With only 300 working lathes left worldwide, we go in search of the mastering engineers still operating behind the music.
Filmed by: Anoushka Seigler, Kamil Dymek and Pawel Ptak
Over 6 million vinyl records were sold in the US in 2013 and yet there are only two companies left worldwide who supply the lacquers used to cut the master discs necessary to press every single release. At a time where the music industry at large is fighting a losing battle with advancements in technology, vinyl mastering engineers are still working with equipment that has not changed for over 30 years. Aside from the American Scully, the Neumann VMS70 and 80 lathes – so-called to relate to their respective decades – remain the industry standard.
Working live-to-vinyl these craftsmen are clandestine operators. Practically everything that is pressed to vinyl will have passed through the hands of a mastering engineer, who will oversee the transition from tape, CD or latterly MP3, onto the master disc or dubplate that will then be sent to the pressing plant for wider production. For a full breakdown on what happens in the mastering process, read our interview with legendary engineer Noel Summerville, who is also featured in this film.
While Rashad Becker of Berlin’s vaunted Dubplates & Mastering insists that his involvement in the production of the music is purely ‘service industry’, there’s a subtlety and intrigue to the work of Becker and his compatriots that deserves more recognition than their humble inscriptions on the run out groove.
For this short film, we visited three of the foremost mastering engineers working today. Travelling to Berlin, we joined Andreas ‘Lupo’ Lubich at Calyx Mastering, renowned for its astonishing attention to detail in cutting some of the most demanding avant-garde records around. Also in Berlin, we stopped by Rashad Becker’s home studio; the stalwart of the legendary Dubplates & Mastering who last year dipped his toes into producing, his Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. 1 on PAN records making the top 10 in our rundown of the best vinyl releases of 2013. Finally, back in London, we joined Noel Summerville (formerly of Pye Studios and Metropolis, now running his own 3345 Mastering studio) to cut a record live-to-vinyl and hear of a career spent mastering for the likes of The Clash, Aphex Twin, Kraftwerk, and more recently Boards of Canada.
A big thank you to all three for lending us their time and expertise for this film.
The soundtrack to the film is taken from James Lavelle’s recent remix of sound artist Haroon Mirza, which was released by The Vinyl Factory earlier this year. Click here for more info and to order a copy.