Adventures In Mastering: ALICE COOPER "Billion Dollar Babies" for Audio Fidelity..

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Steve Hoffman, Nov 14, 2013.

  1. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host Thread Starter

    Great sounding album, maybe the best Alice?

    Today at Stephen Marsh Mastering in the Hollywood Hills we nailed this one. It was a tense session because the tapes were pretty typically messy due to age but messy is my middle name...

    At any rate, Stephen, second engineer Fernando Lee and I were patiently mastering the Alice Cooper for Audio Fidelity. We did our usual split feed, DSD take and CD take, both at the same time.

    The tapes were the original mix compilation reels that were done at the Record Plant back in the day. Each reel had the dates of the original mixes and what mix "take" was pulled to this album comp. There was also a big note on each reel saying: DO NOT USE FOR ANY PRODUCTION WORK, USE EQ DUB CUTTING MASTER.

    And for good reason. The master songs had many edits in each song , many level changes and, wacky as it seems, some of the songs required different level setups and Dolby A adjusting due to differing balance levels, no big deal.

    Some of the songs were mixed in 1972, some in 1973 and each side of the album masters had a different set of tones to go with it. Yikes. No way a phonograph record in the old days could be cut from these complicated master reels, so a "mastered" copy with EQ and compression was generated and all lacquers, parts, etc. were cut from that, bypassing this original set so sides could be cut without stopping.

    However, us brave dudes decided to plug ahead and use these two original reels since we were not cutting phonograph records and could start and stop after each song.

    First, Stephen Marsh went in and fixed each and every edit (the glue on the splice tape had bled over the years and it was a sticky mess at each of the many edit points). No baking of the tape was required as the tape stock was from the good year of 1972. Tape still played fine, no shedding whatsoever. Good news.

    Once the splices were scrubbed and fixed, Stephen's Dolby expertise went into effect and he aligned the ATR analog playback deck with his custom Dolby A box until it was perfect (at least for the first few songs). On side two for whatever reason the levels were off by 2 db on most songs, throwing the Dolby alignment off so we just realigned, same as they did back in the day and for the Greatest Hits CD.

    Then, we transferred, one at a time, using our special brand of mastering knowledge and dumb luck. None of the songs sounded tone-wise like any other songs on there, each had a different and nicely subtle but unique sound. obvious on our top notch modern gear, probably not so obvious on monitors back in the day.. Now on the old LP they made all of them sound similar by filtering and compressing but that was not our goal. I personally don't care what the old LP sounded like unless it had amazing sound (and this one didn't compared to the actual master mixes, the vinyl was too compressed and compromised, a long album on two vinyl sides). I want YOU to hear what the band and producer got to hear back at the Record Plant in 1973 so I left the tonal changes intact for the most part from song to song but at the same time I made sure each one sounded the best it could in the context of "what they were obviously going for" back then, same as I've done on almost every project I've worked on since 1982. The intent of the original artist/producer/engineer is always the main goal.

    At any rate, it took a long time today, high-priced designer pizza was delivered and we took a break but mainly we worked on this, one song at a time, having to fix levels, Dolby levels, EQ (usually the tape box notes were pretty right on) and other "tricks" for each and every song while having to "MRL" the machine back to neutral/normal after each one so we could carry on and on.

    The album holds up nicely. I had a retro-type girlfriend in the 1980's who LOVED this album (she thought she was so cool to like something from an earlier era, I thought "eh, big deal") but I was reminded of her throughout the day. A weird feeling but I'm sure she will dig this new version.

    As always, it's very important to me that the ORIGINAL VINTAGE mixes were used. A bunch of extra crossfades, solo guitar strums and other goofy stuff was still on the reels after the leader and I'm glad they wisely decided to not use any of them in the final release. alice_cooper-billion_dollar_babies--lp.jpg

    Hope you all like this one.
  2. pscreed

    pscreed ex member

    Really looking forward to this one. Great that it's coming on SACD, thanks for the write-up Steve.
  3. DPM

    DPM Forum Resident

    Nevada, USA
    I'm looking forward to this one.

    So Steve, who was the maker of the "designer pizza"?
  4. Charliemcd

    Charliemcd Forum Resident

    So I was wrong on guessing this would be a gold CD, oh well. :winkgrin: Looking forward to getting my AF copy in a month or 2. Sure sounds like you and Stephen were busy today, wish I could have been there. How about a pic of the Side 1 tape box?
  5. Togo

    Togo Forum Resident

    Middlesex UK
    This is one to look forward to....was it is usual to have such a range of tonal changes per song on the tapes back then, Steve?
    UncleHalsey likes this.
  6. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host Thread Starter

    Unusual, but not unheard of. Still, yes, especially for all being done at the same place.
  7. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host Thread Starter

    I dunno, some place close by under the Hollywood Hills. By the time it arrives I'm so starving I'm practically eating out of Fernando's hand when he brings it upstairs..
  8. AlanDistro

    AlanDistro Forum Resident

    Sandy, OR
    Love reading these every time, thanks for the write-up!
  9. Hawkman

    Hawkman Supercar Gort Staff

    New Jersey
    Too cool!!! Looking forward to it...being an Audio Fidelity Platinum Club member.
  10. I'm sure we will. I just hope Audio Fidelity does justice to the original cover design, the artwork and inserts when it is released. :)
  11. Tortazilla

    Tortazilla Well-Known Member

    San Diego
    I can't wait to hear the remaster! One of my favorite bands and albums from the 70s. Alice Cooper band at their peak.
  12. Jack

    Jack Forum Resident

    Orange, MA
    Hopefully Muscle of Love is next.
  13. DTS-MA 7.1

    DTS-MA 7.1 Forum Resident

    Hi, I'm new for this forum , but Alice was my transition when i was 11 to rock music, i loved the thickness of the WB records ,and went on my own to London to buy the british double album
    of his first two albums. i never got the dvd-audio of this but look forward to your treatment.
    bullygoat and Wally Swift like this.
  14. OldShiftyEyes

    OldShiftyEyes Forum Resident

    As always, love the Adventures In Mastering posts. Thanks for telling us the tale of the tape!
    vonwegen likes this.
  15. mestreech

    mestreech Forum Resident

    Great news and story Steve. Many thanks from Holland and looking forward to this.
    I also hope you someday get the chance/want to do MUSCLE of LOVE.
    Gary likes this.
  16. mestreech

    mestreech Forum Resident

    Is it gonna be a SACD or a regular gold cd?
  17. spice9

    spice9 Forum Resident

    New York, NY

    Would it be even in the realm of possibility for Alice Cooper to be involved or consulted, seeing how stuff like the crossfades were changed?

    Who is the ''they' in the 'They decided to edit them out?'

    ...just curious. No idea if this is asking for info that's confidential. If so, sorry...
  18. katstep

    katstep Forum Resident

    WOW! What a treat! I love these write ups and can't wait to hear this one. I actually like the sound of my old olive label WB pressing and am so psyched to hear that this should better it. Yes!
  19. evad

    evad Well-Known Member

    Per the first post, it will be a hybrid SACD.

  20. mestreech

    mestreech Forum Resident

    I'm sorry if I broke forumrules by opening a new thread as I was under the impression that the sticky threads moved quickly. So please close the other one.
  21. dkmonroe

    dkmonroe A completely self-taught idiot

    From what Steve said, it seems to me that the crossfades he's talking about were on the original master, but were edited out of the final production by the band and producer. In other words, they were planned and prepared but ultimately rejected. I don't think he was saying that he was re-working the album significantly or changing anything about how the original album flowed. The biggest change that Steve refers to is he's not attempting to homogenize the sound of the tracks so that they all sound similar - he's attempting to preserve the original unique tonality of the songs as they appear on the master tape. Which in itself should give this edition a significantly different sound than previous versions, but I don't expect that "Sick Things" and "Mary Ann" are going to end and start cold.
  22. apple-richard

    apple-richard Overnight Sensation

    I Love The Dead and Unfinished Sweet were both great album side closers and probably my two favorite songs apart from No More Mr Nice Guy. Like everyone else I love to hear how the process worked out and am waiting impatiently to hear this latest version.
  23. dkmonroe

    dkmonroe A completely self-taught idiot

    Sounds like this will be one of the truly great ones. I was interested before but now I'm on pins and needles. :winkgrin:
  24. houston

    houston Forum Resident

    Dallas, Texas, USA
    thanks for the report Mr. Steve Messy Hoffman! interesting details...

    I learned on this forum that no panties were included with this album back in the day, it was a different Alice album... I had been wrong for 35 years... glad I won't be looking for a pair, and end up disappointed
  25. mknappe

    mknappe Well-Known Member

    Sunnyvale, CA, USA
    Awesome news that this is coming out on SACD... can't wait.
    therockman likes this.

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