Since the debut of Pete Lyman's Make Your Mark in November 2014, the mastering engineer and co-owner of Infrasonic Sound has continued to amass incredible albums credits. Among his latest achievements are two Grammy-winning albums, Chris Stapleton's Traveller and Jason Isbell's Something More Than Free, in addition to working on new records from the likes of Weezer, Lake Street Dive and Panic! At the Disco.
Opened in 2004, Lyman's studio home of Infrasonic Sound has always had a focus on vinyl mastering. At the center of the company's operation is a vintage Scully LS-76 cutting lathe and a Neumann AM32B lathe, which allows Infrasonic to create masters for a wide range of vinyl sizes. Taught under famed mastering engineer Richard Simpson, Lyman and fellow Infrasonic employee John Greenham not only have the technical know-how, but they are also musicians who understand what records should sound like.
The process of mastering a vinyl record is one of the few things that remains tangible and hands-on in the music industry. After all, the end result is a physical product that you can hold in your hand, put on your turntable and visibly see the work of mastering engineers like Lyman. Each groove is hand-cut in a process that may seem completely archaic in 2016, but in actuality, it's an extremely beautiful art form.
Revisit our Make Your Mark featuring Pete below and check out an expanded interview with him below, as we talk about his career in the mastering industry, the gear he utilizes and why vinyl has made a comeback after all these years.
Why do you feel that vinyl is important?
Vinyl is important to me because I grew up listening to it. When I think about music, I think about it being on a record and the whole process; the ritual of taking it out, listening to it and looking at the artwork. That’s how I want to listen to music. So when I had an opportunity to apprentice with a mastering engineer and learn more about it, I jumped at the chance and that’s sort of how I got started.
What do you think about the current resurgence of vinyl?
It’s interesting, vinyl has become the only viable product and delivery method for music, other than digital. It’s the only physical product left. It’s been overwhelming at times, the demand, especially here in the U.S. The demand in Europe isn’t quite where it is in the U.S., but right now we’re going through a period where everyone is cutting records again. The plants are at full capacity, the cutting engineers are doing the best they can to cut the best records and keep up with demand and it’s a really fun time. Bands that weren’t able to do vinyl five years ago are able to do it now and able to sell these records at their shows. Often times, they are selling better than the digital or CDs. It’s a great time for vinyl.
What’s the difference between someone who is an engineer and someone who is a mastering engineer? What kind of skill-set do you need to master?
I think you’re developing your ear in a different way than you are when you are just an audio engineer. Obviously there are a lot of similarities, but we’re dealing with different products, we’re not dealing with the whole mix, we’re dealing with a finished mix and two tracks. The major difference is just being slightly more detailed when it comes to the soundscape and overall sound of the mix because you’re thinking about the finished product and how it’s going to sound in the context of an entire group of songs. When you’re mixing a track, you’re not necessarily thinking about how it will flow into a track that you already mixed.
Talk a little about cutting a record on a lathe.
When you’re cutting a master lacquer, normally we master the audio prior to cutting it. We do our test cuts to make sure it sounds like we want it to sound and might make EQ adjustments, specifically for vinyl, and then cut the master lacquer. Once you start cutting the master lacquer, there is no stopping. It’s one shot. We cut one lacquer per side, pack them neatly in a box and send them to the plant.
What happens to the lacquer once it leaves Infrasonic?
It gets shipped or couriered straight to the plant and then it goes through an electroplating process. They spray it with silver and they put it in an electroplating tank and basically create a mirrored image of the lacquer. From there, they plate that mirrored image, they make a couple positive and negative images, and then they make the stampers, which are the negative images. The stampers are used to press the records from there.
What's the story behind the lathes that you have here?
I have two vinyl lathes here, I have an old 1956 Neumann AM32B. It’s an original lathe that was purchased by RCA in 1956 or 1957, so it cut a lot of the great RCA records into the 70s and even 80s including a lot of early hip-hop stuff like the N.W.A EP, Geto Boys, Kool Keith, a lot of great Los Angeles bands. I recently started a restoration on it.
Then I have a 1978 Scully LS76, which is the last lathe that Larry Scully ever made. Larry designed these lathes, he made the American lathes and Neumann made the German lathes. This was Larry’s last great effort to put out the most technically advanced lathe. It was competing with the Neumann VMS80. There were only nine of them made, so a lot of people don’t know about them. The one I have is the first production model. I think there are three or four in the world that are even working.
Talk a little about the rooms at Infrasonic.
We have three rooms at Infrasonic, two are identical, mirror-imaged rooms and the design is kind of extreme, but still comfortable and earthy. It’s a great room to work in, it sounds phenomenal, it’s comfortable and it’s a fun room just to hang out in.
What are some of your favorite pieces of gear that you own?
I love the Maselec mastering console, this thing sounds fantastic. I love the Burl converters. I really love the Inward Connections DEQ1, which unfortunately Steve Firlotte doesn’t make anymore. I wish he would start making these again, great EQ. I’ve been using the Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor for a really long time and one of the other key pieces of gear we have is the Antelope Isochrone Trinity Atomic Clock. I started using that about three and a half years ago and it changed everything.
Why do you love mastering?
I love the whole process of making a record, but I love mastering because my brain just seems to be tuned into that particular part of the process. I love working with two tracks. I feel like I’m a painter instead of a house builder. I get to take this, hopefully great, house that someone has built and make it look the best it can. It’s really great, I’m usually the first guy to get to hear the record start to finish and it’s just really rewarding.
Check out some of Pete Lyman's latest work, including two Grammy-winning songs from Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell, in addition to the latest single from the brand new Weezer album.