Mark Piro has been a fixture in the downtown music scene for over 10 years as a record label employee (Razor & Tie Entertainment, Good Morning Monkey Records), and musician (The Shaker Pegs). Working his way up at Razor & Tie after finishing studies at NYU, Mark has transitioned from office work to studio work (including work on the platinum-selling Kidz Bop series) to a combination of office and studio work. With Mark at the helm, Razor & Tie recently launched the Analog Spark record label, an imprint intended for audiophiles.
Analog Spark launched last year with a reissue of The Sound Of Music on SACD and 180-gram vinyl, which was in collaboration with the soundtrack’s 50th anniversary. Its second announced release, coming out in August, is a vinyl release of The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Jazz Goes To College. As Analog Spark’s first two releases have little in common, readers should not be surprised that future planned releases will be of other genres – the common bond between Analog Spark reissues being their supreme audio, deluxe packaging and overall attention to detail.
Mark took the time to answer some questions about the West Village-based record label, also helping to clarify about what constitutes better audio quality.
What does a typical working day for you look like?
Mark Piro: A typical day involves staying on top of all of the current reissue projects I’m working on. Each title is in a different stage of production so I have to make sure each and every one is moving along. I see each project through from start to finish. Starting with clearing the title with the label, to working with their A&R person, to making sure we’re using the best audio sources, to approving test pressings and artwork — it’s a long process that has to take place before we get the finished product. In addition, I’m always researching new titles to reissue in order to try and stay ahead of the curve!
Given that you started with Razor & Tie years ago and then found your way into more of a studio and editing capacity, where did the idea for Analog Spark come from?
M: I’m an avid vinyl and CD collector, making weekly trips — okay, sometimes daily — to local record stores and I’m constantly doing research in order to find the best-sounding pressing of whatever album I’m looking for. Having been a fan of other audiophile labels and also having a great amount of music knowledge, I thought it made sense to pitch the idea of launching my own audiophile imprint to Razor & Tie. The label has a long history of well-regarded CD reissues and the owners share the same passion for this important historical music.
What are some of the record labels that inspired you to want to run a label of your own?
M: Mobile Fidelity, Analogue Productions and ORG set a very high standard of what an audiophile reissue should be. I hold Analog Spark to that same standard and try to make the best-sounding pressing of whatever album we are reissuing.
What was the first album you purchased with your own money?
M: [The Beatles’] Beatles For Sale
Who and/or what got you into vinyl?
M: There are home videos that exist of me at age three or four listening to The Monkees’ first album on my Fisher Price record player. I feel like that was the beginning of a long love affair with the vinyl format. In high school and college I bought CDs, but I also bought the vinyl for albums I really loved. I spent many hours at a record store near my high school where I discovered so many amazing albums and learned a great deal of information that is still valuable to what I’m doing today.
What is it about vinyl that makes you prefer it to the convenience of streaming or CDs?
M: I use streaming and CDs, but my preferred listening experience is vinyl. For me, vinyl provides an immersive experience. It makes you focus and engage with what you are listening to. You cannot just hit play and leave it in the background. It also allows you to experience the album as a complete thought, as the artist intended.
For someone unfamiliar with SACD technology, how does it compare to a regular CD?
M: A hybrid-SACD is a high-resolution CD that has two layers: a high-resolution layer that is playable in SACD players as well as some Blu-ray and DVD players, and a standard CD layer that is playable in all CD players. Some discs may also include a multi-channel layer if the album has a 3 channel, quad or 5.1 mix.
Assuming that the correct audio sources are used and it’s well-mastered, the high-resolution layer of the SACD should provide greater detail and sound better than a standard CD. Is there criteria as to what makes something a proper release for your label?
M: An ideal candidate for us is a great album that’s also well recorded. However with the current vinyl resurgence, there are many labels looking for similar albums. We hope our titles will stretch across eras and genres and bring light to artists and albums that have been overlooked thus far.
The Sound Of Music was the first release from Analog Spark. Did you ever worry that the release of a soundtrack could pigeonhole your label?
M: No, if anything, I think it brought a great awareness to the launch of the Analog Spark. The Sound Of Music soundtrack was always on my list of albums that we should reissue. It had never been reissued on vinyl in the U.S. since its original issue. That we were able to work on the 50th anniversary edition was an added bonus. It’s an iconic and wonderful-sounding record that is essential to American music, film and culture.
What looks ahead for the label in the coming months?
M: We have many exciting releases coming up including titles from The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Ben Folds Five, Laura Nyro and Kate Bush, among others. In addition, we are also working on a set of original cast recordings that were made during the Golden Age of Broadway musicals. These titles include West Side Story, My Fair Lady and Fiddler On The Roof. They have been cut direct from the original analog tapes and not only sound great, but also feature some of the most important songs of the 20th century.
When you’re not occupied with the label, what do you like to do yourself?
M: I love playing music and I am forever expanding upon my internal song bank. It also goes without saying that I spend a lot of my free time listening to and buying records. For me, the greatest reward that comes from my record buying habit is the discovery of a new song or album that I fall in love with, and that ends up becoming a part of my musical knowledge and dialogue.
Finally, Mark, any last words for the kids?
M: Don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like The Beatles.
-by Darren Paltrowitz