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Have you ever wondered how vinyl records are made?
We’re giving you front row tickets to the most exclusive live-music-to-vinyl production line @ BKK Vinyl Fair 2023, March 24-26.
Ding-dong was the sound that the elevator made as we arrived at the 8th floor of hotel Public House, home to this year’s BKK Vinyl Fair held on March 24-26. As a part of the event, a selection of Public House’s hotel suites were refurbished into record stores and activities for all vinyl lovers alike.
We walked out of the elevator to room 85-86, venue of the fair’s Exclusive Live to Vinyl Session where selected artists performed and had their performances recorded on vinyl live for the first time in Thailand.
There was confusion on our faces after opening the hotel door and being greeted by a queen-sized bed. Seeing the question marks on our foreheads, the staff kindly led us to the connecting room where the hotel suite was repurposed into a temporary recording studio. Artist Jo (AKA Khiankai Lae Wanich / เขียนไขและวานิช) was spotted setting up his equipment for the live recording.
Every ounce of the room was filled with silence as we waited for the session to begin, providing a stark contrast to the noisy atmosphere we would normally associate with live performances, and for a good reason. Silence is essential to live recording because even the slightest noise that the microphone tracks will be permanently etched into the vinyl record. For this reason, guests (including us) were asked to take off their shoes before entering the area to eliminate those extra, unwanted noises.
Despite all of that effort, I was still able to hear the sound of clothes rubbing against each other while waiting for the session to begin. (At some point I had to check if I was still breathing correctly.) A couple of minutes passed by and the staff signaled that it was finally time for action.
The artist sat down on the fancy hotel chair, picked up his guitar and started to sing the first song of the session Tam Kan Lae Wela (ตามกาลและเวลา). Each strum of guitar and utterance of voice was collected by the microphone and passed through the wires to room 89 at the opposite of the hotel corridor. In front of the artist lay a piece of paper containing the session’s list of tracks like a concert setlist with sides A and B. Each side was limited to 15 minutes due to restrictions from recording live.
Jo’s voice sounded so warm and heavenly live that it was hard to imagine how it could possibly be even warmer on vinyl.
A collective sense of hesitation–whether to clap or not to clap– was born in the room after the last chord of the first song had been strummed. Obviously, the recording equipment was going to collect our claps if we did and we absolutely did not want to mess with the recording.
I sneaked out of the live session and followed the mic wire during the micro break between songs to the opposing room in which the crew from Thailand’s first record pressing service ResurRec, with founder Traithep Wongpaiboon as captain, had transformed into a temporary dubplate studio. Even though noise was allowed in that room, it still felt weird to make some noise given Traithep & co.’s concentration on the record.
This room included a sub-room divided by a partition (there’s so much you can do when you’re repurposing a hotel room) where the mixing and mastering of the artist’s raw sound was done in order to ensure the record’s maximum sound fidelity and quality. The mastered audio file was then passed on to the dubplate cutting machine that etches sound grooves into the vinyl record making them playable. While watching the process, I noticed the increasing loudness of applause signaling that the audience were becoming at ease with the recording process.
Traithep explained to us that in the past, dubplates were made in order to test out the sound quality before being made into master recordings. DJs would also start recording on dubplates since it was easier to make edits to their music afterwards if they didn’t receive a positive response from the crowd. This process of dubplate making is different from making master recordings that are used for wider scales of production.
Once the performance on side A was done, Traithep skillfully flipped over to the unetched side B and cleaned it with his mighty brush to prepare for the latter half of recording. He also explained the process simultaneously, demonstrating his skill of multitasking and his true passion for record making. In between pauses, I was able to hear the sound of footsteps being caught by the microphone from the other room. That was when I realized that every wave of sound matters.
“The perfect session relies on the sound from the audience as much as the sound from the artist.”
After the break, the staff came over to signal that the artist was ready to record side B. The process went on as usual: Jo poured his heart into the microphone while Traithep poured his soul into the dubplate until the last track was played. An applause happened (sans hesitation this time) once this special performance ended, meaning that every clapping sound from every person in the room would be permanently etched into the record. I believe that this is the true magic of vinyl records.
Once the recording was done, Traithep invited Jo to give his newly born record a spin, a record that contained his own voice from merely 30 minutes ago. The sound quality wasn’t 100% perfect due to external factors (this was a live recording after all), though, to my ears, those imperfections made the record all the more perfect.
As an extra treat, Traithep picked up a ball of song scraps, cotton candy-like remnants of acetate that were scraped off the dubplate during the etching process, and handed them over to Jo. “I could write a song about this,” he said.
I had a chance to make a quick chat with Jo as he revealed that this particular experience was fun yet a bit nerve racking at the beginning since normally the recording process would be separate from the vinyl production.
The final product was given its label and sleeve, signaling the end of the process. It was then given to Jo as a souvenir that only he would ever own. Visitors who bought the exclusive ticket will receive a replicated version of the record after 2-4 months of production.
The rest of the weekend saw more exclusive sessions with renowned artists like indie sweetheart Penguin Villa and rock legend Paradox performing and recording their one-of-a-kind vinyl record.