1960s British Invasion Era Band Re-Mastered!
I've done hundreds of audio rescues sent from all over the country, dating back as far as the 1930s; 78 records, "voice-o-gram" 45 records from the Korean War era, reels sent home from young soldiers in Vietnam, family recordings of Christmas and other special memories from 60 years ago, cassettes that hold a loved one's voice, even one-of-a-kind music recordings that now have real historic significance.
Being one of very few audio engineers that has developed the skills and software tools capable of such rescue and restoration, I take my work very seriously, often spending many hours transferring, repairing and enhancing these rare pieces of history. Often, the stories held within these rescued recordings are amazing, and like archeology, after careful transfer, cleaning and much restoration, are brought back to life and into a family's archives, sometimes back into public awareness after 50 years of silence.
Recently, I worked on an important music project in the Asheville area, involving a popular teenage "British Invasion Era" band of the mid 1960s, and I thought the unique story was worth sharing.
A friend contacted me, asking if I could help transfer, restore and re-master some old recordings of this once-popular, now legendary Asheville band; I quickly agreed, I wanted to hear these recordings too! The problem was, the original reel-to-reel tape master was lost. A cheap cassette tape copy had been made decades ago, but even that was not available; all we had to work with was third-generation Mp3 files taken from that cassette. In analog recordings, every generation copy away from the original means that serious quality is lost. To make it even more challenging, in those days, small regional recording studios had very few microphones, and usually recorded everything in one "take", meaning that whatever you managed to capture at that moment was what the end recording sounded like, with no ability to "mix" or adjust the end result; that was the limited technology of the era. So, if we put this audio in graphic terms, there was a bad photo made of an original painting, then WE get a poor photo-copy of the bad photo. Not a promising beginning, but in audio rescue and restoration, I work with what you have, and try to make the very best of it.
Layers of noise from original reel tape, cassette tape and accumulated formats was carefully removed, then various mastering techniques were experimented with, until the perfect combination of compression, EQ, multi-band compression and limiting was determined and applied. What started out as a noisy, muddled and distant-sounding recording was restored and greatly enhanced, bringing the vocals forward, and bringing out huge detail in the top end while tightening up the bass frequencies, bringing out cymbals that were lost on the original recordings. When compared with the recordings we started with, the end results are amazing, almost unbelievable.
To make a long story short, after many hours effort and many phases of restoration, these old mid-1960s recordings were restored with such success that, there will soon be a release of these musical recordings, even more amazingly, on 33.3 vinyl record, some 60 years after the original recordings were made. And, the recordings sound better today than they did the day they were originally made, all those years ago. So, if you know someone who's been holding on to old recordings, tell them about me and my work; sometimes, there's amazing history to be uncovered and restored, and that's what I do.
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A Son Records Music with His Deceased Father
I am known for taking on unusual audio projects that require innovation or even invention to complete; this one required making a music album of a deceased father and his son.
I was brought an old recording on vinyl LP of a somewhat amateurish recording session from the early 1960s of a classic country musician singing his original songs. The instrumentation was simple: vocal, guitar and bass. My client was the son of the singer, who had passed some years before. His son, now a bass player, wanted to take this very basic-sounding recording and re-imagine it as a tribute to his dad, adding his own bass lines, drum arrangements and some melodic instrumentation. This is sort of like taking chocolate chip cookies, taking out the chips and somehow baking a whole new vanilla cake, but I enjoy a challenge. Without going into specifics and details, after much studio magic and audio editing, I was able to make the original bass lines go away, greatly enhance the original vocal and guitar tracks, then add the son's bass, his vocal singing harmonies with his deceased father, carefully arranged drum tracks and a few melodic lines on electric and pedal steel guitars. Since the original recordings included certain timing and rhythm flaws, each new track had to be learned and recorded with the same flaws, in order for the flow and timing to match. In the end we achieved a remarkable new recording, vibrant and exciting, with greatly increased audio quality, allowing the son to honor his deceased father's music and share it with new listeners some 50 years later. It is unique projects like these that keep me fascinated with music, audio recording, and the history we can uncover and preserve by transfer of old cassette tapes, reel tape and vinyl LP.
One Man's Creative Legacy
Not long ago, I did a massive music transfer/re-mastering project for a very gifted long-time western North Carolina musician, involving his various bands based out of Hendersonville-Flat Rock NC from the late 1960s on through the 90s; the band names included Cat's Cradle, Laser, MADCAP and Flat Rock. The various band members read like a "Who's Who?" of WNC musicians of the era. No-one has heard this stuff in decades, if ever.
The audio came to me on a variety of early recording forms; vinyl 45 rpm, cassette tape and reel tapes of various speeds, even a huge 2" multi-track studio session. All had to be carefully sorted through, transferred and painstakingly restored and re-mastered. Because it involved someone who was well known in the arts community, I spent a lot of time tracking down various old band members, and asking for their stories and memories. Often, that uncovered additional recordings to add to the archive.
The 2" tape was one of the larger challenges; very few of those huge tape machines still exist, but I was able to find one studio in the region that still had one, and get a multi-track transfer, then bring those separate tracks into my digital studio format and re-mix this decades-old session. It was a particularly sensitive project for me, because he was my close friend, and had passed away. The outcome was remarkable, worthy of release and airplay, and a tribute to my dear friend's many creative talents. Knowing him as I did, I believe he'd be pleased to know his music had been saved and enjoyed.
CONTACT: Dan Lewis -PHONE 828-778-1726 (no texting) EMAIL firstname.lastname@example.org
Transfer Tales - A Few of Our Favorite Audio Projects
Hello from Vietnam
I have received many fascinating audio projects to transfer and restore over the last several decades, but few more unusual than the boxful of 3" reel magnetic tapes, most of them still in their faded paper envelopes with mailing addresses from Vietnam, dated from the early to mid 1960s. Here's the story, with some history behind it.
In the early 1960s, tape recording was rare in the USA; in those days, there were no consumer-model tape recorders or players; only the occasional recording studio had the huge, bulky 2 track machines. But within the decade of the sixties, such tape machines would become familiar to many Americans. As young men swarmed overseas to be stationed in places like Korea, Germany and then Vietnam, they found all kinds of strange and wonderful audio gear in their local PX (Post Exchange), made in Japan and offered at bargain prices. This is how audio recording came to the American masses in the 1960s... through the military Walmart.
This pile of small tapes came from a young soldier who found small portable reel-to-reel recorders in his local PX, and realized that THIS was a far better way to communicate home than writing letters. Like many other young lads, he bought a recorder, recorded a message and then sent both tape and recorder home to the folks. This began an exchange of tapes back and forth, as both parties realized how much better than a typical letter a loved one's voice was to hear. Sometimes the same tape would bounce back and forth, being recorded over at each end, but sooner or later they realized the recordings were precious, so new tapes were bought, and the earlier ones saved.
When such tapes are brought to me, my challenge is to overcome the many issues that making field recordings on cheap gear with a built-in mic the size of a dime bring, as well as the noisy surroundings where such recordings are often made. The larger the room, the more those tiny mics are overwhelmed, and ambient background noise threatens what we really need to hear. But having dealt with many such challenges, I have developed various tools and techniques to calm down the background and bring the voices (and sometimes music) to the front.
Listening to these time capsules from 50 years ago is always a remarkable experience, almost as if you were able to share a few hours with the past. The banter of young men, two friends banging out a few songs on guitars, the lonely sound in a young voice far from home all paint pictures that you can almost see and easily imagine. Most of us have only faded photos of the past, but after my efforts, this family was able to add an entire chapter to their family archive of a remarkable time in American history.
Acoustic Audio Transfer & Recording
Asheville NC's Premier Audio Transfer Specialist
A Famous Inventor, and a Historic Concert
In addition to my career in audio engineering, I am also a professional musician since 1974. In 1980 I was fortunate enough to perform several concerts with my dear friend, keyboardist Michael Abbott and the famous synthesizer inventor, Bob Moog. Michael was clever enough to enlist a friend to bring a reel-to-reel tape recorder, and record both concerts, the fist at the 1980 summer Bele Chere festival, and the second held at the Asheville Art Museum, November 23rd, 1980. Many years later, after both Michael and Bob had unfortunately passed, The Bob Moog Foundation asked me to re-master the performance tape for duplication and release.
The CD, with live performances by synthesizer inventor Bob Moog, keyboardist Michael Abbott and myself, Dan Lewis on various acoustic instruments, was released in cooperation with the Moog Foundation; Released in a limited quantity, "Moog, Abbott & Lewis: The Gig Tape" and "Bob Moog Live", the recording is available again. The recording includes a number of my original instrumental compositions (circa 1980) and also two of Michael Abbott's, and of course, a lot of Bob Moog's Minimoog performances and spoken introductions, in a relaxed, non-lecture atmosphere. It is thought to be perhaps the only recording in which Bob performs music on his famous invention. Just one more story about how a recording can last beyond lifetimes and have impact beyond our perspective.
Part of my work as an audio engineer at Acoustic Audio is about the past; when I'm not recording songs and music with my fellow musicians and songwriters, I do what I call "audio archeology", transferring old recordings from decades ago into the modern digital platform, and restoring them to maximum listen-ability. There are many thousands of old recordings made back before CDs and digital recording, but most folks no longer have the outdated equipment to play those recordings and hear them. Because my musical and recording career spans both analog and digital recording, I've become a specialist in transferring old recordings on vinyl records and various cassette and reel tapes to digital, removing noise and re-mastering the old audio to current modern quality.
In many cases, people bring me recordings of their friends and family that have passed away, and those recordings contain their loved one's voice, thoughts, feelings and sometimes, their music. Such recordings are far more valuable than any photo, because it contains moments of a person's actual time, and being able to listen to them is like traveling back in time, and spending time with that loved one again.
Another such project just came to me, this one on DAT, or Digital Audio Tape, an early digital format that was popular as a 2-track mastering platform for a few years back in the late 1980s. DAT was a far superior cassette-type digital tape that the public never saw, because it was feared that if the public could record at such high quality, standard music merchandising would be threatened. In this era of ripping Mp3s, the threat of DAT is amusing, but was real at the time. The DAT format was never offered to the consumer public.
As a recording artist, I own a DAT recorder, and delivered many digital masters of music albums via DAT; when the ability to "burn" CDs became available, the DAT format quickly became obsolete, like typical cassettes and 8-track tapes before them. Some folks brought me a DAT master recording of their son, now deceased, who had made a beautiful recording of piano music back in the DAT era; they hadn't heard it in many years, and wanted me to help.
Fortunately, in my collection of obsolete recording technology, I still have my DAT, and was able to transfer and restore their son's music, and supply them with CDs to share with family. Their heartfelt emotion and thanks after hearing their son again reminds me of why I am a musician; to me, it is about making people happy. ~DL
THE SOUND OF TWO CHILDREN SINGING IN 1941 -I do a lot of old cassette, tape and vinyl transfers to digital, then do noise reduction and restoration to the old recordings. To me, listening to old recordings is a form of time travel, allowing us to hear people and events from the past. One of the more fascinating ones I've done lately is a home recording on rare 78 rpm format that includes two little girls, perhaps 7 or 8 years old, singing a song called "Why Not Now?" in a capella harmony. These girls must be in their 80s today, and hearing their young voices singing "Why Not Now?" is a curious mixture of innocent charm and irony... I think they're going to like this one! The restored version is amazing.
A VOICE FROM WORLD WAR 2 - A friend of mine interviewed his elderly uncle about his experiences in World War 2, then brought the rough recordings to me. After editing out blank spaces and long pauses, then treatment with noise reduction and various EQ and dynamics enhancements, you can hear every spoken word clearly, as if you were there in the room with him, and this former soldier's stories have quickly become a treasured family archive, and will now be available for future generations. We should all consider leaving something of our personal history behind, and stories are often the best.
DISTORTION VERSUS PRECISION - This is one way to look at the difference between analog and digital audio; Distortion versus Precision. Analog, despite all it's pleasing qualities, is appealing to the ear largely because of the perceived "warmth", which is caused mostly by low level distortion; some of comes from the way the music was captured, some from the method of storage and playback. Even the friction resulting from dragging a needle through vinyl grooves or a reel of audio tape across magnetic heads is part of that pleasing distortion that analog has.
Vacuum tubes are also a big part of classic analog sound; once common in just about any device used to create transmit sound, vacuum tubes add a warm, round-sounding pleasing distortion to whatever passes through it. - Digital audio, on the other hand, is music or sound that has been digitally converted to computer code (zeros and ones) which is fairly exact, depending on what is introduced into the audio chain during recording or playback. Some critics say digital is cold and lifeless, while too much analog/tube warmth obscures certain frequencies, notably the highs or top end. -
SO WHICH IS BEST? - My answer is "BOTH". By careful years of practice and comparison, weather I'm recording new material or transferring and re-mastering old recordings, the best end result is a balance of the best analog warmth, applied with careful precision in specific places and ways, with the great added benefit of digital precision and top end clarity, with the added convenience of being able to digitally play back on any modern device, make endless copies and email or transmit anywhere.
If your project is worth doing well, please make use of my decades of obsession with analog and digital audio, and the resulting quality of re-mastered sound.
EXPERIENCE MATTERS. - I've been involved with professional audio engineering since 1974, when I apprenticed under an audio engineer doing a combination of live sound mixing and recording to 2-track analog reel-to-reel tape recorder. After a year or so, he moved on and I became lead engineer. It would be a long and complex tale to tell of all the thousands of experiences I've had since then; when you focus your attention intently on anything for 44 years, it becomes a part of who you are. While I always prefer to remain positive, these two tales are somewhat negative, but valuable learning experiences I wanted to share.
I 've had two experiences in recent weeks that have made me look back on my long experience, and reflect that without experience, we are mostly attitude and opinion.
Story One: Someone I met recently had spent years as an amateur audiophile, first buying high-end home audio gear, then actually building his own audio components. What he had accomplished was truly impressive, including two huge multi-tube amps, old Macintosh-style, 1 per speaker, for his very expensive and esoteric home music system. As you might expect, the resulting sound was VERY "warm", with 5 tubes coloring each speaker; what I immediately recognized was that the high frequencies were not there; the top end of the audio spectrum was missing. In his fascination with tube coloration, he was unaware that the entire 25% of the frequency spectrum was missing. While I was very impressed with what he had built, with building tech ability far above my own, I realized he could not hear the missing spectrum of sound. Sort of like having a dessert without any "sweet".
Story Two: I occasionally get requests to do video transfer, but it would require more software and another dozen obsolete hardware video machines, and I already own and maintain a large "Museum of Obsolete Technology" dedicated to audio transfer. So there's a local guy in his early 30s that does video, and I stopped by to say hello one day, and told him I'd be happy to send him what video business came my way, and would appreciate if he'd send his audio work my way, as he had little or no experience in my field. A few weeks later, I happened to see his website, and suddenly he was offering audio services, using many of the exact terms and phrases I'd used in explaining very basically what services I offered. While he had almost no experience in audio, he was offering the same services I'd mentioned to him, but without the four decades of experience I've collected from thousands of different audio projects. Buyer, BEWARE!
So, Experience Matters. You can throw time and money at a project, and miss a lot of what you were trying for. And, you can hire someone who offers skills he really doesn't have, but uses someone else's words to describe what he can't deliver. Personally, I bring every learning experience of my 44 years in professional audio to every audio project i do, and treat every project like it was my own. That's my promise.