Manage for Success: Preserving Masters, Newsletter 40, August 2004

"Manage for Success" is a free monthly newsletter for record label executives who want to operate their companies efficiently and successfully, and who have indicated their desire to receive it. It's published by Keith Holzman of Solutions Unlimited, a management consultant, troubleshooter, and trusted advisor, and is based on his many years as a senior executive in the music industry.

Copyright 2004 by Keith Holzman, Solutions Unlimited. All rights reserved.

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I'm pleased to announce that I'll be teaching a course titled "The Independent Record Label: From Startup to Mainstream" at UCLA Extension, starting on September 28th here in Los Angeles. This is a four-unit Elective in the Certificate Program in the Music Business and is course number X 448.73. You can view their catalog online at <http://www.uclaextension.edu/> or can call or email me if you'd like more details.

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I was surprised and delighted to read a front-page article in the August 21st issue of Billboard devoted to the subject of recorded music archives, with a follow-up in the August 28th issue.

I addressed this subject in my Newsletter #14 of June 2002, and stated then that a record label's master tapes are a key part of its intellectual property and as such should be treated with care and respect. But I've observed that too many labels take insufficient care of these vital assets. For example, do you know where the multi-track tapes are located for a project you released a year ago? Very likely, you don't! It’s extremely important to keep a computerized log or database of all tapes that you own, including all variants and their storage locations.

All of your multi-tracks, whether used or not in a released project, should be properly logged and stored (more on storage shortly), since you never know when an unreleased track may be important to you in the future. You’d be amazed how the odd, seemingly insignificant, out-take becomes of vital importance in later years. In fact, it’s these outtakes that make some of Rhino’s reissue projects so vital and exciting. I was recently reminded of this when I received a call requesting information on some outtakes from a Tom Paxton session recorded live at New York's Bitter End in 1970!

It’s also important that tape legends, written in the studio during recording sessions, be kept in the original tape box, but it’s also not a bad idea to keep copies in the project's production file, which I also suggest be safely archived -- if not microfilmed.

You should also keep demo tapes, at least for artists you've signed, for the same reason you should keep outtakes -- they may be of significant use in the future.

Keeping backups is also important to your label's wellbeing. Working tapes might be stored in a locked, cool, and dry location in your office, but it’s a good idea to keep archival backups in a secured, climate-controlled location off-site. There are a number of firms specializing in the storage of archival master tapes (and films.) Contact me if you need such a resource or referral.

Tapes should be stored properly: on appropriate reels, in their boxes with accompanying legends, and placed vertically on a shelf, never flat. They should be smooth-wound, with "tails" out. This reduces tape damage and print-through. The location should be moderately cool with low humidity. Both heat and humidity are significant enemies of recording tapes and excessive exposure can cause shrinkage or expansion of the substrate material, rendering them unusable.

This concern may seem like overkill, but many times over the years I've encountered problems, even with properly stored tapes. For example, many recordings made during the late sixties and early seventies were recorded on 3M (Scotch) 202 formulation, an industry standard at the time. In the mid-eighties, when we went back to these masters to prepare for CD release, we frequently found that the oxide had flaked off from its acetate backing, rendering them virtually useless. There are "last ditch" approaches that may temporarily restore such affected tapes, but their use is drastic.

Similar problems have occurred with Ampex 406 and 456, 3M 206, 207, 250, and 251. Even digital "standards" such as U-Matic 1620 and 1630 tape cartridges have shown that they're far from being of archival quality.

The Library of Congress recommends the following criteria for storage of recording media. For short to medium term storage, maintain tapes at a temperature between 65–70 degrees at a relative humidity of 45–50%. For long-term storage temperatures should be between 46–50 degrees (no lower than 46 degrees due to binder lubrication needs), at a relative humidity of 20–30% for magnetic tapes, and 45–50% for all other items — about the same as for fine wine.

<http://www.loc.gov/preserv/care/record.html>

A good resource, should you be interested, is "Magnetic Tape Storage and Handling, A Guide for Libraries and Archives" by Dr. John W. C. Van Bogart of National Media Laboratory.

<http://www.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub54/>

And now that we've entered the era of DVD-Audio and SACD, many labels are pulling some of their old multi-track tapes from their vaults in order to make brand new, very high resolution (96kHz, 24-bit) surround sound releases. There's additional potential income in your masters so it's vital that you protect them.

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If you'd like guidance in protecting and preserving your valuable masters, or need help dealing with other management or administrative problems you might be having, call me so we can discuss how I might be able to come up with a solution tailored to your specific needs.

 

We can discuss your unique circumstances and shape your label to be a potential powerhouse of music. Join other like-minded professionals ranging from small one or two man labels, to medium size companies, to large multi-national conglomerates, who've already called on me for assistance.

I also recommend my new book, "The Complete Guide To Starting A Record Company" which can be ordered as a downloadable eBook (in Adobe Acrobat® PDF form) at $29.95, or as a printed, spiral-bound book at $44.95. You can read the complete Table of Contents and download the Introduction for free at              <http://www.recordcompanystartup.com/>.

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Another, and perhaps even more significant aspect of all of this -- and one to be very concerned about -- is the actual medium of recording and storage you're using. A device for recording sound that may be in common usage in 2004 may not even be available ten or twenty years in the future.

There are many digital recording systems for both semi–professional and studio use available these days. An advantage is that they allow for recording onto computer media, providing great flexibility and control. The disadvantage is that they may be too complex to be used by an inexperienced engineer. And the equipment used may not be available in the future when you want to release your music in the then prevailing predominant medium — whatever that may be!

For example in 1980 and 1981 we made a lot of recordings for Nonesuch, in stereo two-track and sometimes in multi-track, using 3M's Model 81 Digital Audio Mastering System. Try to find one of these machines now, less than twenty-five years later, should you want to do a remix for surround sound!

Many labels are now recording directly to computer hard drives, but some studios have reused their drives without backing the masters up to another medium, thereby erasing them from existence! It seems funny, but it's happened too many times, so don't let it happen to you. And don't leave the studio without ensuring that backups have been made and secured.

And no matter what medium you decide on, don’t consider that a DAT is appropriate for your final master. DATs are all right for reference purposes but may have too many potential dropouts to be used for the final master.

That's one of the reason I'm a great believer in recording -- or at least backing up -- using quality analog tape and equipment. Digital systems come and go, but analog tape decks tend to be around for years.

Until next month,

Keith Holzman -- Solutions Unlimited

Helping Record Labels Manage for Success.

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Copyright 2004 by Keith Holzman, Solutions Unlimited. All rights reserved.