Monday, November 29, 2021

BBC Progress and Plans

If you've been following this blog lately, you've probably noticed I've been posting a lot of BBC sessions albums. That's all part of a big project I'm doing. I've explained a little bit here and there, but let me explain my plans in full.

BBC recordings are a great treasure in general, due to their consistently high sound quality. But the 1960s and early 1970s BBC recordings are the greatest treasure of all in my opinion, both because there was so much good much in those years, and because BBC sessions are often the best sounding recordings we have of many musical artists, other than their officially released albums and singles. In fact, in many cases, those are the only other known recordings, period. And not only are all the BBC versions different performances than the studio versions, but many artists played songs for the BBC that they never otherwise recorded at all.

Despite this, the BBC recordings of many artists from that era have never been released. Or, if they have been, they're often incomplete, poorly organized, and/or not at the best sound quality. Furthermore, many such albums have gone out of print, or are very hard to find.

On top of all that, up until about 1970 or 1971, many BBC DJs had the annoying habit of talking over the starts and endings of the songs they were playing. Well, some people like that for the period charm, but it's highly annoying to me. I wouldn't mind so much if there were alternate versions without the DJ talking, but that's almost never the case.

Since I started this blog in 2018, I tried to fix this DJ banter problem with the limited means I had at the time. Mostly, that meant editing the songs by patching in repeated instrumental sections from later in the songs, or sometimes even patching in sections from the non-BBC studio versions. But this was a non-ideal band-aid at best.

Happily, about a year ago, audio editing programs like Spleeter and X-Minus started to emerge. Taking advantage of new AI (artificial intelligence) technology, these programs can split songs into different instruments in ways I'd never dreamed possible before. Using these programs, I found I could almost always completely wipe the BBC DJ talk while leaving the underlying music.

Thus, I've set myself the task of fixing all the important BBC recordings from the 1960s and early 1970s that have this DJ banter problem. That has meant going back to the original sources and redoing all the songs I'd already posted here. While I was at it, I also fixed the volume balance between songs, and changed the way I do the mp3 tags. On the last point, people have complained that I've included all the source info in the album title tags. So, if you're using iTunes or other similar programs, the programs often get confused and treat that as a bunch of albums instead of just one. So I'm putting just the album title in that spot, and moving the rest of the source information to the comments tag.

Fixing the volume balance and mp3 tags has been something I've been working on in general for a few months. It's a slow process, because I've posted over 1,500 albums here, and most have needed fixing. But for all the artists where I've fixed their BBC recordings recently, I've fixed the volume balance and mp3 tags for ALL the albums of theirs I've posted here, not just the BBC ones. If that means something to you, you might want to redownload those.

Here's a list of all the artists where I've fixed their BBC recordings (and volume balance and mp3 tags in general) in recent weeks. I've done a lot of this without announcing it anywhere, but hopefully anyone interested will find out from reading this, now:

Bluesbreakers
David Bowie
Cream
Spencer Davis Group
Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the Trinity
Easybeats
Faces
Fairport Convention
Marianne Faithfull
Fleetwood Mac
Herman's Hermits
Hollies
Elton John
Kinks
Love Sculpture
Lulu
Manfred Mann
Mindbenders
Moody Blues
Pink Floyd
Pretty Things
Small Faces
Dusty Springfield
Cat Stevens
Traffic
Troggs
Yardbirds
Zombies

That's a lot, including many big names with lots of albums. But there's even more to go. Here are the artists that I'm currently working on fixing (I'm happy to say, my musical friend Lilpanda is working on fixing some of these instead of me):

Animals
Badfinger
Jeff Beck Group
Brinsley Schwarz
Joe Cocker
Leonard Cohen
Deep Purple
Donovan
Bobbie Gentry
Jimi Hendrix
Honeybus
Idle Race
Led Zeppelin
Marmalade
Move
Nice
Rolling Stones
Al Stewart
Richard and Linda Thompson
Tomorrow
Who

Most of those are ones I've posted already, and those are my first priority. But some are new, such as Deep Purple, Donovan, the Nice, the Idle Race, Al Stewart, and Tomorrow.

Finally, there's an even longer list of artists who have BBC recordings from the time period I'm focusing on. I may or may not fix and post their BBC material. Some of these I don't like, or I only like a little, but I would consider fixing anyway because this DJ talking problem is so annoying and nobody else seems to be working on it, aside from Lilpanda and myself. Frankly, I don't know how many of these I'll get to before my enthusiasm for this project may run out. So if you feel strongly about getting some of these fixed, please let me know which ones. 

And if there are any artists you think I've missed, please let me know that too. Keep in mind that just because an artist put out music from the right time period, that doesn't mean they have BBC sessions. These were mostly limited to British artists, and some just didn't promote themselves through the BBC for whatever reason, or they only had one or two sessions, or the sessions were lost, etc... That said, I'm sure I missed some key ones here and there, because I don't know of any definitive list to consult.

Like the other lists above, this is in rough alphabetical order:

Amen Corner
Kevin Ayers
Syd Barrett
Beatles
Captain Beefheart
Bee Gees
Alan Bown
Blodwyn Pig
Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band
Arthur Brown
Sandy Denny
Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera
Georgie Fame
Marc Bolan / T. Rex
Caravan
Dr. Feelgood
Episode Six
Everly Brothers
Family
Free
Genesis
Grapefruit
Herd
Mary Hopkin
Humble Pie
Kaleidoscope
John Mayall (non Clapton eras)
Mott the Hoople
Harry Nilsson
Patto
Pentangle
Procol Harum
Queen
Roxy Music
Savoy Brown
Searchers
Seekers
Simon and Garfunkel
Soft Machine
Spooky Tooth
Bridget St. John
Status Quo
Steampacket
Sweet
Taste
Ten Years After
Them
Tir Na Nog
Tremeloes
Scott Walker
Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band
Yes

Thanks for any and all feedback. I'll update this list and/or repost it if there are significant changes.

37 comments:

  1. That is a lot of effort and knowledge invested, greatly appreciated. It is so important to preserve this part of music history.

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  2. Before they became famous with "Crime Of The Century", Supertramp did many BBC Sessions. Most are unlistenable recording-wise but occasionally I've heard great ones. I would hope you'd check out the early music from this great band.

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    1. I didn't even know Supertramp did BBC sessions. I'll have to check that out. Thanks for the suggestion.

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  3. Thanks so much for this generous gift. It is simply beyond words...

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  4. Please please share the Everly Brothers!

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    1. That should be an easy one to do. Although they're American, I think they did three BBC sessions in the 1960s.

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  5. Lots of great stuff to look forward to - thanks for this. One name missing from the list is Kevin Coyne.

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  6. I wasn't hip to BBC Recordings originally, didn't see the point. Maybe it was, as you said the powers that be used inferior versions. I have grabbed a few of your posts, they are fantastic. Thanks for your hard work.

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  7. Thanks for all the hard work, much appreciated !

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  8. Thanks a lot. Much appreciated 🎸🎸🎸

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  9. Hi. A monumental task. I'd be happy to help. I'm a very adept techno geek but couldn't understand how to get Spleeter installed. With your excellent way of explaining technical information in a logical and meaningful step by step way. I wonder if you would publish a guide on installing Spleeter? I will pick up how to use the software easily enough. Thanks for the music.
    I vote for any Syd Barrett material or Nick Drake. Both are rare Peel sessions but sound very muddy, the vocals being somewhat buried. These artists have very few recordings so fans really appreciate a change in quality.
    I'm trying to say the rarer the artists catalogue, the greater the interest so that might be a criteria?
    Thanks

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    1. Thanks for the offer to help. Spleeter can be tricky. But for this BBC talking stuff, I'm using X-Minus nearly all the time. If you want to help, you could use that.

      https://x-minus.pro/ai?hp

      Here's what you need to do. First, find a high quality version of some BBC stuff. Preferably .flac or .wav format. Then use X-Minus to split the vocals from the music. You'll want to use these settings generally:

      stems: instruments and vocals
      AI model: mdx
      aggressiveness: high

      That should work for most songs. But sometimes little traces of the talking will remain. In that case, the AI model "uvr" could be tried. The sound quality isn't as good, but it's better at thoroughly splitting the vocals from the music.

      You might start giving that a try with Syd Barrett or Nick Drake. Once you have the files split, you can experiment with raising the vocals if you think that's needed. Or you can send the files to me, and I can do it.

      But just the process of splitting files is laborious and it would be a big help to me if you (or someone else) could do it.

      By the way, when it comes to Spleeter, I generally only use that if I want to split the music in some way, 'cos it does that and X-Minus does not. But X-Minus is better at splitting the vocals from the music.

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    2. Thanks Paul for the information and settings guide.
      X-minus pro sounds straight forward enough. I will have a look at some audio files and it will become clear if I'm capable at such audio edits. I know many elements are personal choice but I have said many times I like your approach and 'ear' for balance and choice of edits. Over talking of DJs and loud audience are a key bug bear of mine. Sounds fun.

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    3. I see, there's different content behind paywalls. Still I will experiment.

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    4. Oh yeah, I forgot about the paywall thing. It probably would be good if you paid their fee. That's what I did.

      Good luck fixing. Maybe you can think of other things to fix too. Let me know if you want my email address, so you can send me stuff.

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    5. Now that I'm back from vacation, have you done anything with this?

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  10. Firstly, thanks to you and Lipanda for taking this project on. As you say,these BBC recordings are a treasure trove and although much stuff has found a home as bonus tracks on expanded CD versions of existing albums, there is much that remains untouched due to DJ babble over the intros and finales of songs. I would endorse what the previous poster said about early Supertramp, who were a terrific (and arguably better) band long before they found fame and fortune. In addition, from your list, I would specifically nominate Caravan, John Mayall (non Clapton eras) and Yes, though most of the ones you mention would be of interest. Again, thanks so much for all that you do.

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    1. I'll take a look at those when I have time. Thanks.

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  11. This is one of my favorite sites

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  12. Well, that's a big task. I look forward to The Kinks recordings without the DJ.

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  13. Obrigado por compartilhar essas raridades!!!

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  14. I just noticed that Roy Harper is not on your list. He has several albums of his BBC recordings available from his website.

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  15. I keep thinking of more names: Terry Reid, Linda Lewis. It would be nice to see some of the under-appreciated singers of the time given some recognition ahead of the superstars, who often already have official BBC releases. And when you're looking for sources, apart from the obvious radio shows, the Old Grey Whistle Test TV show featured many of those on your lists.

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  16. Awsome work as always! Congratulations. Many many thanks.

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  17. I love all this stuff you are doing, but I'm just so disappointed that the end result is in mp3. I can really hear the difference. I have your stuff on my Sony Walkman Hi-Res player, and there really is a dip in sound quality when your files play when I have shuffle mode going. And I'm a bootleg listener. I can adjust to bootleg quality recordings. But I can really hear the difference on my player when an mp3 files is played. They are absolutely lifeless. Now maybe many other people don't know the difference or can't tell. That's their experience and that's fine. But I'm just so disappointed when I have shuffle mode on and one of these files are playing and it sounds just dead and lifeless. I wish you could provide FLAC files on Filefactory, Turbobit, since I have long term subscriptions with them, or even MEGA. I've shared online for 20 years, always, always, always lossless. First SHN, then FLAC. You do so much wonderful work, and it's work to be very proud of, but to present the final product in mp3 is disheartening. I'm hoping you've kept FLAC copies and decide to upload them somewhere. This would be my favorite place if you did that. But for now I only check in once or twice a year. Then when I listen I realize, or yeah, that's why I don't spend time here. Please don't be offended. I'm just giving you my experience and hoping you can share lossless files somewhere. Thanks for all of your hard work.

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    1. Thanks for the feedback. I'm afraid it's all in mp3 and there's no flac versions I'm holding back. About hearing the difference, I wonder if that's simply a volume issue. My files are usually quieter than most.

      If you can hear the difference between 320 mp3 and lossless, you're a better person than I. Studies show that very few people can, unless they're listening with headphones through a high quality stereo system.

      That said, if you or anyone else wants to make flac versions of any of the albums I post here, I would be happy to post links to those. (But of course one would have to go back to the original sources to make them.)

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    2. Hey, thanks for the reply. Yea, volume is the issue. And I'm not from the "louder is better" line of thinking. I do a lot of my own stuff. I like ripping audio from video and listening to it on my Walkman. I do bootleg vinyl rips, and I speed correct old concert tapes and stuff like that. I amplify to -0.3 in Audacity. I don't even do -0.0. I like to leave a little breathing room. The problem when listening on the Walkman is if I have it in my pocket or if I have gloves on, then I have to take the gloves off or take it out of my pocket and adjust the volume. That's when I notice it's bothersome. I realized a while back I can recreate these things myself, but I have my own little projects that I put out into the world. And I have all I want in one form or another. It's just a matter of arranging it so as you do. Thanks.

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    3. If that's the problem and you like a particular album I post here, just edit the songs to get the volume to exactly where you want it. It only takes a few minutes per album. (And by the way, the volume level I use is the recommended, default level used by the program Mp3Gain.)

      On a different note, you mentioned you rip audio from video. If you know of some good stuff like that that you think I should post on my blog, please let me know. I've noticed a lot of great music that doesn't get heard much as bootlegs because it's only on video.

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    4. You probably know all the spots. G101, TUBE, Russian Tracker, Dime, TTD. I got a lot of stuff from Netflix through the mail. Three sets of 8 double layer dvd's from Beat Club are out on the Russian Tracker. I ripped most of that. There's a Yes collection of Beat Club and Musiklaiden cover Time And A Word and The Yes Album. Clapton's Old Grey Whistle Test from 1977 I think. All the Sight And Sound stuff, Rock Goes To College, Rockpalast, Old Grey Whistle Test. French TV Archives which are online with shows called POP2 and Chorus. Soundstage and other shows like that. I can't think of the names of them offhand. I'm sure you know them all though. The Who Kilburn is a good one.

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    5. I generally know the sources you speak of, but there's so much there that I haven't waded through a lot of it. I guess what I was really asking was are there any particular shows that you feel are stellar and/or underappreciated that you think I should post at my blog?

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    6. I have no recommendations. Whatever your taste is I guess. There's just so much out there.

      I just checked on a couple of titles you posted, and I have some conclusions and some thoughts.

      I checked on the level of amplification on the following titles using Audacity.

      Elton John - 1972-1974 BBC Sessions, Volume 4
      CSNY - Human Highway
      Bob Dylan - Tomorrow Is A Long Time
      Cream - 1969 Goodbye

      The Cream title looks fine. If you want to get to the peak amplitude 0.0db, then you have to add 0.275. I like to stay at -0.3, but many people go to 0.0. So 0.275 is fine for me.

      The Elton John titles needs 3.328db added to get to 0.0, so that's kind of low. You can add 3db to that.

      The Dylan title needs 5.25db added to get to 0.0db, so that's even lower in volume.

      The CSNY title has some clipping on one of the tracks, Prison Song, which means that track has distortion from being too loud. And if you're trying to amplify the rest of the tracks on that set, they're not going to be amplified because you have one track that's more than peaked out. Without Prison Song, it needs -0.1 added to reach 0.0db

      This gets difficult when you're pulling different sources together. CD's are mastered to be a singular unit. So trying to match up the sound from one cd to another gets real tricky. It's not just a matter of amplification, and it's beyond my knowledge base. It gets to the mastering process. I would start with getting all of the source discs to one level one at a time. Say if you're pulling from 3 different discs, take them one at a time and get them to 0.0db. Then when you pull the sources together, get the final product to 0.0db or -0.3 which is my preference. Whatever works. But when you have one title that you need to add 5.25db to get to 0.0, and another that needs 3.50 to get to 0.0db, then the process you're using isn't working out the best that it can. I guess I'll check each title out before I put it on my Walkman and add whatever I need to to get it to -0.3db. I'll add 5db to the Dylan, and 3db to Elton and hopefully that'll do the trick.

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  18. This is a very big and rewarding task!!
    I am happy that you put the sources in the comment section. If you don't do that all kinds of programs cannot see the the album as a whole. I already used mp3tag to do just that.
    This is a small thing compared to the load of work you have to do to arrive at the nice albums.
    So thank you, also for the covers (I put them -smaller- in the files with mp3tag).

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  19. Jethro Tull seems to be conspicuously absent with regard to BBC recordings as well as "various songs" postings.

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    1. That's a good point. I'll put them on my list.

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