It’s been six years since the first Record Store Day regaled audiophiles with limited edition EPs, special collaborations, and in-store exclusives, and already the vinyl holiday has a world record under its belt. The record holder? Jack White and Third Man Records. The record? World’s fastest record release.
Clocking in at just under four hours, White and co. recorded “Lazaretto” and the Elvis Presley cover “Power of My Love,” trucked the master vinyl to Nashville’s United Record Pressing (URP), and released the 7-inch to the masses, all in the span of a late morning to early afternoon on April 19.
For a bit of perspective, The Daily Beast checked in with New Orleans audio engineer Scott Potts on what normally goes into recording an album—be it vinyl or otherwise. “Generally, a record you’re making—where you aren’t looking to make a world record—requires multiple takes, overdubbing, tracking, and mixing before you send it off to be mastered,” Potts said.
“Overdubbing is a chance to fix a mistake or add a part, and tracking is the first time you put the music down to any recording software. With mixing, you’re manipulating frequencies and panning or fixing levels. Mastering gives you one more time to fix those levels and put the record in the proper frequencies,” Potts explained.
In short, achieving the proper sound in this day and age takes a hell of a lot of components. Sure, anyone can make a record in just a few hours if they’re unconcerned with sounding decent. But for a musician known for his meticulous nature like Jack White, shitty sound really wasn’t an option.
White’s efforts were streamlined across the board: his studio is one of a kind in that you can record straight to acetate. And its location is ideal. Nestled in the musical hotbed of Nashville, White relies heavily on a symbiotic partnership with legendary vinyl pressers URP and Nashville Record Productions’ audio engineer extraordinaire George Ingram. In fact, it was Ingram’s idea to go for the record. Third Man Records co-founder (along with White and Ben Swank) Ben Blackwell acted as the liaison between Ingram as well as United Record Pressing. It took months of planning and preparation to get the record from idea to reality.
“Sometime early last year, George [Ingram] mentioned the idea because we have that direct to vinyl system in place,” Blackwell told The Daily Beast. “We were working on another project for Record Store Day 2013—the Third Man Voice-O-Graph booth—so it was just hanging in the back of my mind. Six to eight months later, we talked about it and at the end of last year, we started putting it together.”
That Record Store Day endeavor came less than a year after White set about his solo career. Where 2012’s “Blunderbuss” tour saw a flip of a coin to determine whether White would play alongside all female backing band The Peacocks or the men that make up The Buzzards, both bands were on display for Record Store Day. They were comfortable—having played with White on the road and at home—and confident, thanks to what had to be multiple test runs in which the musicians mastered their parts.
“White’s efforts were streamlined across the board: his studio is one of a kind in that you can record straight to acetate. And its location is ideal.”
“How long did it take them to set up? How many times did they switch guitars or swap mics? That’s the shit that takes a while,” Potts pondered. “All the work that goes into that… in that test run they must've spent a good couple of days mixing it down and preparing it.”
Ingram was a trusted partner in recording live shows at Third Man, and therefore knew exactly what he wanted when it came to equipment and set-up. It also helped that Ingram had access to one of the top of the line boards on the market. Rupert Neve Designs crafted the console that lives at Third Man Records. Neve, often credited as the creator of the recording console, has been making high quality large format consoles for decades. His early boards are so sought after that a Neve preamp alone will regularly go for $3,000.
Once both tracks hit acetate, a master record was sent to URP for pressing. It was business as usual at the storied vinyl manufacturer, who firmly believes that you can’t rush a great product. “Vinyl production is a delicate process with many steps. United Record Pressing is devoted to producing a quality product,” URP states on their website, going onto explain that there is no such thing as a “rush” option at their facility.
Plating, a necessary process that makes it possible for records to be mass-produced, is rarely done in-house at record pressing facilities. The typical process calls for two- or three-step plating in which the positive vinyl—which can be played immediately—is turned into a negative with ridges to ensure that the best pressing possible is produced. For the sake of timeliness, Third Man did it in just one step.
“One-step plating is usually considered a gamble. You do it because you’re either in a hurry or don’t have a lot of money,” Blackwell explained. “The problem is if something goes wrong in the lacquering or plating process, there is nothing to go back to. You can’t go back to step one.”
“I was actually on the phone with their customer service rep and he was very hesitant,” Blackwell said. “After all was said and done, though, he said, ‘I’m not much of a gambling man but that was a perfect bet.’”
Jack White’s full LP, “Lazaretto,” is due out June 10th on Third Man Records.