Mastering engineer Scott Sedillo has been at Bernie Grundman Mastering since 2001 and has worked on new U2 releases, as well as the band’s catalog reissues, since 2004.
“We’ve worked on almost everything U2 has released since that time,” says Sedillo. “It started off when U2’s long-time mastering team of Arnie Acosta and Cheryl Engels needed a new mastering studio to work in. Having previously worked at A&M Studios with some of our staff, we accommodated them here in one of our new mastering suites. I first joined the team as an assistant for Arnie because the amount of work and the pace at which U2 works can be quite a task. Over the years I started taking on more of the actual mastering, eventually mastering everything for them.”
U2 have been issuing new releases of older material on vinyl for a number of years. The Joshua Tree (1987), The Unforgettable Fire (1984), Boy (1980) and October (1981) were all kept in print after their release vinyl in the earlier remastering program. But many other titles went out of print over the years, and many have been difficult to find. As vinyl demand surged in recent years, a program was started to re-release U2’s catalog on vinyl.
“It’s all part of a re-issue campaign that U2 started in 2017 for Mastered for iTunes (MFiT) release.” Sedillo continues. “Although we had started re-mastering the catalog back in 2004, at that time the Mastered for iTunes format did not exist. Essentially, we go back and revisit album titles from the original master tapes and create the idealized captures for each particular medium. The vinyl reissues stemmed from my MFiT remasters with all lacquers cut by myself or with fellow BGM engineer Chris Bellman.”
One of the recent 2019 reissues is No Line On The Horizon (2009) on vinyl. “It’s the 10th anniversary of that album,” Sedillo explains, “so it was fitting for a nice new release, and a couple of bonus tracks were added. We were able to take advantage of the 10 years of advancement in technology, both in the digital and analog domains. Here at Bernie’s, we have a design staff (which I’m part of) with chief technician Beno May. We are constantly reevaluating and revisiting classic circuits, our analog tape machines, our line amps and the lay of the cutting system. If we discover a new way or an improvement that we can make to evolve our studio while pleasing both our engineers and clients, then we do it.”
Due to these advances in technology at Bernie’s, it is sometimes possible to capture more signal than was previously possible in the original record release. “Oftentimes,” Sedillo explains, “we can pull or extract information off of 50-year old tape that previously you couldn’t get because the noise floor was too high or the resolution was too low, even in the analog circuit. Although it may only be a 16-bit/44.1 kHz capture for CD, if the analog information that feeds the converter is more resolute, the overall project will be more resolute. Sometimes it’s a large amount; sometimes it’s small. But better is better, and it keeps our engines running trying to push the barriers of performance.”
The 10th Anniversary vinyl remastering of No Line On The Horizon is available in traditional black vinyl, but also as clear vinyl. “Cosmetically, it’s really beautiful, and sonically, it sounds good,” says Sedillo. “Novelty LPs, like picture discs or other kinds of crazy swirl patterns in vinyl, often suffer from high surface noise and distortion because of the coloring compound’s effect. But it’s nice to see that this clear vinyl and these other colored LPs maintain a good level of sonic performance. And you get a treat for the eye, as well.”
Sedillo explains why the vinyl reissue has two disks: “There is no fixed amount of time that you can cut onto a side. It’s determined by how loud you want to cut the level, the complexity of the frequencies in the mix, tempos and panning. It all adds up to a wild and chaotic algorithm for what you might cut on a side. It’s not like a CD, where you can put 74 minutes or 80 minutes on it every time. We could cut this album as a two-sided, single disc LP, but we would have to sacrifice something. We would have to lower the level quite a bit, or we might have to lower the bass because it’s almost 58 minutes long. That means each side would be around 29 minutes in length. That’s a long side.
“Rather than do that, we’ve broken the standard album into three sides, so that there are three or four songs on a side. That allows us to cut louder and it also allows us to cut more on the outside diameter of the disc where the velocity of the groove is faster. If the music is on the outside of an LP, you can think of it as having a higher sample rate than you have on the inside of the diameter, towards the label, where the speed is probably 40 percent slower. If you can keep the material on the outer two thirds or three quarters of the disc, that’s a much better sounding area than on the inner diameter. The trade-off is that people have to flip the discs a little bit more often, but they’re going to get better fidelity. On the fourth side, we put two bonus remixes from that album. So they got some extra music on there, as well.”
How involved in the mastering are the members of the band? “They’re very involved,” says Sedillo. “Often they aren’t actually here physically, because they’re touring or they’re in a studio, and they’re all over the world all the time doing their work. But everything goes back to them and I’ll receive comments or approvals, and nothing goes out that they haven’t approved. Sometimes it has to happen very quickly. I’ve had to master a single for them within an hour. It happens at all hours of the day and night, and the band is there ready to listen if there’s that kind of a deadline. They’re definitely involved.”
The discography of U2 consists of 14 studio albums, one live album, three compilation albums, 67 singles, and eight extended plays (EPs). Recent U2 titles remastered at Bernie Grundman Mastering include the No Line On The Horizon double LP on clear vinyl, Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me EP, The Joshua Tree – 30th Anniversary box set 4-CD and 7-LP gold vinyl, Zooropa double LP on blue vinyl, Achtung Baby double LP, and U2: The Europa EP, a new 3-track EP to celebrate this past Record Store Day on Saturday April 13, 2019.