NIGEL REEVE (pictured here with David Coverdale) is the director of repertoire at EMI MUSIC UK - or the 'master of the remaster' to you and me! GET READY TO ROLL! met up with Nigel for a masterclass on mastering the art of renovating old masters (and no, we don't mean David Coverdale!)
We spoke to Nigel as he soaked an anti-static cloth in hydroxypropane and worked it deep into the grooves to get rid of all the grit and grime from the original product. (And no, of course we don't mean David Coverdale!)
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Greetings, Nigel! In the past few months, EMI have bought out three sets of UFO re-issues as well as remastered rock classics from MSG, Marillion and other notable bands. Talk us through the stages of a remastering project, sourcing the bonus tracks, commissioning the sleevenotes etc - from the twinkle of an idea, right through to the release date.
A project can take a minimum of six months to develop. Some remastering projects I've worked on have taken over four years so it's lucky I've been at EMI for over 23 years man and boy! First the decision has to be made on whether there is a market for what we want to release and how we want to represent it. Then we look to research the core assets from the original albums, such as artwork and the best possible tape sources. Once we know what we have to play with, that's when we start to look at relevant bonus material, either extra tracks, photographs, single sleeves etc. Depending on workload the revamping of the artwork is briefed to the in-house art team or we commission an outside designer.
What's your role in the remastering process?
The team (myself, Libby and Jason) like to see ourselves as the point of contact for those artists whose catalogues reside with EMI but, for whatever reason, they have no ongoing working relationship with EMI for new music. Too often bands leave the label and feel there is nobody at the label looking after their interests; we seek to fill that role.
We A&R the catalogue to ensure that there is a level of control over what is and what is not released, whilst at the same time still making money for both the artists and EMI. We are often involved in the research, compiling, mastering/remastering and origination of artwork.
I tend to be very hands-on when it comes to the remastering, as I feel the sound should be the best it can possibly be. The whole remastering process can be something of a moot point with the general public but it should be viewed as removing dirt and grime from an old master in painting terms. I feel very strongly that a remaster should come with an informational booklet and bonus audio, whether that be previously unreleased or not. As a record buyer myself I know what it's like to feel cheated and feel very strongly about giving value for money.
What led up to you getting the task of remastering UFO's Chrysalis cataloge?
Getting that gig was a dream job. I work closely with the team to formulate a release schedule, and we are very much the driving force as to what comes out from the EMI-controlled catalogue, and when. Here's a photo of Jason and myself at one of our regular Planning Meetings. (It's a tough job, but someone has to do it!)
The UFO catalogue had not been properly represented by EMI when it bought the Chrysalis label, and for some time classic rock like UFO was not easy to sell internally let alone to the general music retail trade. I remember my mates playing me UFO as a kid and also I've always had people like big fan and collector Hugh Gilmour in my ear telling me I should do something with the catalogue. Well in the last couple of years I've really felt the time was right and I do believe that the band are finally getting some overdue credit. I wouldn't be pompous enough to suggest that the remasters have been the reason for that, but it's wonderful that the fans can get hold of the great music represented in a way that's better than it's ever been.
Have you ever discovered any forgotten musical gems that have turned up in a dusty box of demo tapes? What does/would that feel like?
I wouldn't say musical gems (usually stuff like that is confined to a dusty old box for good reason!) but certainly I've found some very interesting stuff. To be honest that's the key to making the job worthwhile, finding something that adds positively to an original album or enhances interest in an artist's career. It does feel great I must admit when you get a great reaction from the fans - not the 'too cool for school' journos, but the real record-buying public. When they write positively about the remasters it makes it all worthwhile. Of course, having the artists buy in to the concept to start with is also key. Some don't want their aural scribblings aired in public; fair enough I say.
Of all the albums you've been involved with, which ones have made you most proud of the finished product?
Hmmm good question. I did a 3CD set on Kirsty MacColl called From Croydon To Cuba which I'm really proud of, plus the reworked Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture CD and DVD. The Deep Purple 6CD set was a cracker too, really enjoyed that.
For albums that were recorded on a low-budget in the first place, how much can technology do to enhance the sound, and what other magic can you work in the turd-polishing department?
Well you can only go so far. Obviously the original source is what it is, and those limitations remain. Yes you can buff it up but sometimes you can go too far and it can affect the sound and performance. I did Bowie At The Beeb and the source material for some of that was off a knackered old cassette. That was like cleaning up an old master, and it took forever, however the sound is still nowhere near perfect. But the essence of the performance remains and that's the key.
Who are your favourite bands, and how fulfilling is it to work on albums that mattered alot to you when they were released first time round?
Because of the job you have to respect everything although not necessarily like it. Personally I grew up with U2 and The Fall as the music to my formative years, so they've always been with me. Outside of that I like Hawkwind, New Order, Motorhead and the list goes on and on. Over the years I've worked on a few acts who I've been fans of and whose records I've collected. I remember particularly working on the New Model Army catalogue which to me was like being given the ultimate fan's job; I knew what I wanted to release by checking the list against some of my home made tapes! Script For A Jester's Tear by Marillion was another one. Finding and releasing the demo and early versions was really cool and I managed to eradicate a tape glitch on the title track which bugged me every time I played my original album, even as a kid!
In the end this is a job, it's certainly not very glamorous, and paying the mortgage and feeding the family is the priority, but to work on some of those records was pure hobby, real 'kid in a sweetshop' stuff. Even if I end up working on the meat counter in Tesco's, I'll still have that hobby side of things to keep me going!
Apart from the high-definition digital schmidgital musical content, how do you feel CDs compare to vinyl? Which do you prefer - traditional delicate vinyl platters in fragile paper sleeves and comforting cardboard covers, or cold metal discs in brittle plastic boxes with sleevenotes that you need industrial-strength lenses to read. (Grrrr!) p.s. Don't let me influence your answer in any way, haha.
Well I always prefer vinyl for the overall experience, no two ways about it. I still have a large vinyl collection and still buy vinyl. In fact I still hunt down new and old 7" singles for that dream jukebox that maybe, just one day, I'll be able to afford. That's if I can convince the wife that a jukebox in the front room won't make the house look like a pub! I do agree some of the sleeve notes, especially for acts where the eyesight of the audience/buyer may not be as sharp as it once was, (notice how diplomatic I'm being!) is certainly an issue. I've been guilty of producing CD booklets like that but in our defence, we are restricted to the number of pages a booklet can have. Sometimes you just have to tell the whole story.
One thing not to get hung up on though is the sound of vinyl versus CD. Yes, vinyl can sound warm but it can also sound bleedin' dull! If the sound for CD is created properly, and not over-compressed, it can be a great listening experience.
Who have been the strongest influences and motivation in your career, and in what way?
My brothers, totally. They are eleven years older than I am, and I was listening to music at age 4 that was definitely for people with older ears. It did however give me a grounding in music that helped me do the job I do today. I owe it all to them!
Any especially proud moments that spring to mind from your career in music?
Yes, there was a very poignant event relating to the work I did on the Kirsty MacColl box-set. Here's a photo which was taken in the Cuban National Music School in Havana where Kirsty is honoured for her work with Cuban music. I'd been invited by the MacColl family to go with them to spread Kirsty's ashes off the coast of Havana; very much the place that had become her spiritual home. That was definitely an emotional journey.
From your perspective, how has the record industry changed in the last ten years, and how is it likely to develop in the ten years?
Massive changes. The supermarkets have taken control of retail and the disappearance of the indie stores is the saddest state of affairs. Legal secondary ticket (or 'touting' in any other world) is also just another way of fleecing the poor fan. The changes have been so big I really don't have the will or time to bore you with it all. The industry screwed up when not buying in to downloading; it should have been 'educate' not 'litigate'. It was also the first time the industry had not developed and encouraged a sound carrying format; we shot ourselves in the foot. Listen to your public, don't dictate to them on what format they should buy and, once purchased, how they should use it.
MySpace, Facebook, Bebo, Twitter.....?
I hate MySpace - though it can be useful for hearing new music. I'm very anti MySpace, Facebook, and all that stuff. I like to have a bit of space between work and home so that I can have music as a hobby too. Too often with such sites the lines become blurred and it can feel like you are working 24/7.
Which up'n'coming bands should we be listening out for?
Not many at the moment, I must admit. Though hardly new, I must mention Pig Iron (thanks for the tenner Hugh), they deserve to be up and coming! Actually there's some kids from Billericay called Crazy Eights who are great live, often playing at London's Borderline. They need to do some work on their songs and the sound of their demos to get them up to scratch, but there's a raw potential there.
What albums/bands are coming up next in the EMI Remastering Room?
Well we have a pretty full schedule of releases from Saxon, Queen, MSG, Ian Hunter, Bowie etc etc. It certainly keeps me off the streets!
© Get Ready To Roll - 27th May 2009