Good morning, class! Quick survey: How many of you have a friend who is in a band of some sort that has released a recording to the public?
Raise your hands.
There... that's what I figured: most of you!
Heck, right here at Audiophilereview I know that our editor Steven Stone plays in bands and has recorded everything from small groups to orchestras. And, yes, Dear Readers, yours truly is also a musician, composer and performer with several albums out on CD (both with my old band www.ingdom.com, some tracks used in TV/film, and even a new musical I'm slowly rolling out www.dialthemusical.com).
One thing I haven't personally done -- yet -- is release an album on an actual record. However, one of my good friends, bandmates and periodic-co-composers -- John Ashfield -- recently released a new album on vinyl with this band, The Bobbleheads. And this event afforded me the opportunity to help him spot-check the album's actual disc mastering prior to release.
I even get a special thank you credit in the album's liner notes and got to do a cameo appearance in one of their music videos (full disclosure!).
The Bobbleheads, are a fun power pop trio here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Their songs are pretty great and this album is a well-produced, super-tight 'n concise, 30-plus-minute rock 'n roll adventure. Produced by one of our mutual friends who happens to be one of the Bay Area's greatest and most respected musicians, Doug Hilsinger (Bomb, Waycross, Enorchestra), the resultant independently released LP titled "Make Yourself Happy" is a major label worthy endeavor.
Heck, KROQ-FM's "Rodney on the ROQ" liked it immediately and played one of the tracks on his show upon its release ("Turn The Radio On").
Now, rather than review the album formally -- which would be a little awkward for me, being a friend of the band -- I thought you might be interested to hear a bit about what we learned in the LP mastering process. Both John and I have issued many CDs over the years, so we certainly know the power of good mastering in making the recordings sound as good as possible. In fact, mastering for The Bobbleheads' album was done by another Bay Area musician friend, Chris Xefos (King Missile, Floatation Device).
But there is a whole separate mastering process that goes on in preparing the master disc for pressing the vinyl records and that is what we're going to reflect on here. Actually, it was a comment John made when he came over to hear the test pressing on my sound systems that compelled me to write this article.
"All of a sudden, my band's little new album project sounded like a real big time record and I could really hear the sound of the room we recorded in," says Ashfield. "Not that it sounded bad before. Even though we did it all digital in Pro Tools, the final mixes that Doug Hilsinger created sound tremendous, full and warm. Chris Xefos' mastering was solid and sympathetic to the music."
The Bobbleheads' sound on record features a big chiming Rickenbacker guitar crunch, fat Fender Precision bass and an equally big drum sound.
"When you add to the LP mastering compression and other adjustments necessary for keeping the grooves of the record consistent for vinyl playback, suddenly the band sound got even more realistic than ever, like we were all there playing in the room together. The vinyl became transparent in that sense and the recording was sounding more like I'd dreamed. It was a very cool moment and realization of the impact that the vinyl mastering can have over the final sound of a recording," Ashfield explained.
So, you can imagine how other artists must feel the first time they hear their music played back on a turntable via a record.
The Bobbleheads album was mastered for vinyl and manufactured at Pirate Press, here in San Francisco.
"To my ear, as both composer and performer, our album sounds less digital-y on the vinyl than the CD version, continued Ashfield. "When I hear music that is obviously digital, I immediately envision sand on a beach. Some grains of sand are more coarse than others and the finer grain you get with digital, the better things can sound... But at the end of the day, its still a digital thing. Analog is more like tasty pudding or creamy peanut butter, there are no rough edges. So, it seems that adding this bit of analog process to our mostly digital project has somehow smoothed some of the rough digital edges in a very positive way."