It's a Vinyl World After All

It's a Vinyl World, After All: Michael Fremer's Guide to Record Cleaning, Storage, Handling, Collecting, & Manufacturing in the 21st Century
MF Productions mxangle3 (DVD). 2008. Michael Fremer, prod.; Joe Shelesky, Andre Kruger, Jeff Wilerth, dirs.; Joe Shelesky, editor. $30; available from Stereophile's secure e-commerce page.

Michael Fremer comes walking down the long, vinyl-lined hall that leads to his cluttered listening room, a tall stack of compact discs balanced awkwardly in his arms. He looks up to find that we are there, too, waiting for him. Caught by surprise, he stumbles! The tall stack of CDs goes flying from his arms and crashes to the floor with all sorts of plastic clatter and clang.

"Fww! Wha-wha-what are you guys doing here?! You're supposed to be here tomorrow—not today! I was just trying to clean up the room and get rid of some of these CDs before you got here, but here you are . . ."

And so the fun begins. Mikey gets to work trashing some CDs, and we are transported to the famed Pallas pressing plant in Diepolz, Germany, where we learn how vinyl LPs are manufactured. It's a captivating, in-depth look at an extremely delicate and elaborate process: A lacquer is plated to produce a father; a father is plated to produce a mother; a mother is plated to produce a stamper. There is prying and spritzing and punching and trimming. There is sanding and heating and melting and pressing. A hot biscuit is deposited into the center of the stamper, sandwiched between paper labels, and is magically squished into Beggars Banquet. The process is no less remarkable than the more familiar act of dropping stylus into groove and being greeted by music.

From there, it's back to Mikey's listening room, where we learn just about everything there is to know about handling, cleaning, and storing our precious LPs. It is obvious that Mikey enjoys this sort of maintenance. He wants us to enjoy it, too, so that our collections can potentially grow to be just as large and varied, and last just as long, as his. He doesn't skimp on information; he begins, in fact, by showing us how to remove the record from its sleeve. We see a variety of sturdy record shelves, from the inexpensive IKEA Ivar to the more specialized Boltz racks. We see several record-cleaning machines in action, and we learn about different record-cleaning fluids and brushes. If you've ever wondered exactly how a record should be cleaned, It's a Vinyl World, After All will put your worries to rest. I wish I'd had this DVD a year ago! Early in my affair with vinyl, when I realized that I would, in fact, need to clean my records, I suffered many days of fear and frustration simply because I had no one to show me what to do. All I needed was to see a record being cleaned. It's a Vinyl World shows you that, and more.

Mikey is funny. His enthusiasm for vinyl is genuine and infectious. Perhaps my favorite scene of the DVD is "Record Collecting Gone Wild," a "long, bloviated take" on the fanaticism behind collecting. Mikey randomly selects dozens of LPs from his shelves, discusses the significance of each, and reveals his passion for schlocky, orchestral versions of rock records. His knowledge and experience are vast; it becomes clear that an entire DVD by him on the subject of record collecting would not only be possible, but would likely prove endlessly fascinating.

Mikey does ramble, though. Fortunately, the dude is charming as all get-out. While the scenes at the Pallas and RTI record-pressing plants are scripted, the scenes shot in Mikey's home are clearly off the cuff. He stutters, he stumbles, he makes mistakes (then cleverly corrects them), and makes fun of himself and of others, all in good fun. The result is part home movie, part PBS documentary, and all Mikey. It's a damn good time.

Besides the tours of Pallas and RTI, we also get to eavesdrop on an all-star lacquer-cutting session for Music Matters Blue Note; we join Mikey in interviews with Pallas's Holger Neumann and RTI's Don MacInnis (who was supposed to work at RTI for only three days—a temp job became a life's work); we flip through old photographs of EMI's UK pressing plant as Mikey provides entertaining commentary. And more: the DVD also includes a long PDF file with additional information about cleaning, collecting, and identifying your pressings—from matrix codes to label variations to mastering engineers to scribe marks.

You can buy Michael Fremer's It's a Vinyl World, After All from our secure e-commerce page for $30—a screaming bargain. Especially when you get a $10 discount if you also buy a copy of Mikey's first DVD, 21st Century Vinyl. Each DVD costs $30, but you can buy both for $49.99.

A warning, however: If you're like me, you'll get to the end of It's a Vinyl World, After All and, in a blind fit of inspiration, and despite the looming of daunting deadlines, you'll rush from your home to the nearest record shop, where you'll spend whatever money is in your pocket (Dammit!). You'll come home with copies of Miles Davis' Nefertiti, a Direct Metal Mastering (DMM) pressing of Coltrane's Blue Train, an MGM Stereo release of Dick Hyman with swanky cover art (and liner notes by Burt Bacharach, who, in his very first sentence, informs the reader that he does not look good in a bikini), and several other choice sides. You'll rush back home to clean the hell out of these new old records, and you'll feel damn good doing so.

I guess that's not much of a warning. It's more of an enticement, isn't it?

If you're a vinyl lover, I have no doubt that you'll be similarly inspired. If you're at all curious about LPs—their history, their sound, the processes of manufacturing and maintaining them—this DVD will set you well on your way to love. It seems that Mikey was right after all: It is a vinyl world.