another job at a large mastering facility.
“I had lived Uptown, and I would go home after these crazy hours of working in the studio, dragging myself into my apartment at 5 a.m.,” says Lazar. And as one of the few women in the room, she says she had to work harder and smarter.
“Mastering studios that already existed, and there were very few, all had male engineers,” says Lazar. “There were a couple of female mastering engineers on the classical side, but not in the rock or pop world. The places were set up like dentist offices, with multiple dentists in rooms and leather couches, very impersonal in a lot of ways, and it felt awful to me. A lot of the people working in those positions were not musicians or from creative backgrounds, so there was a disconnect.”
That’s when, at age 25, she decided to start The Lodge, her own audio-mastering facility. “That was a bold decision at the time, but at that moment, I didn’t feel there was any other choice,” says Lazar. “It was what I needed to do.” She wanted to create a collaborative environment and have a space that fosters behavior and comfort for an artist to work and be effective. “The teamwork aspect is really important,” says Lazar. “I want everyone to have a seat at the table; it’s really important to have outstretched arms.”
“She is fully comfortable within every genre under the sun, with the skills, chops, gear, emotional awareness, and killer sense of humor to back it up.”
— Grammy winner Jacob Collier
Before the pandemic, Lazar decided to move The Lodge to Westchester, where she currently lives and raises her 17-year-old son. “I enjoy trees, nature, the water, and accessibility to all the things the [county] has to offer,” says Lazar. “This is home for me. I think the pandemic has taught all of us that your family, close friends, your inner circle is what’s most important. Being able to go for a walk and be with them, even if we are six feet apart, is important.”
She says she loves working in Westchester, and many of the artists she works with do, too, escaping the hustle-bustle of the city. She continues to love the work that she does, and the musicians who work with her feel the same. “As somebody who creates and appreciates music that draws from a ton of influences and varied, intricate sound palettes, Emily is unmatched,” says five-time Grammy winner Jacob Collier. “She is fully comfortable within every genre under the sun, with the skills, chops, gear, emotional awareness, and killer sense of humor to back it up. Emily loves thinking outside the box and getting into the dirt, creatively speaking, which I love.”
Lazar has mastered more than 4,000 albums throughout her career and worked with such artists as David Bowie, Sia, Wu-Tang Clan, Barbara Streisand, Chainsmokers, Dolly Parton, Alanis Morissette, Little Big Town, and HAIM, to name a few. She also worked as the mastering engineer on The Rolling Stones’ 2020 vinyl reboot of Goats Heads Soup, as well as the 50th anniversary release of the Beatles’ Abbey Road, released in 2019.
“You don’t get much more rock & roll than The Beatles and Rolling Stones, but I’m also blown away by these younger talents and that I get to witness those records being made that no one has heard yet,” says Lazar. “The fact that it’s never really the same is exciting to me and wonderful. I get to play midwife when an artist writes a song. The song is the artist’s baby; you love it so much, and you have a relationship with that song, rearing the song the way you would a child,” says Lazar. “I think being able to help deliver that baby into the world is thrilling.”
Even though she is not in this job for the accolades, she continues to rack them up, with a body of work that can be heard on numerous Grammy-winning recordings. At the 54th Grammy Awards, she was the first female mastering engineer to be nominated in the Album of the Year category, for Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light; at the 57th Grammy Awards, she was the first female mastering engineer to be nominated in the Record of the Year category, for Sia’s “Chandelier.” She made history again at the 61st Awards, as the first female mastering engineer to win the Grammy for Best Engineered Album Non-Classical, for Beck’s album Colors.
Whether she’s onstage accepting an award, in the studio, speaking on college campuses, or giving back to girls who aspire to follow in her footsteps, one thing’s for sure — Emily Lazar is undeniably rock & roll.