What's your earliest memory of being aware of audio recording and technology?
I guess it would start with my recollections of how much music moved me. People in my family noticed I was physically engaged with the sound of music; they could always find me playing with the family radio or record player. We had a tiny tape recorder that I was fascinated by, with little 3-inch reels. I had a little General Electric cassette recorder, and I used it to record the very short-lived Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell show off television.
He had the Bay City Rollers on one of his first shows.
That's one of the things I recorded! Somewhere that tape is sitting in storage now.
So you were already archiving?
I was, I guess! Little teenybopper that I was. The Bay City Rollers were the first rock band that really caught my attention. I was the prime age, 11, in 1975 when they hit these shores.
I like that your family picked up that you were interested in music early on.
They encouraged it, which was great. My mom did encourage me to play an instrument, mandolin, prior to teaching myself how to play acoustic guitar. That led to a fascination with records, and records led to a fascination with stereo equipment. My mom used to take me to Harmony Records in the Bronx when I was really young. The guy had the bins and a list of the singles, and they were pretty much in order of how they were on the charts. I would go in there and select two records, and my mom would buy them for me. I'd come home and play them over, and over again, and drive everybody crazy.
But they're magic, right?
They are magic. They were these little three minute masterpieces on this 7-inch disc. I started to get interested in how records were made. I was born in 1964, so at that time there was mono recording, then stereo, then 3-track into 4-track; my listening sensibility evolved with the expansion of the number of tracks that were being recorded. The tape started to get wider and wider. It's this magical period between 1962 to about 1967, where it was all developing. Some of my favorite musical experiences of all time. When I got into my teen years, I started looking at the record covers and the credits. I noticed a pattern in the names I was seeing, whether they were songwriters, producers, arrangers, engineers, or people like that. I started to put two and two together, with how different the sounds were with certain producers and engineers. Someone like Richard Perry comes to mind: Carly Simon, [Harry] Nilsson, and Ringo [Starr].
Did you ever pursue audio engineering in an academic way?
I think the learning has been on the job, but I did go to The Institute of Audio Research [in New York, closed December 2017]. I learned the basics there. At that time, everything was really still pretty much analog. We were just learning digital technology, but not really its application. After that I went to work for Howard Schwartz Recording, and that's where I got my schooling. I worked as a messenger, made coffee, got the bagels, and ran packages around town. At the end of the night I was wrapping cables, putting away microphones, and getting to handle these precious commodities. Three months later I was thrown into the duplication room to start learning. I learned about tape, how to handle it, and how to make one-to-one copies. We were also working with big mag dubbers, because they did a lot of film there at the time. They would record voiceovers that would be sent off to be matched with picture, so I learned a little bit about sync. I learned about working with some old machines, and I learned the difference between full-track mono and 2-track stereo. It came in handy when I came to ABKCO and started to rummage through the large archive of tapes. I started to really understand how different a full-track mono tape sounded.
I hadn't even thought about that.
Yes. When you put it up on a full-track mono head, which was how it was recorded, and then you put it up on a stereo head, they will sound very different. It loses a lot if you put it up on a stereo head. A great deal of what we were doing was mono, because we were dealing with AM radio commercials. I learned a lot about working with tape, because we had these great big duplicating machines. We used to run off hundreds of reel-to-reels of 60 and 30 second spots, so I learned a lot about editing. That was incredibly useful when I got hired at ABKCO.
I love The Rolling Stones in Mono box set that ABKCO put out. That experience must have been very helpful, to have the feel for mono when you were doing that restoration project.
Yeah, absolutely. Keith Richards said that the very early Stones - when they were really focused on being an R&B/blues band - you can't listen to those records unless they're in mono. Even going into Aftermath and Between the Buttons. Prior to Aftermath, the stereo versions that were released in the United States were phony stereo. They were electronically reprocessed to give you a stereo image, but they were not true stereo. Aftermath began that true stereo period, but I prefer Aftermath in mono. The mixes are better. Their Satanic Majesties Request I love in stereo - it's meant for stereo. You have all those left and right only sounds happening, and you have the center to hold it all together, which is pretty much missing on Between the Buttons and Aftermath.
Hard left and hard right panning?
Yes, very hard. It's very '60s stereo. You really want something in the middle. That was dictated by the technology. Aftermath was on 4-track. The rhythm section would be on one track, and then guitar - maybe acoustic guitar, but generally a lead guitar, would be on its own track by itself; then maybe piano on another track, and then vocals. In order to create some kind of stereo image, and make it really obvious that it's stereo, they'd do a hard pan on a lot of this. The rhythm section's all the way off to the left channel, and there's nothing holding it together in the center. You really are missing something, and it doesn't feel right. When you get that mono, it's so solid and so earthy. It's the glue.
It's interesting that you deal with making it sound right for "now." Listeners' ears are different than they would have been when these records were first released.
Sure. The advantage that we have now with digital, and now high-resolution digital, is that you can avoid some of that distortion. If you listen to a lot of the old vinyl, you get distortion. There's something that you love about it, and at the same time - especially with high-resolution digital - it's wonderful to hear something that's a lot closer to the actual analog master tape. Albeit digital, but still.
Sometimes on older 7-inch singles, you did get distortion. I always wondered how much of that is on the master tape.
Oh, sure; sometimes I've worked with tapes that are like that. I wonder, "What were they doing in the studio?"
Maybe it's because of tape compression?
Absolutely. On a lot of the early Decca Rolling Stones tapes, there actually is a little red sticker with white lettering that says, "Distortion is intentional." When they were finished with the mixes, they edited everything together with leaders, and you had your final cutting master. That was going to go to the person who cut the lacquers.
Talking about your first jobs in the studio, I was wondering if there's some lesson that you might have learned then that you still use today.
Sure. Don't make mistakes! No matter how good you are at what you do, and no matter how focused you are, there's always that chance you could make a mistake. We're human; it happens. It's heartbreaking when that happens, especially when you're working really, really hard to make sure that it does not happen. I remember being at Howard Schwartz, and I could not make a mistake, because we were sending a dub of a spot to radio stations. It better be the right spot, because you're dealing with clients.
Did you ever have a mistake like that?
We all did, but you paid a hefty price when you did that.
Who's someone you might have been a fan of as a younger person, and now you're working with their material?
I think all of it. When I first came here I knew ABKCO had the Stones' catalog, The Animals, Herman's Hermits, and they were acquiring the rights to the Phil Spector catalog. It was blowing my mind that I would get to work with all of this material. It was a switch from the radio/television/recording studio atmosphere to coming right into something that was actually the music business.
How long have you been here at ABKCO?
I started working here in February of '89. A friend I worked with at Howard Schwartz, when I told him where I was going to work, he said, "Wow, that's like somebody created a job for Teri Landi." I felt like I'd found my niche. They knew they needed somebody to go through thousands and thousands of reels. They've kept me; I think they like me.
I didn't realize you'd been here since '89.
We were at the classic 1700 Broadway space, but I still remember the room that I was in. It was a very big conference room that was converted into a studio. This space here, the walls were actually built to contain the studio. This is a real studio that is sonically sound. We have done mixes in this room, and you couldn't really do that in the old space.
Were you aware of ABKCO before you came here?
Oh, absolutely. I already had quite a few ABKCO records in my own collection. I was definitely aware of who Allen Klein was, and what the history was. It really blew my mind to come here and interview.
ABKCO was one of the first companies I can think of that branched out into film and multimedia, with projects like The Concert for Bangladesh. As we know, Allen managed The Beatles' Apple Records, which was a multimedia company early on. There are a lot of film scores that ABKCO has been involved with over the years.
Yeah, and also the association with [director] Alejandro Jodorowsky, because his El Topo film soundtrack was released on Apple Records. That association started there, continued after that, and re-continued many years later. We do distribute a certain amount of his films and soundtracks. I guess you could say that it's fitting that by the time of the mid-2000s and through to present-day, we've been the manufacturer of a lot of soundtracks. We've also done some for television shows, like Big Little Lies and Californication. We've put out the Wes Anderson soundtracks since The Darjeeling Limited. That's a really great association that we have, not only with these incredible films, but these wonderfully-crafted soundtracks that are works of art unto themselves. There's magnificent sequencing and placement with these. We're a one-stop-shop in many ways; we have a licensing department that can deal with the manufacturing arm, as well as the distribution via our association with Universal. The licensing department really can take care of everything.
Do you feel that ABKCO has two basic missions right now? One is the restoration and maintenance of their incredible catalog, and the other being the film soundtrack world?
Of course there is score music where the masters end up being controlled by ABKCO as well, but there's also the licensing arm of ABKCO - the licensing of our own master catalog for television shows, films, commercials, and shows like The Voice. That's a big part of what we do on a daily basis. One of the things I do is send off master files for something we've licensed nearly every day. Or licensing a track for a CD compilation that is being produced overseas.
That's great. So ABKCO really has a few different functions.
Yeah, and publishing of course. Sometimes there is master ownership, plus the publishing, and sometimes it's just the publishing. We have publishing on the Stones, The Who, The Kinks, and Donovan.
Let's talk about the studio for a minute. What do you actually do here, and what gets sent out for final mastering?
Generally, a lot of the pre-mastering work is done here. If it's material that's mixed, it would start with transfers. It could be 1/4-inch or 1/2-inch tape. I've got two Mike Spitz re-built [Ampex] ATR-102 tape decks. They have ARIA Class-A electronics, and the 1/4-inch machine is fitted with a stereo head, a full-track mono head, and a quarter-track head as well. The 1/4-inch is playback only. For the 1/2-inch machine I have two separate head stacks: a 2-track head stack, which also has a record head, and then I have playback only. With the 1/2-inch head stack, it has the 3- and 4-track heads, and of course it's playback only with those. A lot of work is done with 1/4-inch material here, so I will do the transfers into high-resolution PCM and into DSD. We will do any work that needs to be done with those masters for premastering in this room.
I have original Olympic Sound Studio EQs, acquired from Keith Grant. Grant was one of the principal people behind the creation of Olympic Sound Studios. He helped design it and everything - a wonderful person. I met with him and found out that he was selling EQs and mic pres from the original boards. We were able to secure two of the mic pre/EQ modules from the Studio One board, which is the room that you see in the film Sympathy for the Devil, directed by Jean-Luc Godard. One Plus One was its original title. Also, from Studio Three - we have EQs and new old stock mic pres. We've used them on some work; they're amazing. You put a track through and it sounds like it did in the original mix. One other piece of gear that we have here is a modified Ampex 351 tube [tape] machine that has a stereo head, a mono head, and three sets of electronics. I've used that on certain transfers. And we have a Sony JH-24 with an 8-track head stack, a 16-track head stack, and a 24-track head stack that can go in there for 1-inch and 2-inch tapes. The electronics really rock.
Do you ever remix here?
We've done some mixing, and we've mixed films in here. We did mixing for [the Rolling Stones documentary] Charlie Is My Darling, because all that live material came from 3-track. We did the [Stones'] Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! bonus live material here. We've done lots of good things in this room.
The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, that was an ABKCO release?
Yes. We did that at The Magic Shop.
As a kid, Rock and Roll Circus was this mysterious "did it ever really happen?" thing. When Steve Rosenthal [Tape Op #66] mentioned that was being remixed, that was a mindblower to me.
Yes, and it was a long time coming. We worked on it a very, very long time. We had the musical part of it to mix, so we were doing mixes for the CD issue, but we were also doing mixes that would be used for the film, because it was two different kinds of mixing. It was a lot of fun to work on.
What are some of your other favorite projects at ABKCO?
Cameo-Parkway is so near and dear to my heart in a major way. They were initially the first tapes that I was going through before I moved on and started going through the Stones and Sam Cooke tapes. The Cameo catalog was so huge - thousands of reels. The Cameo label started in Philadelphia in late '56. Their first hit-maker was really Charlie Gracie; Philadelphia's own rock 'n' roll star. The label was started by Bernie Lowe. Kal Mann became a co-partner. Dave Appell became basically the A&R guy; he did everything. He was the engineer, producer, and A&R - he also wrote songs, was a musician, and he was an amazing, amazing person. Eventually they started up another label called Parkway, so it was Cameo-Parkway, but they really were two separate labels under one unit. What you would find was that you had certain artists that recorded only on Cameo, and certain ones were on Parkway. You had Chubby Checker, the Dovells, and the Tymes on Parkway, but you had Dee Dee Sharp and the Orlons on Cameo. Cameo-Parkway is the label that got everybody twisting. Leon Huff [of the songwriting team Gamble and Huff] was a session player there.
Then he started Philadelphia International Records, right?
With Kenny Gamble. That was the early breeding ground for that sound.
That's a direct step towards disco in the '70s, because of the Gamble and Huff hit with The O'Jays.
Absolutely. Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, and Billy Paul.
You've done a couple of box sets with Cameo-Parkway.
We did a four CD set, as well as individual "Best-Of's" with the biggest artists. We've done some two-fer CDs with two albums on one set. I've done a lot of reissues digitally only, and we'll continue on with more CD reissues. We did a lot with Collectors' Choice Music with Gordon Anderson. Gordon started Real Gone Music, and we continue to work with him.
Do you actually get tapes here, 1/4-inch mixes from Cameo-Parkway?
Oh, yeah; we transfer all that into high-res digital. I do the best possible tape transfer that we can do. If it's a full-track mono tape, I use a full-track mono head. I check azimuth on every single tape. I do my alignments and make sure that it's in MRL alignment. Sometimes I have to make adjustments; I get tracks that are very bright! I might do a transfer as-is, and I might do a transfer where I bring in a little 10 kHz or such. I'm trying to remain true to how they originally sounded.
One thing you can't do too much about is if they had put a ton of reverb on, because on vinyl you wouldn't actually hear all of it.
No, you don't lose anything. Sometimes I can lose some of that depending on the EQ. I was listening back and forth last week to Terry Knight - listening to a tape version next to the 45, and I noticed that they cut a lot of top-end off of it [in vinyl mastering]. I was trying to make sure that I had the right mix. I'm listening to it and thinking, "Wow, there's a lot of reverb on the tape." But, with the single, it's like, "No, wait a second, the 'verb is there." They cut off so much of the top-end that we're not hearing as much of it. I'm not sure why they did that. Sometimes I have to make decisions on how to be true to the original single, but sometimes it doesn't sound good. You want the original master to shine, right?
You're the curator of how that should sound now.
Yes, exactly. I'll know we've got the single master; it's got the markings and everything. Sometimes they even put the limiter settings. Or I'll see a little stamp that says, "Pultec," and it'll tell me some of the very simple EQ settings they used, and maybe the limiter settings as well. But when I listen to the 45, I'm like, "Where is this reverb? Because it's not on the tape." Sometimes they added it. I have to think, "Am I doing the right thing putting it out like this, or should I recreate the reverb?" But I can't always get that exact reverb. Sometimes those are custom-built chambers that were in the studios.
Or a particular type of plate reverb.
There are a lot of decisions I make with this. A lot of these tapes are actually in great shape. I'll see Scotch 111 and go, "Oh, great; Scotch 111." I'll see Audiotape, or RCA Red Seal, and I'm happy. Then I see Scotch 201, and I go. "Oh no!" It can either be absolutely fine, or it can be a nightmare.
Have you ever had to make a new master from vinyl?
Oh, yeah; I've had to do that sometimes. I'll get tape that is see-through. I put it up on the machine and it's crackling - the oxide is like Swiss cheese. I was transferring something like that on Friday night; it really makes my heart sink. One recording will be like that, but the recording right next to it can either be absolutely fine; or there might be small parts of it where that's starting to happen, so I might have five seconds where there's a little bit of [dropout]. I'll work with that however I can. Sometimes I'll find a second-generation tape that still sounds pretty good, so I'll transfer that, try to match them, make an edit, and slot that piece in. Sometimes I'll take a little piece of vinyl. You'll do a super-duper transfer on an incredible turntable, like the Rockport Technologies, and I'll clean it up and slice it in. These are things that everybody who does this work knows about; they know those little tricks.
Have the Rolling Stones' tapes been pretty good, in general?
Yeah, they've been pretty good, but some of them are not without their problems. It could be fine ten years ago, and then ten years later I'll put it up and it has a problem it didn't have before. It's just age.
I think different batches of tape, like Ampex 456 from certain times, becomes gummy, and those are the ones we end up baking.
Yes, they go in on that convection setting; 130 degrees. Depending on the width of the tape, I bake it for 8 hours or more. But you know what? It's remarkable; it actually works! I've had big 14-inch reels that I've had to bake. But I put it up on the machine, and it's absolutely fine. But I have a window for being able to transfer it. It's amazing they realized that baking could be a solution.
Do you know how they came up
Ampex started to do this. I talked to the fellow, George LaForgia, last year because he helped me with those 14-inch reels I was telling you about. He helped me with figuring out settings, right down to going to the store and getting a thermometer - one that you would plunge into a turkey - just to know that you were keeping a steady 130 degrees. I like when things go smoothly! I wish they could all be like that.
It's going to be different every time, so you have to deal with that.
We don't want a uniform way of making magic. We want the different ideas and different sounds. It's fun to listen and hear how an echo chamber sounds in one studio as opposed to another. Some of the fun with the Cameo-Parkway is that we have recordings that were made at Reco-Art Sound Recording Co. Joe Tarsia [Tape Op #68] bought it and turned it into Sigma Sound Studios. Then we have the recordings that were made at the Cameo-Parkway studio that was in the office on Locust Street, and there were two different studios there. I'll be listening and figuring out where they recorded the track. Sometimes they recorded a track at Reco-Art, and then did the vocal overdub at the Cameo-Parkway Studio - I can hear the differences between the two. It's a lot of fun to listen to those recordings and try to figure out where what was done. I can hear it because the chamber is amazing. It helps when we're trying to get the data about each track, and trying to give people a little bit of information about where it was recorded.
It's like a historical service. I've been in studios all my life, and it's usually a bunch of dudes. I was thrilled when I got to work with Leslie Ann Jones [Tape Op #74]. I've learned a lot from you, and I think it's cool that nothing held you back from doing it.
Yeah. I honestly didn't think anything of it; I wanted to do it. I've really had mostly great experiences. All the fellows I've met have been absolutely cool. We've had a lot of fun hanging together in the studio and doing work together. I said, "This is what I'm going to do. I hope somebody will hire me and let me do it."
I think there will be a trend of more female engineers.
I think there is. We now have the Women's Audio Mission, and they're inspiring young girls to get into it. June Millington runs her IMA [Institute for the Musical Arts Recording Camps] in Massachusetts - a camp for girls to come and experience what it's like to record. There are a lot of women who are trying to inspire girls to get into this. I know quite a few female mastering engineers. Jessica Thompson [Tape Op #125] is a mutual friend of ours.
That's right. I want to talk a little bit about the Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request. I find that to be such an intriguing project, and it recently came out in a super-deluxe box set edition, with vinyl, CDs, and a great booklet.
Were there special challenges with this reissue?
I think one of the things was how to present it and what would it contain? Obviously it's got an incredible cover. Having to restore the 3D art was a bit of a challenge for the art department. We wanted it to be true to the original cover. If you'll look at it, you see that we have the front cover with the lenticular, and then you turn it on the back and it basically looks like it did originally. You open it up and it has the gatefold as originally presented, and then it opens up again. We have the booklet and the SACDs, and tucked inside are the LPs, which have the original cloud pattern sleeves.
People do say that it's their Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, but it's not!
It's completely different. Avant-garde. Freeform jazz.
The liner notes mention Mick Jagger was listening to Sun Ra?
Charlie Watts was listening to Albert Ayler and Sun Ra. I think there was a great deal of influence from their trip to Morocco that year. Brian [Jones] made some recordings there. I think he probably brought back some instruments, because there are so many percussive instruments on this album. It took them a long time to make it, probably longer than any record before that. In 1966 they recorded both Aftermath and Between the Buttons, even though Buttons didn't come out until January '67. They also had the singles that they recorded. They were incredibly prolific for those first three years. Of course '67 was a challenging year for them, because of the drug busts, and by that summer Andrew Loog Oldham would no longer be their manager and producer. This is the first album where it was produced by the Rolling Stones. They were always their own arrangers.
"Sing This All Together" is a jam session. It brought rock 'n' roll into this free jazz vibe.
I think there's a quote from Brian where he describes "Sing This All Together (See What Happens)" - the longer, jammier version - as "India, with a little bit of Arabian Nights." Satanic Majesties is almost suite-like. It's one continuous piece, in some way. You had the recordings cut so close together, but there are all these things that link each other. There's the snoring that links into "2000 Man." It's a marvelously consistent record in many ways, even though it's so avant-garde and free-form. Here's something I want to point out: Downbeat Magazine gave that album a five-star review in May 1968. Rob Bowman, who wrote really wonderful notes for this set, made a point about the fact that it's really seen as a strange album that's in the middle of all these other records they did that are so loved. But it's really a stepping-stone from Between the Buttons to Beggars Banquet. With "Sympathy for the Devil," if you watch the Godard film, you see them create it. They'd already explored a lot of that percussion in Satanic Majesties. It really was more of a natural stepping-stone. And those guitar sounds! Listen to "Citadel." That grunge-y sound that they'd later exploit more with "Parachute Woman;" you can make a comparison between those two.
I like that they have a Mellotron and other interesting instruments on Their Satanic Majesties Request that they didn't have on their other albums.
Right. There's Mellotron, there's harpsichord, a dulcimer, flute, saxophone, and all these different percussive instruments. It's very consistently mixed. The Mellotron is in the right channel, and the acoustic guitar is in the left channel a lot. It's very consistent. There are basic instruments throughout the entire album that pop up in nearly every song, and then you have all of these other things that come in. Like I said earlier, you have a lot going on in the center. The stereo mix on this is so excellent.
"She's a Rainbow" is a beautiful single.
What a sweeping arrangement. You have Nicky Hopkins playing that beautiful piano part, and the string arrangement is by John Paul Jones. There were two singles. There was "In Another Land" with "The Lantern" and "She's a Rainbow" with "2000 Light Years from Home." "In Another Land" was credited to Bill Wyman alone. First time, really.
For people to not appreciate that album is wrong.
Yeah, it's strange, because it's almost like it falls into three camps. You have people who love everything on the record. Then you have people who absolutely hated it, and then you have the people in the middle.
The oddities make it great. They were experimenting with the sounds on this record more than any of their others.
I think it really goes into outer space. Experimenting with audio recording, and also picking up instruments they didn't know how to play but learned to play and utilize. One instrument I didn't mention before, with Brian Jones, is the sitar. Now they could have hired a sitar player, but he picked the sitar up and learned how to play it. Maybe he took some lessons; he's not Ravi Shankar. That takes years of practice. But you create some other sound.
I think you did a fantastic job with that restoration. I think the packaging is brilliant and special. I love the way it keeps opening up and revealing more; it is symbolic of what happens on the recording.
And there are some wonderful lyric videos that you must check out that are online for "2000 Light Years from Home" and "She's a Rainbow." They're really fun. Bob Ludwig [Tape Op #105] did such a fantastic job on the mastering, as he always does. A big difference between this new mastering, and the one that was done in 2002, is that we freed him up to do a little bit more with it. We were a little more concerned in 2002 with trying to find a balance between what the original mastered record sounded like - the Decca pressing and the London pressing - and what we could actually do with the master tape itself. I really wanted him to go with it. Also, equipment-wise, he has a different console now. At that time, he was using a Neumann console with special electronics made by Dave Smith of Sony. Nothing shabby there, but Bob really loves this SPL console that he has now. You can hear a difference in the sub-frequencies in the low-end, and I certainly hear differences in the lower-mids. It's meatier, without necessarily having that much more mastering level. You know exactly what I mean here.
I compared various masters of this record, and I hear exactly what you mean. It's not artificial low-end; it's like a natural low-end that's coming in. Is Bob Ludwig the person you normally work with for reissues?
Yes. Definitely with the Rolling Stones. We've worked with Bob on The Animals, Cameo-Parkway, Herman's Hermits, and a few other soundtracks, like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. I love what Bob does with the Stones' recordings. What you were saying about how it's not artificial; he has this ability to get in there and zero in on that thing that's actually there in the master. He knows how to use his tools to bring that out. Those are my favorite mastering engineers for this, because they don't add, they enhance. That, coupled with giving it some mastering level, which I want to do, but leaving dynamics.
What's next on the agenda? What part of the huge ABKCO catalog might you be looking at?
Well, certainly more Cameo-Parkway. There's plenty more to dig into in that world. I want to try to come up with some CD releases. Certainly more soundtracks. Every year we do something in the soundtrack world, so there will be some coming out with that, and probably some other surprises. We've always got something up our sleeves here! r