Friday, May 28, 2010

Music Engineers Cut Old Path With Vinyl Recordings

This great story from :

Music Engineers Cut Old Path With Vinyl Recordings

JOE BOONE | Special to The Daily News

Producing vinyl records – those albums that most people 40 and older grew up with – has rapidly become a lost art as technology has sent that format the way of the 8-track tape.

But a few local music engineers are turning back the clock by refurbishing a Neumann VMS 70 lathe – a machine that is used to cut vinyl discs – that Stax founder Jim Stewart began using in 1970.

Mastering engineer Larry Nix, owner of L. Nix Mastering Inc., and Jeff Powell and John Fry of Ardent Studios are using the lathe that was used to master vinyl recordings of many classic Stax recordings.

“We literally spent days in here replacing parts and electronics,” Nix said of refurbishing the antique equipment, which sells for about $49,000. “But now it’s in like-new condition.”

The lathe had fallen out of use because of economic pressures in the changing music industry. With the industry having long ago turned to compact discs as the preferred recording, and with people now downloading music, the market for music played on a turntable has diminished.

But vinyl has been making a comeback recently. Sales of compact discs have been slumping as MP3, Windows Media files and Apple have been claiming market share.

So while CD sales have been declining over the past decade, LP sales have been up. Many current artists are releasing their discs on vinyl and a lot of older albums are being re-pressed and re-released on vinyl – or pressed for the first time.

Soundscan, a music sales tracking service, reported a 33 percent increase in sales of vinyl LPs from 2008 to 2009, with sales soaring from 1.8 million to 2.5 million.

“I would love to see everything be more purist,” Ardent engineer Powell said.

Mastering audio for vinyl is a mechanical process, and it’s exactly the kind of process that digital media was supposed to price out of the market.

And the competitive pressure posed by digital recording and mastering were only part of the problem; distribution costs also effectively disappeared in a networked world. The lathe seemed doomed.

“I pretty much shut it down,” said Nix, who was the mastering engineer at Stax from 1970 to 1975 and has worked with prominent musicians like ZZ Top, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Al Green and Parliament.

Nix, who with his son, Kevin, has helped define the Memphis rap aesthetic, now maintains a separate studio within Ardent. He specializes in preparing mixed audio for its final format, be that radio, CD, television or vinyl disc.

With the lathe virtually obsolete, he made arrangements for the historic piece to go to a museum.

Powell asked him to demonstrate how it worked before it got away. When arrangements with the museum fell through, one client – Super 400 from Troy, N.Y. – lobbied hard to start using the lathe again.

“They were really, really persistent,” Nix said.

It is a daunting mechanical challenge to cut tiny grooves into hard plastic, and the margin for error is minimal given the high cost relative to digital mastering.

“If one thing goes wrong, you start over,” Powell said. “Making two or three cuts can ruin your profit margin.”

The process is also done in real time, which means the engineer must seamlessly cut not only all of the songs to disc, but the lead-in, the spaces between the songs and the loop at the end.

The groove is microscopic and must be precise, so there was a refurbishing challenge. Nix is mastering about one project per week, usually in combination with a separate digital master.

While most of the work once came from labels, Nix gets most of his business from independent producers.

The City Champs are a Memphis soul powerhouse and are gaining critical praise. Their album “Safecracker” was recorded without digital technology.

Engineer Scott Bomar, owner of Electraphonic Recording, tracked the album on a Stax-era tape machine and mastered the discs straight to vinyl.

“Watching Larry Nix master vinyl is something really special to behold,” Bomar said.

Powell sees the market for better audio and is glad to have had the opportunity to work with Nix.

“It’s a blast,” he said. “He’s (Nix) the master.”


Michael Fremer Album Review

Traffic (reissue)
Heaven is in Your Mind

United Artists/Sundazed LP 5316 mono LP

Produced by: Jimmy Miller
Engineered by: Eddie Kramer
Mixed by: Eddie Kramer
Mastered by: Bob Irwin (LP cut by "WG" at Nashville Record Productions)

Review by: Michael Fremer

I once pissed next to Dave Mason in the Cambridge Boathouse bathroom back in 1970 something. That has nothing to do with this review except that it’s a review of a Traffic album and Dave Mason was in Traffic but you wouldn’t know that from the cover of their first American album.

Mason is missing from the cover of Heaven Is In Your Mind (United Artists UAL3651 mono /UAS6651 stereo/Sundazed LP 5316 mono), though he’s on the cover of the original UK Island Records Traffic debut called Mr.Fantasy (though the jacket just says "Traffic" (ILPS 9061) produced by Jimmy Miller and engineered by Eddie Kramer at Olympic and packaged in a gatefold jacket with a completely different cover and many different songs.

What’s more, while the original stereo American copy (UAS 6651) was originally called Heaven is in Your Mind, it was quickly changed to Mr. Fantasy with a credit box added on the back cover. Sundazed reissued using the original cover.

Even though Mason’s mug is missing from the cover, two Mason songs appear on the album and he’s credited on the back of the second issue jacket.

Was this any way for a group to make its American debut? Of course not. Not helping was that UA had picked up the record from Island, which at the time didn’t have an American presence. United Artists was not exactly a rock and roll dynamo at the time, or ever, though it had previously signed 17 year old singing sensation Stevie Winwood’s previous band The Spencer Davis Group.

What United Artists did correctly though was package the debut with the UK hit singles that were customarily left off of albums in the UK (that’s why, for instance, “Paint It Black” wasn’t on the UK Aftermath).

So this album includes the catchy, tuneful “Paper Sun,” and “Smiling Phases” (popularized by BS&T) while the UK original does not. This also has Dave Mason’s “Hole in My Shoe” that’s not on the UK original either. A track called “We’re a Fade, You Missed This” ends the album and it’s nothing more than “Paper Sun”’s fade out!

You’d think someone was high on drugs here and listening to Mason’s contributions (on this record and on ones on the UK original omitted here) and his “I’m in the group, I’m outta the group” behavior, he probably was!
This mono reissue doesn’t list the tracks on the back cover so let me do it (in addition to the aforementioned): “Dealer,” “Coloured Rain,” “Hole in My Shoe,” “No Face, No Name and No Number,” “Heaven is in Your Mind,” “House For Everyone,” “Berkshire Poppies,” “Giving to You,” “Dear Mr. Fantasy.”

The highlights are “No Face, No Number,” “Coloured Rain,” and “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” in my opinion though even the wacky Bonzo Dog Band/psychedelic Sgt. Pepper’s…” inspired tunes offer something interesting. Dave Mason was definitely fixated on George Harrison’s sitar drenched raga-rock! His psychedelic, flange-y “Hope I Never Find Me There” is a definite “sign of the times” extravaganza found only on the original UK pressing.

Sundazed’s choice to reissue the mono mix was an interesting one, particularly for hardcore fans who will hear some differences ala the mono and stereo mixes of Beatles albums. The mono is punchier, meatier and more coherent but you lose some of the spatial effects the stereo mix offers.

The team of Winwood, Mason, multi-faceted Chris Wood and drummer Jim Capaldi was one of the era’s most versatile and talented. While the next album, simply called Traffic, was more consistent and definitely more tuneful and less gimmicky, this one has plenty to offer, if just to hear Winwood’s soaring voice still in its teen years.

Heaven Is In Your Mind is one of Sundazed’s most attractive mono reissues, especially if you have a mono cartridge, or at least a “mono” button on your preamp. But even if you have neither, this one is highly recommended!

BTW: even though the original pink label Island lacks the hits, the sound is far superior to the original UA and this reissue too, though it's 100% faithful to the original UA release.

Thanks to Michael over at  for the exclusive rights to reprint this material.

Copyright © 2008 & Michael Fremer - All rights reserved Reprinted by Permission

This Date In Music History - May 28


Tony Mansfield - Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas (1943)

Billy Vera (1944)

Gladys Knight (1944)

John Fogerty - Creedence Clearwater Revival (1945)

Ray Laidlan - Lindisfarne (1948)

Larry Gatlin - Gatlin Brothers (1948)

Roland Gift - Fine Young Cannibals (1962)

Chris Ballew - Presidents Of The United States Of America (1965)

Kylie Minogue (1968)

Mark Feehily - Westlife (1981)

Colbie Caillat (1985)

They Are Missed:

Born on this day in 1910, T- Bone Walker - blues guitarist, influenced Albert Collins, BB King, Buddy Guy, Freddy King. Died on 16th March 1975.

Born today in 1917, Papa John Creech - violinist with Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna. Died in 1994 (age 76).

Born on this day in 1949, Wendy O. Williams - singer with The Plasmatics. She died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds on April 6, 1998.

Born today in 1955, John McGeoch - guitar, member of Magazine. Also worked with Siouxsie And The Banshees, Armoury Show, Public Image Ltd. Died in his sleep 5th March 2004 (age 49).

Derek Frigo guitarist from 80’s glam band Enuff Z' Nuff died of a drug overdose in 2004 (age 36).


In 1955, "Billboard" reported that "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" was the most popular song in the U.S.

The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) was established in 1957. The NARAS is known for organizing the Grammy Awards.

Buddy Holly's draft notice arrived in 1958, but he was refused induction because of his 20/800 eyesight and a stomach ulcer.

In 1960, "Cathy’s Clown" by the Everly Brothers began a five-week run at #1 in the US.

In 1964, the BBC received over 8,000 postal applications for tickets for The Rolling Stones appearance on Juke Box Dury.

Elvis Presley's 'Tickle Me' movie opened nationally in 1965.

Produced by Phil Spector (as his crowing achievement), Ike & Tina Turner’s epic “River Deep Mountain High” was released in 1966. The song stiffs in the U.S. (though it enters the Top 5 in England) causing Spector to briefly retire from the music business. 1966

Herb Alpert And The Tijuana Brass went to #1 on the US album chart in 1966 with 'What Now My Love', setting a new American record with four albums in the US Top Ten. The other three were; ‘South of the Border,' ‘Going Places’ and ‘Whipped Cream and Other Delights.'

Percy Sledge started a two week run at #1 on the US singles chart in 1966 with "When A Man Loves A Woman."

All four Beatles spent the day with Bob Dylan in his room at the Mayfair hotel in London in 1966.

The Association makde their TV debut on the "Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" on CBS in 1967.

Rolling Stone Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull were arrested at their London home in 1969 and charged with possession of cannabis, they were released on $85 bail.

Bassist Ronnie Lane left The Faces in 1973 and went on to form Slim Chance.

The Allman Brothers Band broke up in 1976 after Gregg Allman testified against his personal road manager in a drug case. The band reformed in 1978.

The epic song "Barracuda" was released by Heart in 1977.

In 1977, Bruce Springsteen settled out of court with his former manager Mike Appel. The settlement allowed Springsteen to began recording again.

Also in 1977, Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers played together for the first time when they performed as part of Mike Howletts band, Strontium 90 in Paris France.

In 1982, Promoter Bill Graham staged a special Vietnam Veterans benefit concert in San Francisco starring The Jefferson Starship, The Grateful Dead and Country Joe.

Actress and singer Irene Cara started a six-week run at #1 on the US singles chart in 1983 with "Flashdance...What A Feeling." Taken from the film 'Flashdance.'

In 1983, the four day US Festival '83' took place in California, featuring The Clash, U2, David Bowie, The Pretenders, Van Halen, Stray Cats, Men At Work, Judas Priest, Stevie Nicks, Willie Nelson. INXS, Joe Walsh, Motley Crue and Ozzy Osbourne. Headlimers Van Halen received $1 million for their time and effort. Over 750,000 fans attended the festival.

Whitney Houston released her album "Whitney" in 1987.

George Michael started a three-week run at #1 on the US singles chart in 1988 with "One More Try."

Hootie & the Blowfish started a four-week run at #1 on the US album charts in 1995 with 'Cracked Rear View.' The album went on to sell over 15m copies.

In 1998 - Elton John and Bernie Taupin won an Ivor Novello Award for their re-written version of "Candle in the Wind '97."

Britney Spears was at #1 on the US album chart in 2000 with 'Oops!... I Did It Again.'

In 2006, Beck and the members of his band are accompanied on stage by marionette puppets of themselves during their headlining performance at the Sasquatch! Festival in George (about 125 miles east of Seattle), WA.

The Police launched a North American reunion tour to celebrate their 30th anniversary in 2007. The trek began in Vancouver, B.C.

In 2008, Mötley Crüe's Tommy Lee and Rapper Ludacris headline a benefit concert in L.A. for the Griffith Park Recovery Fund.