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Ho`olohe Hou Radio - Remastering The Masters

hwnmusiclives's Podcast

Release Date: 07/03/2015

In the collectors’ world, “out of print” means “no longer commercially available.” But it is a term that is largely misunderstood. In the non-collectors’ world, it is often assumed that anything worth listening to has been re-released in the digital era in CD or MP3 format, and many of us were encouraged to throw away our vinyl recordings and cassettes because there would someday no longer even be any equipment to play them. Conversely it is often assumed that anything that remains out of print must be from eons ago and the master tapes cannot be found.

Both of these assumptions are false.

Some of the most historically and culturally important recordings in the history of Hawaiian music remain out of print. You cannot obtain, for example, any of Lena Machado’s recordings from the 1930s with Dick McIntire, George Kainapau’s early recordings with bandleader Ray Kinney, or any of Pua Almeida’s recordings on Waikiki Records from the 1950s and 60s. But, for many, the importance of these recordings in the evolution of Hawaiian music is secondary to the reality that they are simply beautiful examples of Hawaiian music – many possibly lost forever except for those few copies in private collections.

But not all out of print recordings are quite so old. There are fabulous recordings from the digital era – as recently as the 80s and 90s – no longer available. This is not because the master tapes are missing. The reason is largely financial. Many musicians do not own their own master tapes. This is why you have not seen re-releases of important recordings by Sam Bernard or Tony Conjugacion. And the owners of the masters have little or nothing to gain financially by remastering and re-releasing them. While it may cost upwards of $25,000 to properly remaster a recording, the recording might only generate $10,000 in sales – a losing proposition (to say the least). 

“Remastering” means something different if you have the master tape than if you don’t. Remastering is easier if you have the master tape. For Ho`olohe Hou Radio, the remastering process is a little more difficult. I will be working largely from recordings that have seen the ravages of time and the carelessness of their previous owners. For starters, the biggest offender in record noise is dirt. Records need to be cleaned, and this is a painstaking and time-consuming process. Next, not all styli (or, for the layperson, record needles) are built alike. If the previous owner of a record wore it down with a conical stylus, then an elliptical stylus might track the groove better. If it was worn down with an elliptical stylus, a hyperelliptical stylus might be in order. Did you know that the grooves on a 45rpm record are wider than on an LP record – necessitating a different kind of stylus altogether? And did you know that records pre-dating the stereo era (before 1959) require a different kind of stylus than later stereo records? Matching the record with the appropriate stylus is also time-consuming and is a process of trial and error. Then the record must be transferred to computer and any remaining noise painstakingly removed – one click or pop at a time – using digital tools. And all of this must be done without making the vintage recording sound like some digital remnant of its original beauty. In other words, all of this processing cannot be overdone lest the remastering work become quite noticeable to the listener. A single 40-minute LP record can take up to 10 hours to remaster. Now multiply this by thousands of LPs, 45s, and 78s. I do not require to be compensated for this work. I consider it a labor of love. But each different stylus can cost a minimum of $150. A modest automatic record cleaning machine can cost at least $750. Ho`olohe Hou Radio would be honored if the materials in the remastering process were listener-supported. If Ho`olohe Hou Radio reaches its primary funding goal, a stretch goal will be initiated to attempt to fund the materials used in the remastering process.