- relating to or using signals or information represented by a continuously variable physical quantity such as spatial position, voltage, etc.
To some, Analog means more than a dictionary definition or some “Old school” recording technique used during the times when Hippies roamed the earth in search of the ultimate listening experience; to others such as Bill Nobes, it is far more.
In a world filled with streaming, playlists and digital downloads, Nobes is on a quest to return to the days of tape recorded studio magic while documenting the process like an accidental vinyl historian; enter “Analog Trenton.”
“Analog Trenton” is a project that mirrors its creators image; passionate, driven, tenacious and curious. This undertaking grew from a desire to ensure that mistakes of the past were not repeated while leaving a physical presence to be enjoyed for generations to come. So to understand a bit more about this bold new retro-futuristic concept, we must get a glimpse into Nobes himself.
“My background is working in video, the movies and theater and clubs in the East Village in New York City,” he methodically began. “About three years ago as my son grew up; I’ve been a single dad since he was two and one half years old; once he hit age 15 or 16 I realized that life isn’t over and that I could actually do things. So what that inspiration led me to was to start building an analog studio; I missed live music because that’s what I did for a living for a couple of years on stages as a sound guy and technical director. Everything that I was hearing recorded was so processed and so soulless that I decided to start a space to create authentic recordings; which I thought was a pretty stupid idea at first but I decided to do it anyway. About a year after that I was introduced to the Trenton community and things just started taking off. One of my first events was “Antigone” and things have not stopped; the pace has been mind bending with what’s going on in Trenton and just how much is going on in Trenton. So I continued building the studio and about a year and a half ago I was inspired by what I’d seen going on in the past in Hoboken and New York City. Then when all of those things went away and no one had really recorded it; because at the time we didn’t realize how special it was until we saw the documentary 15 years later and nobody had thought to do that. So I think what is going on here is kind of special because it’s supportive, it’s collaborative, everybody works together to help each other; Hoboken was a little like that but certainly not in the city so much but even more importantly it’s diverse. In one night you’ll have both Hardcore and Hip-Hop on the same stage and the same crowd appreciating this and I’d never seen that before. So I thought, I want to document this and as the studio was getting to the point where I could record I thought; what am I going to do with this? This turned out to be a natural fit; I could do this community based project, benefit the community, benefit myself by learning and that’s how “Analog Trenton” was born.”
With the idea in place; what was next? Nobes set off like Leonard Nimoy “In Search Of” the elusive equipment and intangibles needed to further the project and along the way he acquired some help and once that was in place it became somewhat of a runaway train.
“Things started falling into place kind of naturally; I couldn’t find tape decks at first and then I found two old one inch decks in the back of Frank Russo’s Music Box and things took off. So I took on Nikki Nailbomb as a co-producer, she runs Champs Bar and her dad owned City Gardens so there’s a legacy there and Griffin Sullivan from Pork Chop Express and they book Champs and Mill Hill Basement so they’re really involved in the scene. We recorded two days at Champs and a day at The Trenton Coffee House with the solo acoustic people and then I just kept recording in my studio. I thought I’d be lucky to get 20 bands and I ended up with 40; there’s 40 tracks on this thing and that’s a lot of music. We couldn’t do a double album but it is a double CD and all 40 tracks fit on the double CD, however we didn’t have the budget for an album because it would have been a triple or quadruple vinyl. So what we did was distilled the tracks down to the best representation of the Trenton scene, not the best tracks but the best snapshot of the scene and also the shortest songs. We didn’t use the six minute songs because we didn’t have the space; so the album represents a sub-set of the entire thing. The visual artists were excited too and they were contributing so I included them as well; there’s artwork from 27 artists in Trenton on the vinyl cover and the limited edition is on colored vinyl. There’s a six panel cover and an eight page booklet because I was so moved by how enthusiastic the visual arts community was and I thought, we have to include them because this is a collaborative community and it’s not right if everyone is not on it. So the whole thing just kind of took off with a life of its own and its been running my life for a year (laughs).”
“Initially Griffin did the booking for the Champs date and then word spread organically; in fact I had to shut it down. People were still calling and calling months past when I had planned to stop recording. I just had to say no more and I was also nearly worn out because at that point it was all in studio and every couple of days I was recording another band; I had to stop at some point so I stopped at 40. The bands all showed up on time, ready to work, we had zero issues, 100 percent professional; 40 tracks of professionalism which I’ve never experienced anytime or anywhere. We recorded at night and on weekends, we’d do one take for sound levels, two live takes and then the track version. A singer songwriter could take around three hours and a full band four to six hours per track to record but we had to put constraints on time because we just had to and the same thing with the mixes; we spent about six hours per track which took several months.
Live recordings, once a staple in every artist’s catalog are rare in today’s industry and “Analog Trenton” hopes to be the tip of the iceberg that changes that but as Nobes has discovered; the disarray in the present music marketing scheme is frustrating.
“I learned that getting an album out into the world may be more work than making it,” he said with clear angst in his voice. “That’s what I’m going through now; at least with making an album I kind of knew all of the moving parts and how it worked but the music marketing and publicity world right now is totally on its ear. Nobody knows what’s going on, no one knows how to do it, everyone disagrees and if you go on Google you’ll find a thousand people trying to sell you books or programs on how to do it and none of them probably know anything and that’s the fight I’m fighting right now. Once you get it on Spotify; how do you claim it as a Spotify artist? iTunes the same thing, all these places say they’ll do it all for you; well they absolutely do not! I kind of look at the music world right now and watch many artists go to places like Disco Kid or CD Baby; you may as well buy a lottery ticket because millions or hundreds of thousands of people are doing the same thing and they’re not really doing anything for them. They’re not doing any promotion they’re just dumping it out there with all of the other works and it becomes white noise and that has become my next challenge; how do I rise above the noise? Now with “Analog Trenton” I really want to push the idea that it is a unique project because it captures a sound, captures the ethos of a city in its form, in its state and its scene as it is now. That’s one of the reasons we stayed in analog because I find it makes it more authentic; analog is not better than digital it’s just a different tool and it makes it harder to stray from the real sound when you’re in analog. We did mix it, it’s a full multi-track, we recorded it on one inch with compressors and limiters and all the standard stuff; I learned that the job of a mixer is to recreate the sound because microphones are not the human brain. When you mix something you’re actually trying to recreate what it sounds like because microphones in a room just won’t do it; you’re trying to fool the brain into putting it back in the room. I realized a couple of times that I was in over my head so I reached out for some help and one of those who really helped was Sean Glonek from SRG Studios. I didn’t know Sean but I followed him and knew some of his work and I admired his mixes and one day I just called him up and said, hi Sean, you don’t know me but I need help (laughs). Sean very graciously did all of the recording for both days at Champs and the day at Trenton Coffee House. Sean couldn’t help me with the mixes so coincidentally one of our contributors introduced me to Brian Young a professional audio engineer who spent a few days with me and got me started; I’d done live mixing but production mixing is a different thing. Also Bern the Bastard came in and did a lot of mixing with me as well; I learned an incredible amount which was one of the reasons that I wanted to do this. First of all, I like trying to take on things that seem impossible, secondly I realized that I could keep on buying more studio gear but that wasn’t going to teach me how to make what I wanted to make with the authenticity that I wanted to produce. So by going out there and doing it, even though it is an expensive project, to me it’s worth far more than what I’ve invested in it.”
The mixing was covered but an important part is the mastering of the product and Nobes spare no expense.
Carl Rowatti did the mastering, he runs Truetone Mastering Lab and has been doing it for 40 years. I couldn’t buy a hundred thousand dollars worth of equipment but I could afford the investment where I felt it was really important and he was the most expensive part of the project. There’s not many people who do analog mastering anymore so the vinyl is true analog; it went from my tape deck to his tape deck to his equipment to his lathe cutter and right to the press; it was never converted and on the CD it was analog until the last possible second.”
Now that the CDs are done and the vinyl still being pressed; what’s next for the project after its September 20 “Soft release?”
” I want to get “Analog Trenton” national because I don’t think there has been something like this and if there has I don’t think it has gone beyond one city. Part of my inspiration was; back in the 80’s there was a monthly album put out of folk music recorded in New York City and I subscribed for years. Back then it was recorded on reel to reel, a couple of mics and it launched the careers of people like Suzanne Vega and Tracy Chapman; a lot of people got their start playing in these places and that series may have helped them and I’d like to see the same thing happen in Trenton.”
Learning is a process which every individual handles in their own way. Nobes feels “Blessed” to have been involved with the sponsors of this effort as well as the local businesses who made it possible but is there anything that he would have done differently?
“The people at Champs are all about music and art, they are really about the community and Abdul at Trenton Coffee House never charged me a penny,” he stated with appreciation. “We did get sponsors, Truetone, Independent Record Pressing in Bordentown, ATR Magnetics who are the only manufacturers of magnetic tape in the country and Sweetwater Music which was a surprise because they have a policy of no out of state sponsorship so I am really grateful for that.”
“What would I do differently? I honestly can’t think of anything that could’ve gone better on this project. There was no drama, no problems, nothing went wrong, nothing broke; I wish I could go back and mix it all again because I’m a perfectionist and I know a lot more now than I did then. I’m also forming a micro-label which is kind of an artist collective of people who have a unique voice and a unique way of saying it. People who I relate to closely and work on the same frequency with. I’m not charging them so they don’t have to look at the clock, I hope to make it up on the back end but it’s a learning process and i’m investing in that process and I feel comfortable with that.”
“Analog Trenton” is available on CD by going to www.analogtrenton.com and the vinyl edition has limited copies for purchase there as well; Nobes says there are more possibilities on the horizon.
“Vinyl sales will outpace CD sales this year so we’re setting up things with Amazon since they sell the most vinyl. Streaming is the “Wild West,” I was just recently reading an article that publicity doesn’t help streaming but getting on playlists does but that was written by a company that gets you on playlists so there is an agenda there. There’s pay to play playlists, there’s get a radio guy to like you playlists, they are influencers and they are going to have to be the largest part of the marketing effort and frankly it’s scaring the hell out of me. Things are different now and the marketing is my primary focus, college stations, streaming; I’ll be sending it out to all of them.”
What did Nobes take away from the overall experience?
“Back in the east village I’d hear these mind blowing bands live and then I’d get their cassettes and their sound, the truth and their energy was gone. the same thing is going on now, these bands sound so good live and then you get their recordings and the passion is gone and I want to give them the opportunity to have that passion. I think we did a pretty good job with “Analog Trenton;” is it a great album musically? Some tracks, there’s weak ones and strong ones and sometimes it was the environment, we were doing everything by the seat of our pants but it worked far better than any of us had the right to expect.” To discover more about “Analog Trenton,” visit them at their website or to delve into the man behind it all; please visit www.billnobes.com