Category Archives: Advice

Martin Bowes on Mastering for Vinyl

by Patrick Ogle

Attrition first set up shop in 1980 in Coventry, England. The end of that year saw the group’s first live incarnation. Attrition has gone through many line-up changes over the years and the music has changed stylistically—always electronic but sometimes dance, sometimes ambient.

One constant has been the man behind the band, Martin Bowes. In the early years the music was a sort of genre defying electronic post-punk. Early recordings such as This Death House followed shortly two years later by The Attrition of Reason set the tone for a career that is still producing innovative music. Resisting the temptation to catalog all of the band’s releases, all of the singles, 12-inch records and ephemera is difficult.

Bowes’ long career gives him not only decades of experience producing music , it spans the time period from when vinyl was king to the time when vinyl was “obsolete” and now back to a new relevance for the format.

Bowes has worked on his own albums but also with artists including; Psychic TV, Sol Invictus, Nick Cave, Marc Almond, AX, Sleep Research Facilty, and Merzbow. Bowes has remixed tracks for The Damage Manual, Mona Mur & En Esch. Die Form, In The Nursery and others.

Martin Bowes has recently opened his studio, The Cage, to the public and it would be an excellent studio choice for bands or projects looking to produce vinyl. If you cannot make it to Coventry, Bowes has some advice on recording for vinyl.

First off–you just opened your personal studio to the public. How did this come about? Tell us about the studio?

Martin Bowes: I had started building my studio back in the early 90’s as I knew it was going to be important to have control over the recording process… too many times we had spent far too little time in professional studios recording our music… I wanted time and control to make things sound how i wanted without watching the clock… so I started The Cage studios In 1993 for the recording of the Attrition album “The Hidden Agenda”… and everything since…

As a result of having this in a time when it was still quite rare for bands to have their own studio, I was invited to teach music technology at a local college here in Coventry, which I did for 16 years. I only ever had the time to use the studio for my own recordings with Attrition and for a few special projects I wanted to take on until last year when I finished teaching and decided it was time to open the doors of The Cage full time.

I upgraded the studio and had a whole new part of my house purpose built for this…it has quickly become very popular and I am lucky enough to be able to work on projects I believe in here.

If an artist came to you and said, “I am doing a recording that will, primarily, be released on vinyl,” what are the first things you think of with regard to the recording?

It is more the mixing and mastering where i will be making decisions in regards to vinyl. Let the initial recordings be as creative as possible and worry about technical issues regarding formats to the mix and master. The first thing I will ask is, “What kind of vinyl?” As opposed to CD formats there are many qualities of vinyl–seven-inch, 10-inch, 12-inch single, albums, and so on…all with varying capacity for playing back your music, and then the length of the material is going to affect it too…so there are a few things to consider.

And bear in mind that there will always be less dynamic range on vinyl as opposed to CD.

Beyond that, what are some other things artists should consider when recording for vinyl?

As I mentioned, formats are important….a bass-heavy dance tune is going to be best pressed on a 12-inch single where there will be room in the grooves to reproduce the bass end. And be careful about stereo sounds particularly on the bass end, and then some of the higher frequencies don’t always reproduce so well on turntables so you need to be extra careful of sibilance, etc.

These days, recordings are often released on vinyl and digital (skipping CDs). How to you bridge the gap, as a producer, between these formats that differ so radically?

Well, CD is only a high-end digital format and with transfer rates and storage capacity getting always higher then we are getting spared the low quality mp3s, etc. we had 10 years ago.

I don’t think it will be long before .wav files are the standard and .mp3’s are dropped into the trash can of history. (I was going to say dust bin). The formats differ but at the end of the day its the music that counts and it can be crafted for any format you like with some care.

You also hear vinyl releases that sound like shit. Usually this has to do with bad mastering or with NO mastering. Make the case for mastering your record with care.

It can be the mastering and it can also be a bad pressing… that’s not so rare either! So always get a test pressing when dealing with vinyl and always get another one if it gets messed up. But yes, of course all music for whatever format its aimed at does need to be mastered with care…and even more so with vinyl as it is more unforgiving than digital.

Now, specifically with regard to vinyl, how do you go about mastering a record?

I always give it a few listens to get the feel of the music and ask the artists what they are looking for as at the end of the day it’s their music, and everyone has a different idea of what they want.

Then I will get into details and examine frequencies, listening on different speaker systems including headphones…and if these are old recordings from tapes etc., I will first clean them up with de-noising tools, etc.

Then, depending on what needs doing, start getting the EQ tools and compression/limiting in place…but only if it’s needed. Sometimes as with mixing, less can be more effective than more. And a small EQ cut here and there may be so much better than lots of boosts. At the same time, I am also sorting out any vinyl issues such as the bass end and sibilant top end, etc. Once I have something I am happy with I get a test copy to the artist or label for their reaction and then make any adjustments if needed.

How can people in the USA get in touch re mastering or recording?

These days, I am dealing with artists from all over the world thanks to file transfers, so check out the studio page at www.thecagestudios.co.uk and just email me on martin@thecagestudios.co.uk if you are interested in me working with you on your project.

We can talk over what you need and what i can do for you. Attrition started in 1983 with vinyl releases and like a lot of people we have recently got back into the format…. releasing Demonstro a double vinyl LP of rarities last year… and have more planned for our latest album, The Unraveller Of Angels, due out this autumn. If anyone wants to check out the Attrition website please do at http://www.attrition.co.uk

Vinyl Blogs To Love: Vinyl Record Architect

I tend to share about fellow vinyl bloggers based on my discovery of them–the first time I find ’em and get excited about reading them, I wind up passing them along here. Paul Rosenblatt’s excellent Vinyl Record Architect is no exception. I found this blog recently and got hooked right away thanks to his post detailing a visit to Pittsburgh’s Sound Cat Records.

It reads a lot like our own Vinyl Road Rage posts, so I was naturally happy to see someone else detailing their record shop experiences, turning the rest of us on to new-to-use places to dig through the crates.

Rosenblatt’s bio on the site reads (unintentionally) a bit like a superhero About Us page–by day, he works as an architect as the head of Springboard Design. By night he’s a vinyl blogger and definitely in love with LPs and has plenty of good intel on Philly record shops and more.

Without gushing too terribly much, I highly recommend this vinyl blog–my only gripe is that I wish there was 2000% more of it. But it’s a damn fine read, whatever the length. He seems to post a bit more frequently than Dust and Grooves, but the posts are every bit as enjoyable. One to be bookmarked, for sure.

–Joe Wallace

How To Start Collecting Vinyl Records

Seems kind of pointless and stupid for a blog post, right? But stop for a second and ask yourself what got YOU into collecting vinyl?

Some people think that vinyl records aren’t made anymore (hah!) and some feel “it’s too late” to start collecting from scratch. Still others believe you can’t buy a new turntable anymore (double hah!) and don’t feel up to the challenge of finding a used one.

Let it be known, that all three of those notions are myths. New vinyl is being cranked out so fast you can’t keep up with it all–both brand new titles and reissues.

New turntables are available for as low as $99 and have USB connections for those who want to digitize and convert to MP3s. And you CAN find an old-school quality turntable without spending a fortune. Personally I’d avoid pawn shops and stick to Craigslist, yard sales, thrift stores and record shops. Do you need a turntable to start collecting record albums? Not REALLLY. Some people collect LPs and picture discs for the artwork alone, and I personally have purchased vinyl records  on the strength of the covers or artwork alone. I love displaying them as well as listening to ’em.

I got sucked into collecting vinyl because around 1996 I got interested in building a collection of obscure new wave music, and there is a LOT that never made it to CD or digital files–and possibly never will. I decided to take the plunge after attending the Austin Record Convention and finding an LP by a new wave band called Amoebas In Chaos. The track “Lude Behavior” cinched it for me–I had to start collecting these albums!

Buy one vinyl record that you’re really lusting to hear and you’re probably hooked. It’s that easy. If there’s a genre obsession of yours that’s full of rare or obscure bands that never made the jump to digital, you’ve got ages of fun ahead of you. There is nothing in the world like discovering a band you’ve never heard before that’s in the same musical zip code of other groups you like…one you’re sure you’d never have heard otherwise without that serendipitous record store excursion. Can you really afford NOT to be collecting vinyl?

–Joe Wallace

Turntabling Reader Questions: How Do I Grade A Used Vinyl Record?

Turntabling gets plenty of questions about vinyl, record collecting, album titles, etc. A lot of them come when the Turntabling booth is set up at shows like Horrorhound Weekend, Cinema Wasteland, Capricon, etc. but from time to time the questions do come in by e-mail or the comments section.

One recent question had to do with grading vinyl records. How does a newcomer to record buying and selling accurately judge the quality of a record or get a good idea of the record album’s condition as described for sale on eBay, Discogs.com or Etsy?

An Introduction To Vinyl Grading

 

Many record sellers use the Goldmine standard or a variation of it. Basically, Goldmine standard grading runs from Good, Very Good, and variations of VG (Very Good Plus, VG++. etc.) to Near Mint, and Mint.

Grading applies separately to album covers and the vinyl records themselves–or at least it SHOULD.

Some use an alternative system of vinyl grades like “Clean” or “Exceptionally Clean”, but some of us in the vinyl collecting and selling community distrust such descriptions because they seem to be trying to hide something.That is obviously not true in every case but for some buyers it can be a red flag.

No matter–nobody forces you to buy vinyl without inspecting it and if you’re uncomfortable with a seller’s grading system, don’t buy unless you can inspect.

Mint condition records are generally those that have never been played or seem to have never been played. A conservative grader is your friend when it comes to buying records on line, and those who claim that a vinyl record is “Mint” are usually saying it’s never been played or played once.

That does NOT mean “still sealed” but obviously sealed records are in Mint condition unless there’s been poor storage and handling.

Rather than take the time to run down the entire list of possible record conditions and hope it’s been communicated properly (we WILL do that in another post, this is a GETTING STARTED guide) there is an easier way for you to begin learning what record grading is all about.

Find a record store that sells used vinyl and lists the condition of that vinyl on a label on the sleeve. Study what that record store considers to be a “Good” condition record. Records in Good condition are often anything but.

Now compare what that store considers to be in Near Mint condition. See the vast difference? Once you get an idea of what the extremes are–again, according to THAT STORE–have a look at the Very Good condition records and compare them with the Near Mints.

You may begin to notice less difference in some cases between Very Good or Very Good Plus and Near Mint.

That’s because every record grader, like it or not, has their own pet peeves. Some will decide one vinyl LP that is considered Near Mint by one grader is actually Very Good Plus album because of a certain type of scratch, nick, or other type of wear.

Conservative record album graders–the fussy ones, the people who don’t give away Near Mint status very easily–are your best friend when it’s time to buy online. Near Mint records are not always pristine and perfect, but Very Good records aren’t always scratchy or obviously worn, either.

What you’re after is a better idea of the range of tolerances in your own purchasing and/or selling habits.

What does Very Good or VG+ mean to you the buyer when you play the record? Do you care if the album is NM or NM-?

Some do and some do not. It’s all down to personal preference. In another blog post (several, I expect) we’ll tackle the more in-depth complexities in record grading. In the meantime, the more records you study yourself, the better you’ll get at determining condition and whether you’re personally comfortable buying an album in the specified condition.

Don’t forget that this is NOT an exact science and your preferences have much to do with how you interpret the grading system. I’ll be writing much more on this subject in the weeks to come.

–Joe Wallace

Turntabling Reader Question: How Should I Store My Vinyl?

by Joe Wallace

I get asked questions about turntables, DJ gear, vinyl records, and such all the time, so I figured it was time to start sharing the answers here in case it might help out other people with the same burning questions.

And since there’s no such thing as a stupid question–only stupid answers–I figured I’d begin with one of the most common, basic questions that I do for some reason get asked more often then I’d like to think about.

“How should I store my vinyl records” is a typical new collector type question but you can’t sneer at the person asking for being ignorant of the best way to store record albums. For starters, there are plenty of mixed opinions. For example, one guy I know is quite adamant about his refusing to stack more than X number of albums side by side without a wooden divider between them and the next batch of LPs.

One reason I have so much patience with this basic question is because of the ungodly number of people who should know better–I’m talking to YOU, record store owners and record show booth renters–who stack big piles of records HORIZONTALLY for whatever damn fool reason.

Folks, it’s my own personal preference and choice NEVER TO BUY from record sellers who stack records in the manner you see below:

My reasoning is that A) Stacking records like this is bad for the vinyl–the weight put on the records in the center and bottom of the pile could make them start to bow and B) You have no idea how long those records have been sitting there just like that.

So I just don’t buy from people who stack like that for any reason. If I see it, chances are good I’m moving on. Putting a few records down horizontally for a moment or two won’t forever destroy your albums, but more than a small number and longer than a moment or two? Let’s say I’m not a fan.

Call me unrealistic. Call me judgmental. But I personally have big record nerdy problems with this sort of thing…my damage.

Back to the original question–how do you properly store vinyl records? Here’s my own personal preference. I store my vinyl vertically and try to minimize tilting albums as much as possible. I try to avoid pressure in the stack that’s the result of too many records crammed into a single cubbyhole or cubicle space, and I like to keep my records away from heating vents and other sources of warmth as much as possible.

When dampness and humidity are a factor, a dehumidifier might come in handy but keeping a steady temperature is also helpful. No, I don’t have a climate controlled room or anything, but I do try to avoid turning off the AC or heating in the appropriate season, I try to keep the temperature more or less consistent. Temperature wise, I’m a bit more anal-retentive than the average collector so you should take this with a few handfuls of salt.

Also–I avoid storing my records in the path of direct sunlight. Heat is only one factor, fading album cover colors is another.

Storing records vertically, spines out, without too many packed in, and kept out of direct sunlight is the short answer. It’s how I personally do it. As long as you’re protecting the vinyl from pressure, heat, and damp you’ll be OK.

Ask Turntabling by e-mailing editor (at) turntabling (dot) net.

Crosley Vinyl Record Album Crate LP storagethe Crosley Vinyl Record Storage Crate holds up to 30 record albums.