The eleventh soundtrack LP to be released by Data Discs goes on sale Saturday 27th May (that’s tomorrow if you’re reading this article on the day it was published!). Info: www.data-discs.com
DATA011 has been announced as Gunstar Heroes - the complete soundtrack to Treasure’s acclaimed run-and-gun shooter. Newly remastered and available on vinyl for the first time, it looks set to be yet another hit for the London-based outfit.
Article by Darren Browne aka kingmonkey25
I caught up with Data Discs founder Jamie Crook to ask a few questions about the company themselves and what goes on behind the scenes…
Q. So who are Data Discs and how did the idea for the label come about?
We're lifelong record buyers and in 2014, it just seemed like there was glaring gap in the market, especially considering the proliferation of movie scores on vinyl in the preceding years. Specialist soundtrack labels such as Death Waltz had already paved the way for a venture such as ours, but I think the demand has always been there. For example, I remember discussing how suitable 'Streets of Rage' would be for a vinyl pressing about 10 years ago and I'm still astonished that no-one did it years before us. I guess in the end, we just got tired of waiting and decided to do it ourselves.
Q. What made you decide on vinyl over compact discs? Is there any particular philosophy behind the label?
To us, vinyl is anything but a “retro format”; it’s always been relevant and vital to the kinds of music we enjoy. As for our label philosophy, fundamentally we’re a record label and not a merchandise company, which is something we hope is reflected in our pricing and general ethos. We consider our records to be standalone albums, rather than nostalgic souvenirs or novelties, and we hope that people beyond the gaming community find them accessible and enjoyable. It’s just interesting, pioneering electronic music on a format that, besides being our favourite, also compliments the audio in new and interesting ways. In many ways, we’re a DIY label in the traditional sense. We just happen to focus on audio sourced from video games.
Q. What are the weirdest and most frustrating things that have happened in the label’s history?
We’ve found ourselves in some pretty unbelievable situations since we started, although I’m afraid I can’t share the details. Just general stuff… overseas meetings, having to deal with frustrating industry types etc.
Q. Can you talk us through the process of making a release? How many stages and people are involved?
We handle almost everything in-house, from licensing and product development, right through to order fulfilment. It’s our way our ensuring that everything we do is to the same standard that we’d like as buyers ourselves. Licensing is always complicated and every deal is different. My partner works in licensing for her day job, so knows her way around a contract. The audio is handled by my brother, who’s a professional sound engineer and we’re fortunate enough to have own our custom-built mixing/mastering studio here in London, which gives us the freedom to take as much time as needed over our releases. Audio can often be a large obstacle with this kind of material – there are obviously no “master tapes” and it’s usually a case of sourcing everything ourselves. As an example of our process, our Streets of Rage trilogy of releases started back in late-2014 as a series of emails to Sega of Japan and the composer, Yuzo Koshiro. At the time, there was no-one releasing this kind of material, but thankfully Sega were really open to the idea and supportive from the start. We settled on a mixture of sources for the final audio. Koshiro-san sent us the original NEC-PC88 files, which we then mixed with high resolution Mega Drive recordings. For the captures, we tap the audio at the chip and bypass the console’s inbuilt pre-amp, opting instead to use our own high quality pre-amps to reduce noise and bring the levels up. Then our general mastering duties involve taking care of the dynamic range and timings, phase incompatibilities and any problematic areas in the frequency range (often there are unpleasant sounds that you wouldn’t notice through a TV, but become distracting when played on a standalone hi-fi setup). We also make some creative choices to bring together the body of the sound and ensure that everything suits the vinyl format. For Streets of Rage 1 & 2 we chose the source material (whether to use the PC-88 files or the MD captures) on a track-by-track basis, depending on the specific requirements of each. Generally speaking, the PC-88 files were better for bass-heavy tracks, whereas the MD captures feature the distinctive characteristics of the Mega Drive’s YM2612 sound chip, which suits some more than others. We never try and just make everything as ‘clean’ as possible; there’s a fine balance to be made between clarity and the inherent noise of the chip. We tried numerous combinations to see which source selections worked best for the album as a whole (we did 20+ different mixes alone for SoR1). As always, we then ordered some test pressings which were subsequently rejected (it’s not unusual for us to go through three or four sets of test pressings per release). Once we were happy with the pressing quality, we went into full production and finally shipped to our customers (along with Sega and Koshiro-san, of course) and thankfully everyone seemed to enjoy it!
Q. How long does it take to get each album released?
Each release typically takes 6-8 months, but depends on the complexity of the rights situation, artwork sourcing and mastering time. Every release has its own issues and none of them have been straightforward so far. We have one that’s been in the works for over 18 months so far. How do you decide on what to release? We grew up playing games and have many favourites, but when it comes to curating our catalogue it’s predominantly based on the audio itself. We’re a record label above all else, so if the music is good, then we’re going to try and release it, even if it’s from an obscure franchise. Our own personal nostalgia plays very little part in the selection process.
Q. Do you get support or assistance from any of the Sega branches?
We primarily deal with the Japan office, however we did recently collaborate with the US office for an upcoming release. I think they’re starting to take more interest in what we’re doing now, which is good to see.
Q. Just how stressful is launch day for you?
Contrary to what some people might assume, we don’t have a Customer Service Department – it’s just a couple of us running everything. We have a pretty unique ordering system (using passwords based on time zone), so things tend to run very smoothly. The vast majority of our customers just pick up the records they want and move along, but it only takes a handful of issues to slow everything down. Thankfully, almost all interactions with our customers are overwhelmingly positive - they’re a lovely, supportive bunch and a pleasure to deal with. If you wish to purchase a copy of Gunstar Heroes or even some of their back catalogue, then head over to www.data-discs.com and be sure to register for their newsletter for updates on future releases!
Article by Darren Browne aka kingmonkey25