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Thread: Wilco's Jeff Tweedy on analog tape shortage

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    Wilco's Jeff Tweedy on analog tape shortage

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    Jeff Tweedy is one of my favorite artists, and I thought every one would find this Wall Street Journal article interesting...


    Tale of the Tape:
    Audiophiles Bemoan
    The End of the Reel
    As Quantegy Shuts Plant,
    Purists Snap Up Supply;
    NASA Feels the Crunch

    By ETHAN SMITH and SARAH MCBRIDE
    Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
    January 12, 2005; Page A1

    Jeff Tweedy, leader of the rock group Wilco, prefers to record music
    on reel-to-reel tape rather than on the digital equipment that has
    overtaken the music industry. Purists like him think it confers a
    warmth and richness to recordings that a computer cannot.

    But last Friday, Mr. Tweedy hit a snag as he prepared for a session in
    Wilco's Chicago studio space: Nobody could find any of the
    professional-grade audio tape the band is accustomed to using. "I was
    under the impression that there was a shortage of tape in Chicago,"
    Mr. Tweedy says.

    What he didn't yet realize was that the shortage is global. Quantegy
    Inc., which may be the last company in the world still manufacturing
    the high-quality tape, abruptly shut down its Opelika, Ala., plant on
    Dec. 31, leaving audiophiles in the lurch.

    Quantegy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Monday and
    hopes a restructuring will eventually revive its operations. But its
    future is uncertain, inasmuch as demand also is dwindling for its
    videotape.

    The news has set off a frantic scramble in the music industry as
    producers and studios seek to secure as much Quantegy tape as
    possible. By the middle of last week, most suppliers around the
    country had sold out their entire stocks of reel-to-reel audio tape.

    The supply that remained came at prices rapidly escalating above the
    usual $140-per-reel wholesale price of Quantegy 2-inch tape. Walter
    Sear, a prominent New York studio owner, quickly snapped up 60 or 70
    reels, some at prices that had ballooned by as much as 40%. "We'll
    have to change our approach to life without tape," Mr. Sear says.

    Quantegy is hearing from customers all over the world trying to secure
    the professional-grade tape. A Japanese musician e-mailed from Tokyo,
    eager to get more for a recording session. Richard Lindenmuth,
    Quantegy's president and chief executive, says he'll try to help. Some
    customers are trying to organize their own bailouts of his company.
    Andrew Kautz, president of the Society of Professional Audio Recording
    Services, called Mr. Lindenmuth Friday hoping to get a one-time
    special order, a request Mr. Lindenmuth is considering.

    The crunch reaches far beyond the recording industry. The National
    Aeronautics and Space Administration uses Quantegy tape on its space
    shuttles to record information ranging from pressure to temperature.
    This week NASA has been trying to buy 20 reels from Quantegy.

    Even Hollywood is affected. Some die-hard moviemakers believe voices
    sound better recorded on analog tape. In making "Spider-Man 2" and the
    Harry Potter movies, digital recording technology has taken the front
    seat, but backups of dialogue were recorded on reels of Quantegy tape.
    Engineers are also worried about how long digital recordings will
    last.

    Tape was used to record most music after World War II. In the heyday
    of tape recording, it was common for rock bands with big recording
    budgets to run through hundreds of reels of tape in making just one
    album.

    But over the past decade, the tape has been rapidly outmoded by
    cheaper, more convenient computer-based digital recording. People in
    the music industry say that as few as 5% of albums are recorded and
    mixed using audio tape.

    The purists have a romantic attachment to the taping process. "It's a
    much more musical medium than digital could ever dream of being," says
    Joe Gastwirt, a mastering engineer who has worked with the Grateful
    Dead and others. "It actually does something to the music."

    Most of the industry gravitated to the cheaper digital technique,
    however, transforming tape from a commodity to a boutique item. That
    changeover has wiped out a once-hardy field of competitors. Quantegy
    was founded shortly after World War II by John Herbert Orr, a former
    Army major who called the company Orradio Industries. Ampex Corp., a
    maker of recording equipment, bought Orradio in 1959 and renamed it
    Ampex Magnetic Tape.

    Over the years, Quantegy went head-to-head with various competitors,
    including European brands like Emtec Magnetics and BASF. But as the
    market began to fall off, Ampex decided to get out of the tape
    business in 1995, and spun off Quantegy that year. As computer
    technology overtook the recording industry in the late 1990s,
    Quantegy's competitors bailed out. Some tapes are manufactured in
    China, but audio professionals generally don't consider them to be of
    consistently high quality.

    Quantegy's audiotape business in 2004 was still profitable, accounting
    for $6 million of the company's $30 million in sales. But the company
    fell into trouble because of other obligations and when Quantegy lost
    one of its major videotape customers in July, it suffered a cash
    crunch. By year's end, it couldn't meet payroll and sent its employees
    home. Mr. Lindenmuth believes an injection of $10 million would save
    the company, and is hoping a Chapter 11 reorganization will give him
    time to find investors.

    When Wilco's Mr. Tweedy found himself in a bind, he telephoned Steve
    Albini, a Chicago producer and studio owner who is known for his work
    with Nirvana and the Pixies. Mr. Albini's Electrical Audio Recording
    is one of the last major studios in the country to rely exclusively on
    audiotape.

    Mr. Albini had been stockpiling tape for more than a year, worried
    that the end of manufacturing was near. But when Quantegy closed its
    doors, he redoubled his efforts to secure as much as possible. Working
    through normal sources, he tracked down around 65 reels, enough to
    make about 10 albums.

    He also began "looking in the weeds," as he puts it. He tracked down
    contacts who buy odd lots of electronic equipment on the salvage
    market. Through one, Mr. Albini hit the mother lode: nearly 2,000
    reels of 2-inch magnetic tape, enough to fill a small warehouse. Mr.
    Albini bought 100 reels and is trying to keep the supplier's name and
    whereabouts to himself. He says he doesn't want to see a better-funded
    competitor move in on the remaining stock.

    Mr. Albini estimates he now has a year's worth of tape, or about 500
    reels, on hand. So when Mr. Tweedy called last Friday, Mr. Albini
    volunteered two reels of tape -- as "a professional courtesy." But, he
    says, "I don't want to go into business supplying tape to people."

    Looking ahead to a tape-starved future, Mr. Tweedy has a fallback: The
    band has an archive of around 100 reels of tape it has used in
    recording its various albums. By splicing out and saving the final
    version of each song, he figures they can maintain the archive and
    also generate a supply of tapes that can be recycled for future
    recording sessions.

    Still, Mr. Tweedy jokes, if the tape scarcity continues, even some of
    the archived recordings might become expendable. "I'm just fearful
    that all the master tapes at the loft would be worth more if they were
    blank," he says.

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    I wonder if there's any update to this story.
    http://www.nocats.net - has link to youtube channel but only some background music on those vids, so far, def more to come!

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    I just threw 3 rolls of Ampex 2" in the trash doing some housecleaning.


    tim

  4. #4
    Beck Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by junplugged
    I wonder if there's any update to this story.
    Yeah, the update is that Quantegy is under new ownership producing tape again. ATR Magnetics is set to introduce their own formulations and RMGI in the Netherlands will soon have the old BASF/EMTEC formulations.

    The whole Quantegy fiasco had less to do with the demise of tape than it had to do with poor management. Both ATR and RMGI were ramping up even before the Quantegy shutdown.

    The news is by Fall we will have three tape manufacturers instead of none.

    http://www.rmgi-usa.com/
    http://www.atrmagnetics.com/
    http://www.quantegy.com/


    Don't get me wrong. Digital is and will continue to dominate the recording world, but the death of tape? Someday maybe, but not yet.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Beck
    Yeah, the update is that Quantegy is under new ownership producing tape again. ATR Magnetics is set to introduce their own formulations and RMGI in the Netherlands will soon have the old BASF/EMTEC formulations.

    The whole Quantegy fiasco had less to do with the demise of tape than it had to do with poor management. Both ATR and RMGI were ramping up even before the Quantegy shutdown.

    The news is by Fall we will have three tape manufacturers instead of none.

    http://www.rmgi-usa.com/
    http://www.atrmagnetics.com/
    http://www.quantegy.com/


    Don't get me wrong. Digital is and will continue to dominate the recording world, but the death of tape? Someday maybe, but not yet.
    Wait till you see the prices. I have some advanced notice (through professional affiliations) and at least for starters, the price will be kind'a high. They claim they will come down depending on sales and demand.

  6. #6
    Beck Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by acorec
    Wait till you see the prices. I have some advanced notice (through professional affiliations) and at least for starters, the price will be kind'a high. They claim they will come down depending on sales and demand.
    Yeah, Quantegy is higher than it was right now. My contact at RMGI USA said their prices will be competitive. They are sending me samples of SM911 and SM468 to review, which I plan to post on Tascam Forums. I already have unopened stock of BASF and EMTEC branded equivalents for comparison.

    Once we are past this little bobble and the analog train is rolling full steam again prices will come down. Maybe not quite as low as they were, but reasonable. USA Recording Media was selling ” 456 for $47.97 regular price last year before the scare. They are currently selling the same tape for $53.97. Musicians Friend is about $10.00 higher than they were for 456 and will certainly settle down a bit. It can only get better.

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    Tim,

    I'll be looking forward to your review of the 911 tape!

    I've heard it's better for archival storage then 456 and doesn't loose it's top end as quick too?

    When do you expect to receive it?

    Cheers!

  8. #8
    Beck Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by The Ghost of FM
    Tim,

    I'll be looking forward to your review of the 911 tape!

    I've heard it's better for archival storage then 456 and doesn't loose it's top end as quick too?

    When do you expect to receive it?

    Cheers!
    Don Morris of RMGI USA will be contacting me by phone when they are ready, possibly this month but could be August. Maybe you could make it a sticky in the analog section?
    Last edited by Beck; 07-21-2005 at 21:14.

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    Well, I like to be taped up in 2500' rolls (which cost me about $40) and I love the smell and silky feel of it....Uh oh, I thought this was the fantasy thread that True started....well, silly ole me!

    P.S.-yes, as your fantasia use of tape grows, so will the price....it may not be for the tape itself, though
    Quote Originally Posted by Lt. Bob View Post
    I do this for a living and I wouldn't choose to use a POS over any of my other 14 guitars

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    Oh yeah, if tape HAS gone up in price, then just sell me out right now....I'm going 1's and 0's, damnit. I"LL show those damned Tape Capitalist Terrorists, I will.

    ...because I know the newest, latest digital technology/medium is not up in price. Only that kick-ass digital stuff from yesteryear is commanding the premium prices.
    Quote Originally Posted by Lt. Bob View Post
    I do this for a living and I wouldn't choose to use a POS over any of my other 14 guitars

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