Today is Record Store Day 2015. It’s a day dedicated to celebrating the venerable and market resurgence of the vinyl LP. There’s no chance that vinyl LPs will become mainstream like they were prior to digital music recording and distribution but it’s nice to see advocates rally around local record outlets.
The event brings out devotees both young and old. I’ve seen pictures of customers lined up waiting to enter their favorite record store for a chance to thumb through aisles of vintage vinyl. There’s also a lot of new vinyl LPs being produced and released. I heard a piece on NPR about one of the biggest duplication facilities having to double its capacity. Lest we get too excited and attack too much significance to the increasing popularity of spinning pieces of black 180 or 200-gram vinyl, keep in mind that total revenue from vinyl LPs in 2014 amounted to only 2-3%. There is a lot of hype associated with vinyl LPs, most of it exaggerated.
However, today artists like Dave Groh and Foo Fighters, Steve Earle and Dresden Dolls will be at different shops around the country and in fact, around the world to show off their new vinyl LPs.
One notable development this year is the release of Elvis’ historic first recording on Third Man Records. A few months ago, on what would have been Elvis’ 80th birthday, Jack White outbid all competing bidders and acquired the only existing acetate of that session. It was made in 1953 at The Memphis Recording Service (home of the Sun Record Label) in Memphis, TN. According to the Sun Records website, “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin” were recorded by for around $4.00. The studio owner wasn’t around, so his assistant, Marion Keisker handled the session. Elvis wants to see what his voice sounded like on a record and he had aspirations to become a professional singer. He took the acetate home, and reportedly gave it to his mother as a much-belated extra birthday present.
Acetates are one offs…they are not used to duplicate multiple copies…so the $300K that Jack White spent on this little piece of history may have been a great deal. Especially as he had the acetate transferred to PCM digital by legendary music archivist Alan Stoker at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. Take a look at the video below of the transfer session:
Video 1 – The transfer of the Elvis acetate to digital by Alan Stoker.
Third Man Records is planning to release a facsimile of this transfer without any alterations or restoration work today as part of the Record Store Day events. There are plans to restore the recording and remaster it for a 7″ vinyl record at some point in the future.
As I watched the video, I was surprised that Alan didn’t use high-end equipment. I’m not an expert on state-of-the-art turntables and preamps but it seems to me that given the historic nature of this recording AND the importance of getting this final transfer done right, they might have sought out studio equipped with state-of-the-art gear. I’m not say that Alan isn’t competent but I think it could have been done better.
It’s not unlike the analog “masters” that are being transferred by junior studio engineers at the major labels using their standard 2-track machines. There are regular studio reel-to-reel machines and then there are state-of-the-art transfer machines that spare no expense to get every last bit of fidelity off of a master tape. There is a difference.
I don’t know anything about the sample rate, word length, or equipment used during the transfer but I can be pretty sure that they didn’t use the Plangent Process or the latest ADC with the project. It’s a shame…I’m not a huge Elvis fan but this is a project that deserves extraordinary care and attention…just as ALL transfers to high-resolution formats should. We’re taking something from the past and future proofing it.
Don’t be surprised if this decidedly standard resolution, marginal fidelity digital transfer shows up as a high-resolution digital download on the usual sites…with a Hi-Res Music logo! I couldn’t resist.