Our Motown Heritage (Part 45)
Hit Factory Pressing & Distribution
 
by Robert Dennis

VISIT THIS WEEK'S OTHER

ARTICLES

DEVELOPING ARTIST
PRODUCTIONS

One Room Golden Section Project Studio
Many project studios going into the basement don't really have the room to make a separate control room and studio. Here's a the design of a one-room project studio that still takes into account the acoustically great Golden Section formula. 
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AUDIO SPECIALIST
STUDY MODULE

Digital Filtering
By: Robert Dennis  
Digital Audio is in the form of pulses which are recorded. In order to convert these to a smooth waveform (or even get the right pulses recorded) digital filtering is used.
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RECORDING WEBSITE
TIP OF THE WEEK
Recording The Right Way
By Bob & Daniel Dennis
Band recording step-by-step. This tip shows the sequence of actions to routing the console and getting levels for the session.

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DSP
Ear Memory - Part 2
My first DSP article was about hearing what equalization frequencies sound like for general tone adjustment in mastering. In this article I demonstrate hearing what varying the bandwidth sounds like.
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Motown was a independent hit factory in the mid 1960's, but their distribution system was big time. 

Making Lots Of Records

Many producers have, over the course of the last 40 years, produced "local" or "vanity" releases that have sold a thousand records or so, primarily selling a few copies at performances.  Many of the original Motown acts like Smokey Robinson and the Miracles had their local releases with miniscule sales before becoming national-selling recording artists.  Berry Gordy envisioned sell a much higher volume of records sold on a national basis, with his first Tamala record label.

In order to sell records nationally, records need to be shipped to hundreds of cities across a 3000 mile span. Sending boxes of records 3000 miles costs several times the amount it costs to send boxes 400 miles to a nearby city. Because of this, major record companies, like RCA in the 1960s, pressed and distributed records from different plants located in different regions of the United States, with the Mississippi River being a major dividing line of the regions.  The regions were West, Midwest and East/South.

Individually cut "master" recordings would have to be made and shipped to 3 different major plants.  An initial supply of six masters (3 plants, 2 copies each) would be enough to press several hundred thousand records.  If record sales started approaching gold record levels, plants would need a reorder of masters to press all those records.  With the amount of plants and the amount of records Motown was releasing in the mid-1960's they needed 4 disc recording engineers and four disc-mastering suites to cut the initial Quality Control test discs, plus cut all the masters and reorder masters needed for the pressing plants.  Motown's solution was to do the Quality Control test cuts in house, along with any emergency masters needed for rush releases.  They used the services of RCA studios in Chicago to do the masters for the pressing plant while using the in house facilities (my department) to determe the quality standard for the masters.

Big Company/Small Company

If you had a hit record on your hands, you sure liked RCA to press your records, because each plant could churn out 30,000 records in a couple of days, because of all the semi-automated pressing machines they had to use.  But Motown releasing a new artist nationally required a lot less records (like 5000 records) shipped to a lot of places.  So Motown had a series of three additional "independent" plants it used in it's distribution system.

American Record Pressing in Owosso, Michigan was an example of one of these independent plants.  It had 25 presses and 80% or more of its business was pressing up records for Motown.  The plant would usually spend its day pressing recorders for current, and past releases.  It was also ready to deliver thousands of records within 24 hours for rush releases, like "It's The Same Old Song."

So Motown had the best of two worlds in its pressing and distribution system with three independent plants plus three major pressing plants at it's disposal.  The independent plants could provide the initial shipment of records to stores and radio stations.  When the sales started exceeding tens of thousands of copies, the major plants could kick in that really could provide millions of copiers if needed.  After a record faded in popularity but still sold steadily, the independent plants could service the occasional reorder.

Motown's pressing and distribution system was a big factor in Motown becoming the largest independent record company in the world in the Mid 1960s.

 

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