Xenat-Ra

Making the Record, Part 4: Making Records

Previous: Part 3: Mastering

So, by late June 2012, we had the record tracked, mixed and mastered. Now all we had to do was to get copies made, slap some art on ’em, and get them out to the fans.

It’s never that easy, is it?

Test pressing!

We had decided early on in the process that we would really like to put this record out on vinyl. Part of this was a marketing decision, we’ve seen an increase in interest in vinyl as a medium over the last few years, and had seen a few fellow bands in our scene put out records successfully, so we wanted to try. We’ve noticed a decline in the sales of CD’s over the last few years, but in general, it seems like the market for vinyl was growing. But the biggest part of it was just sheer love of records. I have a wall full of LP’s that I have been collecting since high school. JD’s basement is a virtual library of cool vinyl. we love the sound, the feel, and the fact that the artwork is huge compared to a CD. We also knew that JJ Walker, our intrepid designer, would be totally stoked to design an LP cover for us. We knew it was going to cost a lot more than making a CD, but we were up for the challenge, and we kind of figured, if we don’t make this on vinyl now, when will it ever be a better time to do so?

So the first question was, what do we put on the record? An LP can hold about 20 minutes of music on a side, much more than that and you start having to compromise sound quality, especially in the low frequencies. We wanted this project to sound as great as possible, so that gave us about 40 minutes of running time. The problem was, we had well over twice that amount of material. So we debated our options.  We could put out a short LP, and add more material to the CD (CD’s can hold up to 80 minutes). But it felt like that would be short-changing the people who bought the LP. Plus, if vinyl allegedly sounds better than CD’s, is it fair to the music to only release part of it on vinyl? Besides which, we’re a band that works in long-ish forms, a single LP might only be 5 tunes.

In the end, we decided to go for it, and release a double LP. Pretentious? Maybe. Would this be another Tales of Topographic Oceans (the 1975 double album that virtually killed Yes’s career)? This is our first studio album, what were we thinking? Will we get thrashed by the music press for trying this? Maybe. But, ultimately, we believe the material is strong enough to warrant it, and we hope you agree.

In the original recording session, we had recorded a couple of free improv pieces, and a few cover tunes that we feature in our live set. Since our original material basically was enough to fill 3 sides of the LP set. that left us with the 4th side to fill.

We’ve always done cover tunes in our live sets, it’s our way of showing our influences, and having some fun. We’ve done Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun, the theme to Aqua Teen Hunger Force, a medley of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Shimmy Shimmy Ya merged with Thelonius Monk’s Bemsha Swing, and covers of Eric B & Rakim, Kraftwerk, King Crimson, Gil Scott Heron, Slayer, Public Enemy, and others.

In our recording session we recorded our versions of A Call For All Demons, an early tune by Sun Ra, and Bezriel, a tune that John Zorn wrote for his band Masada, which had also been recorded by the Secret Chiefs 3. We were really happy with the way these tunes came out, and decided to include them as the D side of the double LP set. This meant we had to get licenses to legally release them.

The Sun Ra tune was surprisingly easy, despite the interstellar qualities of his work, the terrestrial rights to his music are handled by the Harry Fox Agency, so it was just a matter of registering it through the Harry Fox website and paying a small fee.

The Zorn tune is more interesting. Zorn’s work is administered through his private publishing company, Hips Road. I’ve actually met and played with Zorn, in 2003, Mark and I played a version of his game piece Cobra for a festival in Eugene, with Zorn as the conductor. I emailed Hips Road, mentioned what our plan was for the tune, mentioned that I had met and played with Zorn, and crossed my fingers. Surprisingly enough, about 2 hours later, I got an email back directly from Zorn, giving us permission to play and record the tune, no payment necessary, all he asked is that we give proper credit and “…play the shit out of it!” Frankly, this kind of blew my mind, I’ve been a fan of Zorn’s for decades, and this really reinforced my opinion of him as an artist and a human being. I just hope our version lives up to his instructions!

So, with the running order of the LP set, we were ready to press the records. We had gotten price quotes from a number of duplicators, and one, from a company that will remain nameless for now, came in about $500 cheaper than the others. I’d dealt with this company before for CD replication, and had a good experience, so we chose to go with them for the LP package. However, when we were ready to submit the materials, I asked for a total for the deposit, and the resulting price was about $1000 higher than their original quote. When I emailed them back asking to explain the price jump, I got no reply. In fact, I never heard again from that company, even though I emailed and called our sales rep there several times. So, this did not instill a great deal of trust in the company. We were coming up against a deadline to have the LP’s done by the date of our record release party, so we needed to find a new duplicator fast.

Fortunately, some further research led us to Gotta Groove Records in Cleveland, Ohio. They had a great reputation, and were very responsive to my queries, and their production cycle worked with our schedule. We submitted the audio and artwork to them in mid-July.

In about 3 weeks, we got the test pressings for the album, and I had something of an epiphany checking them out: They actually sounded better than the files we had submitted! Richer low-end, and what seemed like a more 3-dimensional sound-field. I was amazed at how good my mixes sounded translated to vinyl, and it really reinforced our decision to release the album on vinyl. Now, we are just waiting for the albums to arrive…

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