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Topic: Tape Primer

Date: Tue, 02 Oct 2001 06:04:09 -0000
Subject: Re: Vault

> So there's hope??!?
> Please explain, George!

You really want me to explain this? It's gonna be long-winded so grab a beer.

During the session, the music is recorded to very high quality professional "multitrack" tape deck. In the BB's 1960's case, tape with 3, 4, 8, or 16 tracks. The instruments and vocals are spread across the tracks. Like in the case of Pet Sounds you'd have track 1 with, say, horns, track 2 with drums and bass maybe, and so on. That would all be "submixed" to one track on another multi track (8) tape, and seven other tracks would be used for vocals.

Big question number 1: Could YOU, the common listener play a multitrack at home?? NO!!!

So, the artist has got to "MIX" the tracks. This is where all the various tracks are combined to 2 (stereo; Left and Right) or 1 (mono) channels. The various elements are balanced, abd maybe some stuff is mixed out, and some stuff mixed in, and maybe some effects are added and shit. All that is now recorded onto ANOTHER really high quality professional medium, like 1/4 inch 2 track tape, which was standard back then in in many cases is still a favorite.

When someone "REMIXES" this is what he or she does. They'll go back to those multitracks (the 3, 4, 8 or 16 track tapes) and re-balance the elements and re-add the exho, and maybe do some different stuff to the music too.

Big question number 2: Could YOU, the common listener play a 1/4 reel to reel master? Probably not. Many people owned home-reel-to- reel decks, but by no means did they posess the quality and features of the studio decks.

Therefore, that "mixdown" tape needs to be transferred to something that YOU, the common listener can play. Like vinyl, or cassette, or nowadays, CD.

Big Question number 3: Can any of these common listener mediums reproduce perfectly the sound of that 1/4 in mixdown tape? No!

Each has a unique set of limitations that make them unable to do that. CD gets a bit closer, maybe. At least it doesn't creat noise of it's own. The other mediums all do. Hiss, surface noise, rumble, and scratches.

On top of that, vinyl and cassette are just physically unable to reproduce the wide frequency and dynamic (loudness) range of a well recorded mixdown tape made on a really well maintained machine.

Therefore, the sound of the mixdown tape needs to be modified in several ways in order to take full advantage of each mediums strengths while also avoiding their pitfalls. Vinyl can't handle nearly as much bass as studio tape. The needle can jump right out the fucking groove! Too much extreme highs and you get wicked sibilance and distortion. Too loud, and it's all distorted. Too quiet and the surface noise of the record will overpower the music!

Enter the "MASTERING" stage. All these processes are performed here. A little EQing of the mix to keep trouble frequencies in check. A little compression to make sure that the whole thing is loud enough. Shit like that. At the same time, the mastering engineer might sequence the songs in their desired order, and place the desired amount of silence between them. All this work is then recorded onto a tape that can be duplicated at the pressing plant.

Now "REMASTERING" is hugely important for a number of reasons. You shouldn't use the MASTER that was made in the '60's (unless of course it is in better shape than the original mix tape), because chances are it was made with vinyl in mind. CD can hold alot more info than vinyl, especially in the frequency department!

However, you may not want to go back to the multitracks, because to do that would be to reinterpret the artists original performance in the mix session. Some have done this (Pet Sounds Stereo, The Who remasters, and some of the Byrds catalog), and doen it well, although many more, myself included, usually prefer the artists original mix.

It's also important because the little boxes that turn audio into data have improved tremendously since the CD first came along. Some will also observe that there has also been an improvement in the attitudes of mastering engineers with regards to the old question, "how much noise should I remove without screwing up the sound?"

There you go. Remastering is to go back to the original mixdown tape (or it's earliest copy) and re-prepare it for publishing using the latest tools. Remixing is to go right back to the session tape and rebalance the stuff.

Whew. I need a beer.


Date: Tue, 02 Oct 2001 01:27:17 -0000
Subject: Re: Vault

> So there's hope??!? Please explain, George!

You really want me to explain?

During recording sessions (then and now), songs are recorded to multitrack tape, which means what it says. There are several tracks and the instruments / vocals / whatever are spread out across them. Back then, in the case of, say, Pet Sounds, this means that the3 or four track tape would contain the music tracks. For instance, the bass and drums might be on track 1, the strings on 2, the guitars and shit on 3, and maybe some more shit on 4. All this would get transferred to just 1 track of another multi (8) track tape. The other seven would be filled with vocals.

Now the big question. Can YOU play an 8-track reel to reel at your house?? NO! Would you want to? Probably not for mere listening pleasure. The instruments and vocals are out of balance, it needs to be MIXED!!

Mixing is where all of these tracks are transferred to a one track (mono) or two track (stereo) tape, usually stil something of very hight quality like 1/4 inch wide 15 or 30 speed reel to reel. During this process, the various tracks are balanced out with each other, and things like echo and delay might be added, and other creative decisions might be made.

Then, the next big question... Can YOU play a 1/4 inch 15 or 30 ips reel to reel tape at YOUR house? NO!!

Further more, should we mix these tracks 100,000 times because Capitol wants to press 100,000 copies of the record? NO!!

Even further, is vinyl (or even CD) anywhere near as good sounding as 1/4 inch reel to reel at 15 or 30 ips? NO!! So we need to do some stuff to make sure that when this awesome sounding tape is turned into a record or CD, it still sounds great. Things like making it as loud as possible so that surface noise (and limited resolution in the case of digital) is less of a problem, and making sure it doesn't contain more bass and treble than vinyl can handle. After all, that can creat lots of distortion, and too much bass can make the needle jump right out the fucking groove!!

MASTERING!! During Mastering, that 1/4 inch tape is fed through some devices to maximize loudness, control the frequency range and generally keep the overall sound under control. Other things that happen may be that the songs are put in the final order in which they'll appear on the record, and the desired amount of silence between songs will be spliced in. Ultimately, the sound winds up on yet another tape (or tapeS) that get's shipped to the pressing plant and duplicated.

Remastering only goes back to the earliest generation MIXDOWN tape, not to the multi-track ones. And remastering is important today because the little boxes that convert sound from analog to data have improved massively since the BB's first had their stuff put on CD, and because the engineers today seem to have a better attitude about just how much noise you should try to remove without screwing up the music.

Its also important to actually REMASTER when an old album is released on CD because the original mastering job was performed with vinyl in mind, and vinyl has a whole shitload of limitations on it's ability to carry audio that CD doesn't. CD has other different limitations. Cassette has still other limitations. So when you master, you do it with the final product that Micha in Germany is gonna buy. It literally HAS to sound kind of like "THIS" for CD, but kind of like "THAT" for vinyl and kind of like "THIS OVER HERE" for cassette, and MP3 is absolute shit.


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