Larry gets a break this month, as this issue's 'End Rant' is a behind the scenes peek at how this magazine gets put together every two months. In a nutshell, it's organized chaos and this issue illustrates that perfectly.
There are two questions we are constantly asked. Question 1: Larry has writers asking why the piece they submitted hasn't run yet. Question 2: Marketing people and publicists ask if we have an editorial calendar. We don't.
Tape Op is really more of a 'zine with glossy pages than a 'real' magazine. Larry fields tons of inquiries from people just like you who have ideas for stories. The ones that seem interesting he gives the green light on. We're much more interested in a piece from some home recordist in Ohio with no writing experience who's passionate about an interview they want to do, than a 'Top Ten Tips on (fill in the blank here)' from an established journalist. More than 50% of the green-lighted ideas are never finished. Nonetheless, we end up with far more editorial than we have space for. After Larry and our amazing copy editor, Liz Brown, get done with it, it gets dropped in my lap.
At this point I read the piece and see if there are any photos or graphics that go along with the piece. There usually aren't any. This is one reason for question number one above.
This is a magazine — not a book or journal. Magazines have photos. As the layout guy, I need photos to work with. Good photos get me inspired to design the page right away. Graphic design is a lot of fun, especially when you have good photos and art to work with. It's like making a record with great musicians in a great studio. When there are no graphics, or shitty graphics, it's like making a record with a tone-deaf singer-songwriter who thinks they're Dave Matthews. This is why the articles that get turned in with good photos get prioritized and run sooner. Larry sends all prospective writers guidelines on photos before he green lights an article. Still, quite a few pieces get turned in with bad color prints that were shot on a disposable camera and developed at a supermarket. This is the audio equivalent of doing your next album in a Karaoke bar. Even worse are cheap lo-res digital cameras. The photos these things take are so lo-res that by the time they are converted to print resolution they are about 1 inch square. This is the audio equivalent of recording your next album on an 8-bit sampler. Karaoke and 8-bit samplers are great, especially as an effect, but would you really want to only listen to those formats all the time? I'm not even going to go into poorly composed and boring photos that are technically perfect. Smooth jazz anyone? These are some of the reasons why some pieces take a while to run, or never run.
Then there are the interview subjects themselves. I think most engineers and producers prefer to be behind the scenes, and getting their photo taken is a bit tortuous for a lot of them. If they wanted to be in the spotlight they'd be in the band — not in the control room. But, when I started working with Larry on Tape Op, I felt strongly that I wanted the 'look and feel' of the magazine to emphasize the humanity of recording music just as the interviews do. Tape Op has always been more about the people makingthemusic,nottheequipmentthey'reusing. This is why I've always tried to get portraits of the folks we interview, preferably in any setting besides them posing behind a console. I'd rather run pictures of people and their pets, than of their gear. Of course sometimes we are tempted by cool, artsy photos of arcane vintage gear so we're not above breaking our own rules.
Then there are the extreme exceptions. Andy Johns was a nice guy and sat down for an in-depth interview, but his hectic schedule finally had him telling our photographer Jeff Gros, "Listen up, mate, I'm not doing any bloody photo session! Get that through your head!" This is when we commissioned artist Anthony Sarti to draw a caricature of Andy. Alan Parsons, another Brit living in California, was great to work with, but our photos of him sucked (i.e. boring) so Anthony drew him as well. Daniel Lanois on the other hand not only insisted on final approval of all photos, but being on the front cover was conditional to doing the interview at all. Larry and I really wanted to run the interview as we're fans of Dan's work, but to put a picture of him on the cover would have been cheesy and the antithesis of the cover look we'd developed over the years. As it turned out, Malcolm Burn's photo of Dan's hands is one of my favorite covers we've ever done.
This issue we're finally running an Eric Valentine interview that is almost a year old. Author JJ Weisler was in my studio with his band Highwater Rising, and asked me about doing an interview with Eric. To be honest, I was really only aware of his work with Smashmouth and other big budget projects and I didn't see a Tape Op angle. JJ clued me into the fact that Eric had worked in the Bay Area for years and even after his platinum successes, continued to work with local bands on small budgets. I told JJ that if he focused on that side of Eric's work, I would ask Larry about it. Larry's response was something to the effect of, "I want to pass on this. I did a search on Allmusic.com and I don't really like the records this guy makes." Okay, I don't own any Good Charlotte records either, but I thought we should give JJ a chance to do this and Larry ultimately agreed. The interview, as you'll read in this issue, is great. Eric is very patient and giving of both his time and knowledge. Sidebars with his engineer at times, Jacquire King and Dana Gumbiner from Deathray — who just recorded a very low budget album with Eric — round out the piece nicely. But, when the article got turned in there were a bunch of lo- res photos of Eric's gear but none of him. So, the article sat around as we had other pieces that were ready to run and deadlines are always looming. Then last October, Dana from Deathray mentioned he was going to L.A. to record their second album with Eric. I was going to be in L.A. that same week. "Maybe I could come by and shoot some photos for this interview we have?" I asked Dana. He thought that would be fine but wanted to check with Eric. As the week got closer we still didn't have anything set up, but had each other's cell phone numbers. I finally got on the phone with Eric, who very politely said that I was welcome to come by the studio and shoot photos, but that it was very intentional that there were no photos of him. "I won't allow my picture to be taken," he said. I tried to explain to him that Tape Op is about people, not gear, blah, blah, blah. I was pushy. I'm usually not pushy. Eric was super friendly and polite, a really nice guy but he wasn't budging. "What about a picture of your back? Your ear? Your hand? It could be kind of artsy like the Daniel Lanois cover." No way. "You can take a picture of my dog, she's adorable." I left Barefoot Studios a bit frustrated despite the photos of Eric's gear and dog, who really is adorable and friendly. Larry and I discussed canning the piece and putting it on the web, but ultimately decided to deal with Eric's conditions of anonymity and mysteriousness, because it's a great interview. See Eric's adorable dog on page 52. I am also available to shoot weddings — contact me: email@example.com
Then there's the pieces about Gold Star Recording: Larry Levine and Carol Kaye. Those are nearly two years old, but great interviews and timeless and mostly accompanied by bad lo-res digital photos. The Carol Kaye photos were good, but we felt they could be better. Photographer Sara Essex had a great idea to shoot Carol, recreating a photo from the Pet Sounds sessions. But, Carol was moving when Sara was in L.A. and it never happened. We wanted the pieces to run in the same issue but they were lengthy and we really had to commit to them. They just kept getting pushed back, but here they're finally running. Thanks for being patient Greg and Jon.
Our Tape Op Conference Director and engineer extraordinaire, Craig Schumacher, did the John Parish interview at least a year ago. But Craig's a busy guy and it didn't get transcribed nor did we have photos until last month. We had planned to run both Eric and John's interviews in the Nov/Dec issue but all the above chaos made it difficult. I'd been bugging Larry to finish the interviews we did in Memphis, but he was in Amsterdam and then his computer broke! Our poor ad rep, Laura Thurmond, was asking me in mid-October what was going to be in the November issue so she could tell advertisers. You'd think we'd know by that point huh? I was on an extended surf trip in Southern California — Larry was still in Amsterdam. "I just don't know Laura, it might be Memphis — it might be Eric Valentine and John Parish. I just don't know yet." In the end, I got some great waves in, Larry's computer got fixed and Memphis won out. I did all the layout for the magazine in one week, right before the AES show. This issue in your hands then is officially the leftover issue, but we all know how sometimes that soup you made last night tastes even better the next day.
So when publicists and advertisers ask us what our editorial calendar is, or even what's in next issue, we often respond with, "We have no idea!" But, we do know it will be the best of whatever impassioned writing (and hopefully photos!) our writers and readers have sent us.
Tape Op will publish our 50th issue this year. Wow!! I just want to say thanks to all of our readers, writers and advertisers for making this happen. Larry and I both love the 'chaos that is doing this magazine' for you all.