DCC Archive Steve H., what's the story on the mastering...Mamas and Papas "16 Greatest Hits"

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Grant, Jan 4, 2002.

  1. Grant

    Grant Proud Nerd

    Steve H., what's the story on the mastering of the Mamas and Papas "16 Greatest Hits"?
  2. Grant

    Grant Proud Nerd

    Yeah, I already read it, as I frequent the ICE and BSN board. I'm sure John got his article correct but I wanted to get it all from the horse's mouth.

    I'm interested in the technical aspects of exactly what he had to do to get the tapes to sound so good.
  3. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Audiophile Mastering Your Host

    Location:
    Los Angeles
    Grant,

    What did you want to know exactly?

    I can ramble for a minute I guess...

    I remember the project well for two reasons.

    The first reason, is that I got to spend much time with pretty Mama Michelle in my office listening to all the old recordings. That was very fun.

    The second reason, is that Irving Azoff gave me quite a verbal lashing when the CD came out and he played it. He said it sounded TERRIBLE. Sigh. I couldn't convince him that the tapes and earlier releases sounded much worse. He just walked away after tearing me a new butthole. Ah well, all in a day's work at MCA.

    I remember putting my knowledge of mastering to good use here. Kevin Gray taught me a certain EQ style for bad sounding tapes that were usually recorded at Western. He called it "Mamas and Papas EQ". Simply put, it was a radical EQ move to get some kind of fidelity and warmth out of the tapes.

    Problem was (is) that there are not enough knobs on a Sontec Paramteric to do the job in one pass. Yes, the stuff sounds that bad.

    I think that the EQ moves would have been like this for most of the songs:

    Adding 10 db of bass
    Subtracting 10 db of glaring midrange
    Subtracting 3 db of glaring 10k

    That would have put me in the ball park, sound wise, with most of the songs. A lot more tweaking was done, mostly subtraction, to get the sound I did.

    I told a mastering engineer what EQ moves I did for that CD and he didn't believe me.

    Ha!
  4. Sckott

    Sckott Hand Tighten Only.

    Location:
    Hyannis Ma
    That's a lot of twist. Interesting that the tapes sounded that poorly! Thanks, Steve!
  5. Douglas

    Douglas New Member

    Location:
    Melba, Toast
    I think this CD sounds great, I don't see why Azoff thought it sounded bad; all he had to do was A/B it to any other of their CDs out there.

    Why is the title printed on the disc itself "From the Original Master Tapes" and doesn't even mention the official title: 16 of Their Greatest Hits? The inserts have the correct title but not the disc.

    Does JVC have anything to do with this disc? My # has JVC-436 on it in addition to the MCA #
  6. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Audiophile Mastering Your Host

    Location:
    Los Angeles
    JVC manufactured the disc originally, and always used its own number as well as the MCA number.

    Don't forget, there WERE NO OTHER MAMAS & PAPAS CD'S OUT THERE. This was the first one released, ever. Azoff had nothing to compare it to.

    Didn't help that he liked to play his stereo with all of the treble turned up.

    :eek:
    theMess, hi_watt and spencer1812 like this.
  7. BradOlson

    BradOlson Country/Christian Music Maven

    My copy of "16 of Their Greatest Hits" is an original JVC pressing. Thanks for confirming that it is an original pressing without me asking if my copy was an original pressing or not.
  8. Andrew

    Andrew Well-Known Member

    Steve, is this the same mastering that you used on the "Vintage Music" series (Mamas and Papas cuts)?

    [ January 05, 2002: Message edited by: Andrew ]
  9. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Audiophile Mastering Your Host

    Location:
    Los Angeles
    Andrew,

    Sorry, I can't remember.

    Probably.
  10. Angel

    Angel New Member

    Location:
    Hollywood, Ca.
    Hi Steve,

    You mentioned your famous "Mama's And Papa's EQ":

    Adding 10 db of bass
    Subtracting 10 db of glaring midrange
    Subtracting 3 db of glaring 10k

    Can you be a little more specific as to what frequencies you are talking about?

    Thanks!
  11. Grant

    Grant Proud Nerd

    Too bad there isn't a way to force everyone to listen to music flat.

    I have a friend who insists on jacking the treble up on his stereo. When he plays demos that I painstakingly mix and master, he can't understand why his voice sounds so forward and edgy.
  12. Doug Hess Jr.

    Doug Hess Jr. Active Member

    Location:
    Belpre, Ohio
    Actually I have a book that claims a chemistry lab could only find salt, pepper and MSG in the KFC pre-seasoned flour sample they got from a KFC store...

    besides...as they old saying goes...if he did tell you, he'd have to kill you and I don't think that fits Steve's profile (he doesn't like the funny looks you get from talking into one's sleeve)...so he'll just keep the secrets instead.

    [ January 05, 2002: Message edited by: Dough ]
  13. FabFourFan

    FabFourFan Member

    Location:
    Philadelphia
    Actually, I think that Mr Hoffman has already said too much for his own good on this subject!

    Steve, how's your Jack Nicholson imitation - can you say, "You want the truth?! You can't *handle* the truth!"

    What I mean is that admitting publicly to massive eq adjustments (no matter how justifiable)
    can easily be twisted around by ill-intentioned detractors and/or deaf-n-dumb competing remastering folks.

    I'd hate to see that happen!!
  14. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Audiophile Mastering Your Host

    Location:
    Los Angeles
    LOL.

    Ya do what 'cha gotta do to make it work.

    In the case of The Mamas & Papas, you all know how those songs were recorded, right?

    Western was too cheap to get an 8 track recorder, so the songs were just bounced from one three or four track machine to another, adding various layers of music each time.

    When strings were added, for example, they just had one string player (to save money), and they just bounced him 3 or 4 times to get a string section!

    Shocking, because the main part of the recording suffered during each bounce. Just 'cause they were too cheap to hire another string player.

    John Phillips told me that the recordings sometimes went as high as 9 or 10 bounces a song, THEN they were mixed.

    Sheesh. Each bounce (or redubbing) caused the transferred sound to become muddier. The engineers tried to fix that by shaving off the bass during each bounce. By 9 bounces, there WAS no bottom end at all, and tremendous hiss. Dreadful sound.

    John remembered that the engineer would announce a take that was a high bounce like this:

    "Take 1-K"

    And everyone laughed in shock, because they always assigned the bounced takes a letter instead of a number, and this was an amazingly high letter.

    Remember at the start of "Daydream Believer" by The Monkees, Davy asks "What number is this, Chip"? And Chip Douglas answers "7-A"?

    That "A" denotes the first bounce. Take 1-B, on a new reel of tape would be the second bounce, and so on.

    Only on the Mamas & Papas stuff did the bounces ever go higher than "C".

    So, now you can see why a take number that ended in "K" would cause the engineering staff to squirm. That is 11 bounces, and of course the oldest bounced item would sound the worst----That would be the original music tracks.

    No wonder most of the recordings sound like crap.

    Great songs though.
    sunspot42, Adam9, milankey and 2 others like this.
  15. Grant

    Grant Proud Nerd

    So, the newer remaster would probably more closely resemble the sound of the actual tapes?
  16. indy mike

    indy mike Forum Pest

    Hey Steve - ever read Hit Men??? Ol' Irving Azoff comes off as a less than charming dude to say the least! Why do folks who can't hear get jobs like head of record companies??? Are there any nice folks (I'm counting you as good folks, so there's one)connected to the music biz (business folk or performers) you've had the pleasure of dealing with? Nasty ones can be for another day! :D
  17. czeskleba

    czeskleba Forum Resident

    Location:
    Seattle
    Maybe it's because record companies are in the business of making money, with music being only a secondary concern. "Hit Men" is a fascinating read.
    john lennonist likes this.
  18. Evan

    Evan Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Petal, Mississippi
    Kids, don’t try this at home. Trained professional here. (Sometimes my army training really comes in handy) I just played the disc with the treble all the way up. :eek: It realllllly loses it's magic. No wonder Azoff thought that your work on that CD sucked. You should’ve whacked him upside his head. Oh well ;)
  19. pauljones

    pauljones Forum Chef

    Location:
    columbia, sc
    To further indicate the importance of Steve's 16 Greatest Hits, one needs only to listen to the 1991 "Creeque Alley" compilation on MCA. Digitally transferred and prepared by Doug Schwartz at MCA, the set sounds thin, edgy, and lacks warmth. The booklet indicates that the set uses "stereo LP mixes". I A-B'd the common tracks between the two and discovered many differences. Steve's being the most revealing and logical. But if you want to hear something really interesting, listen to the original MCA cd issues of the Mamas and Papas albums. I have read that when MCA acquired the ABC Dunhill catalog, the tapes were in a sad state of disrepair. The best one could hope for would be an album EQ'd master, but in many cases all that would be available would be a many generations down cassette master. These would then be turned over to an in-house mastering engineer who would transfer them to digital without any sonic cleanup whatsoever. The result, such as in the "Mamas and the Papas" second album, was a dull and hissy cd with very little dynamics. Unbelievable tape hiss--the wrong kind--loud midrange hiss--the type you hear when, for example, a tape head is very seriously out of azimuth. Even worse was the treatment of the Three Dog Night catalog, which actually sounded as if they were mastered from worn cassettes. Or, take for example the debut album by Steppenwolf, which dragged at the beginning of each song, presumably due to bad splices. To sum it up, this was product for the sake of being product.
  20. John Oteri

    John Oteri New Member

    Location:
    Hollywood, CA
    This has been a great thread!

    Steve, you said:

    Remember at the start of "Daydream Believer" by The Monkees, Davy asks "What number is this, Chip"? And Chip Douglas answers "7-A"?

    My question is, why is it 7A, instead of 1A?

    What am I missing?

    Thanks,

    John
  21. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Audiophile Mastering Your Host

    Location:
    Los Angeles
    John,

    It's so simple that you are just not seeing it.

    At RCA, where that song was recorded, the first generation four-track music reel is called the "Prime" reel. So it would be labeled with the master number and the word Prime.

    Like this: 74543 Prime, take 1

    They did as many takes of the music (called the "basic track") as they needed, let's say up to take 8, which was marked 74543 Prime take 8, with the 8 circled, meaning that take is the master.

    So, now, they want to add a vocal, so they do a bounce onto another machine, mixing the music down to two tracks (from four) of the new tape, and adding the overdub vocal on a third track.

    Well, this new reel of tape is the "A" reel, or second generation overdub reel. Now, it starts again with 74543-A take 1, and so on.

    The MUSIC that is being transferred from the other machine is always the master take (in this case, take 8), but the "A" reel has take numbers that match just the VOCAL performance.

    When Davy Jones asked what number it was, and they answered "7A", it meant that he already TRIED THE VOCAL (and I guess, failed at it) 6 other times.

    Obviously the 7th was the keeper. So, on the 74543 A reel, the 7th take was circled as master.

    But, in my opinion on that Monkees song, they did a couple of more bounces to O/D the background vocals and other "sweet" stuff, so even though one would think that "A" or one bounce is all they did, it sounds like a few more were done.

    Only Bill Inglot would know for sure...
    theMess and bleachershane like this.
  22. lukpac

    lukpac Forum Resident

    Location:
    Madison, WI
    Well, to do that, you'd have to force everyone to get perfect speakers.

    Fact is, with certain systems and speakers, a little EQ is necessary. Now, turning the treble up all the way probably isn't the way to get there, but you get the picture.
  23. FabFourFan

    FabFourFan Member

    Location:
    Philadelphia

    Honestly, until your explanation, I would never have believed that any modern 'master' recording could have been unbalanced by 20dB or more!

    Thank you for this little 'lesson', then.

    I'm confident that your reputation will survive intact! :)
  24. Larry Naramore

    Larry Naramore Bonafied Knucklehead

    Location:
    Sun Valley, Calif.
    Steve don't complain it really saves on the Preparation H.

    :)
  25. Grant

    Grant Proud Nerd

    Oh, I know, but it's frustrating. My friend has good playback but he jacks up the treble because his hearing is bad.