Emil Berliner Studios in Berlin, Germany is where Sidney Claire Meyer cuts mostly classical and jazz and embraces her love of all analog projects. The origins of the studio date back to the early days of recording technology when Emil Berliner invented the gramophone and the gramophone record and they are one of the most renowned recording studios for analog and digital music production in the world. As head of the vinyl department, Sidney does most of the vinyl mastering and disc cutting, from digital and analog sources, as well as direct-to-disc recordings; but it doesn’t stop there, she also does QC and maintenance as a part of her day-to-day tasks.
When the pressure isn’t on to fill the shoes of those before her she says she spends her free time, “Cycling! But also going climbing with my boulder buddy, freelance recording and mixing engineer and an awesome woman in her own right, Nanni Johansson.” Also a self proclaimed foodie she loves trying out vegetarian and vegan restaurants around the city or going to classical music concerts, “…but I also enjoy the occasional pop, rock or jazz concert.”
How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?
Getting into the field of music in the broadest sense was always an appealing option, since I’d had classical music training from the age of 5. During my college years, I realized that I would prefer my career in the music industry to be more behind the scenes. Getting into audio engineering meant that I could be a creative but without the spotlight. I started as an intern at EBS and had a bit of a rough start to be honest – never having operated a tape machine before, I damaged a master tape within the first week. I eventually overcame the trauma of the experience and fell in love with all things analog. The studio manager Rainer Maillard, who is mainly a recording engineer and producer, became my mentor and taught me how to cut records. It immediately became clear that this was my passion and I feel like I’m living the absolute dream.
What is a day in the life like?
I’m not a morning person, so I only get up when I absolutely have to, which also means that I never have time to have breakfast at home, so I usually pack something small and get on my way to the studio. I bike to work whenever I can, there is something therapeutic about traveling the physical distance to and from work. EBS is a busy place, every day is different and I never fully know what’s coming. There is always some urgent project that comes in or I need to jump in elsewhere.
Next to the obvious tasks of mastering and cutting records, I see myself as a facilitator within the company, as communication is one of my greatest strengths. Besides me, there are 5 recording engineers working at the studio every day and usually an intern as well. We frequently have artists, producers or other audio professionals over, so it’s almost never quiet there, which can easily be distracting, but also very stimulating. Having company in the cutting room is something I really enjoy, which is why I offer attended cutting sessions as well.
In your opinion what has been your favorite / the coolest thing you’ve worked on?
It’s super difficult to pick one of the many cool projects that I got to work on. The direct-to-disc recording of Smetana’s Má vlast with the Bamberg Symphonic Orchestra that we made in 2019 definitely stands out. We brought our cutting equipment 250 mi. to Bamberg just for this recording. The most challenging project I’ve worked on (so far) has been a Mahler Complete Symphonies box set. The extreme dynamic range and playing times of Mahler’s music really put the media, the engineer and every single step of manufacturing to the test.
A more recent and very unique project is “The Original Source Series” that Rainer and I are working on for Deutsche Grammophon. We are making all analog transfers directly from DG’s original quadrophonic tapes from the 1970s. This is the first time the actual master tapes are being used as a source for the LP. We might be the only studio on the planet with a 1/2” 4 track preview head tape machine.
What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?
Initially, a huge challenge was that I did not grow up listening to records, so I needed to take a lot of time just listening in order to understand what the medium can do. And I mean basic stuff like what the general properties are, the limitations, what to expect in terms of noise, common errors etc. Also, developing a healthy amount of confidence in my skills as well as a self-image in which I am not an impostor took me a while.
Right now, the biggest challenge for me is perhaps managing expectations. Today’s listeners seem to have super high expectations in the product and mediating between client and manufacturer can be tricky. I’m still learning to be patient with myself and to acknowledge that errors can happen even to the most experienced engineer. I’m a perfectionist and like to get things exactly right on the first try.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?
It is a hands-on profession. Get in touch with a place that has a cutting lathe; this could be a dedicated cutting studio or a pressing plant with their own cutting equipment. It requires patience, care and precision, but it will be very rewarding.
For anyone wanting to read more about disc cutting, Larry Boden’s “Basic Disc Mastering” would be an obvious choice. I think it has been reprinted in 2022. There’s also a bunch of AES papers that go a lot more into detail.
Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?
I wouldn’t call myself a collector, even though I probably own more records than the average person does. For now, I find it difficult to switch off work mode, even when listening to a record at home. However, I think that there is something extremely satisfactory about the overall experience of the medium and it makes me deeply happy to know that people appreciate the magic of what the industry is capable of.
What types of things are happening in your industry / with vinyl that you’re excited or worried about? i.e. innovation, or trends you’re seeing.
The supply of lacquer discs is still something to worry about. Even though the situation seems to be kind of stable now, there is only one manufacturer left. Also, I really hope that we won’t be seeing any laser-cut ceramic stampers any time soon.
Otherwise, it’s just reassuring to see the constantly increasing demand for vinyl, which gives me hope that we will be making records for many more years. I love that an increasing number of smaller labels and independent artists are creating such fantastic products with great dedication and care.
Anything else you’d like to add; if not tell us what you’re listening to:
Huge fan of western classical music from the high and late romantic period. I find it so moving and extremely vivid, which makes me feel involved and immersed in it. Especially Mahler’s music I can really relate to, chills are guaranteed.