The Omega Man 2.0—Unlimited

The following producer’s note is new to the 2008 release of The Omega Man 2.0.

A CD Is Legend

Most record labels have an artist or title that defines their brand. For us it’s The Omega Man. It fits exactly into the soundtrack niche we wanted to fill at the outset of our series: a tuneful blend of avant-garde and pop from the peak of the Silver Age that was a Holy Grail to its followers—but still culty and little known by the general public. It was a natural choice for us to release because we were huge fans ourselves—we, personally, were desperate to hear the music away from the film. And it was an utter delight to spring upon soundtrack collectors in the early months of 2000—the kind of lovingly packaged soundtrack treasure we wanted to give the world.

The Omega Man has been a defining title for us behind the scenes as well: it was our first license with Warner Bros. and began a longstanding relationship that has continued for the majority of our catalog—film scores from the Warner Bros., historical M-G-M and RKO libaries. It’s safe to say that 70% of our titles have come from the groundwork of this initial release. We’re lucky ducks and we know it.

I usually avoid first-person writing in our liner notes but will break that tradition because of the exceptional and personal nature of this project. The Omega Man was one of my first-ever titles as primary CD producer and I worked hard to forge the relationship with Warner Bros. on several fronts: music licensing, artwork licensing, music research, master procurement and manufacturing. We have undertaken this historic (for us) second edition for sound business reasons—it will sell well—but also creative ones: I was never entirely satisfied with the original release. This may come as a surprise, because I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut, but the 2000 release was missing some organ overlays and I was always disappointed that a few tracks were not what they should be—and it was my fault in not communicating with the studio in order to find all of the elements.

In 1971 Warner Bros. was in its last days of recording film scores to dual sets of three-track stereo masters: one on 35mm magnetic film and a “backup” on ½″ tape. The 35mm units were used (physically cut up) to make the finished film soundtrack, and the ½″ units were kept as a safety copy. (Soon thereafter, the studio began to record film scores on 2″ 16-track multitrack tape; the 35mm and ½″ units were also made as a live mix, but the mulitracks were kept as an ultimate backup in case a cue needed to be remixed—but this only happened after The Omega Man.) From around 1964 to 1972, if a cue had a special solo that was best recorded on its own channel distinct from the orchestra—a “fourth channel” like a vocal, guitar (as in The Wild Bunch) or synthesizer organ (you see where this is going)—it was often recorded on its own monaural ¼″ tape, synched with the 35mm and ½″ units.

As a result, most of The Omega Man score has two sets of music masters with identical slate numbers. The main title, for example, is slated 7537-2, but actually exists as two pieces of tape: M705-7537-2, the three-track ½″ stereo left-center-right orchestra, and M778-7537-2, the monaural ¼″ master of the YC-30 and EX-42 organs. To get the “complete” master of all the instruments, you need to transfer both the ½″ and ¼″ tapes and synch them—best done nowadays on a computer using ProTools.

When we produced the 2000 CD of The Omega Man, I didn’t know any of this—I called Dan Wallin, the brilliant recording engineer, who kindly explained it, as did some longtime employees at Warner Bros. who recalled The Ancient Ways when presented with the physical evidence. (Among them were Jeff Harris, the studio’s music archivist, whose father, Don Harris, was the music editor on hundreds of Warner Bros. movies from this period.) So after a false start or two, the Warner Bros. sound department transferred the ½″ and the ¼″ tapes for The Omega Man—but one ¼″ tape was not available, containing the organ channel for three cues: 2M3 (“Needling Neville”), 6M2 (“Bad Medicine for Richie”) and 7M3/8M1 (“Zachary Makes His Move”). Maybe some of you noticed.

I’m getting upset just thinking about it again. Anyway, we put the CD out—and it sold like crazy. I don’t remember how long it took, but in a few years it sold out entirely. Good—except not so much for the people who still wanted a copy. This, I knew, was not a good situation: it may be flattering to have your product sell on eBay for hundreds of dollars, but that was money out of our pocket, not into it. The way I saw it, every time someone bought a used copy of The Omega Man for $100, that was $100 that did not go toward the purchase of other, lesser-known FSM CDs directly from us.

In addition, I personally had to listen to the voices of (and read the e-mails from) the nice people who practically begged for a copy. And—there are people out there who can attest to this—I literally gave away loose discs (without the packaging) that I had lying around. Eventually, I found some loose booklets and tray cards at the printers and packaged a box of copies and gave them away; we called it a “warehouse find” and asked customers to buy $200 in other FSM CDs in order to get the “free” Omega Man CD. Maybe we were exploiting a gray area (at the time, the license had technically expired), but I’ll tell you one thing: nobody complained. In fact, they ate it up.

Years pass—it is now 2007. I am no longer the ignorant 25-year-old who produced the first edition of The Omega Man missing some organ overlays. Indeed, I am now an ignorant 33-year-old, but I have learned a lot about producing film score CDs over the course of 150+ titles and two box sets. In particular, I’ve learned many of the tricks of the trade (and invented a few myself) in order to get around lost or damaged elements. Some of my hijinks include using acetates to restore the missing center channel in Some Came Running and exploiting the “pitch-and-time” function in ProTools to correct a number of scores that were digitally recorded at the wrong speed. (This is to say nothing of our CD of The Satan Bug: half stereo music and half mono music-and-effects, but again—nobody complained.) If only I could have another crack at The Omega Man, I thought, I could fix the nagging mistakes…maybe the “lost tape” really was lost, but I could get the organ part through some magic technique, like off of a monaural dubbing stem.

There was just one problem: I’d be making a liar of—myself. For years I had sworn we could not repress the Omega Man CD because our rights had expired. This was true. We do not make most of our CDs limited editions out of some diabolical plan to scare up sales (although it does help in that regard). Most of the scores we release—all of the ones recorded in Los Angeles (and this goes for other labels too)—were performed by American Federation of Musicians players and we have to pay the union “re-use fees” in order to issue the recordings on CD. In recent years the union has become highly cooperative in making discounted archival rates for vintage scores—but there is a cap on the number of units you can make: 3,000. Why 3,000? Because when this deal was hashed out in the early 1990s—essentially facilitating the last 15 years of film score CDs, and almost everything we have of vintage titles in our collections—the participants (who included Fox’s Nick Redman and the AFM’s Sue Collins) estimated that 3,000 was the generally accepted number of soundtrack collectors in the world.

So this was a real (as opposed to fake) impediment to reissuing The Omega Man. What did I do? I remembered the advice of several people in college: if you eventually, one day, ever want to go on a date with a woman, you have to ask. So I called my contact at the AFM: I asked if we could do a second run of 3,000, or maybe 2,000. They started to work up a quote but it was new territory and would involve running things up the flagpole. How long this might take, nobody knew.

Then I had a brainstorm. I knew the Omega Man orchestra was not particularly large: I asked what it would cost if I just paid the reuse as if I was a “real” record company—not using the archival rate, but paying the full price (actually, a percentage thereof, as the union’s standard rates have gone down in recent years). And what do you know? It wasn’t that much more money than what a “second archival pressing” (which doesn’t yet exist) would have cost. Those folks in college were right.

So I picked up the phone (er, e-mail) and made another call: I asked Warner Bros. if I could renew our license. They said yes. (We love Warner Bros.) I asked the archivists at Warner Bros. if they could find the missing organ tapes. The answer was maybe. The studio did find the correct organ solos that overlaid onto “Surprise Party” and “After the Ball” (track 3)—this was not even the fourth channel but a separate “fifth channel” overlay added a week later in 1971. (I don’t even want to explain what we used on the 2000 CD. Get me drunk at a party and I’ll tell you.)

Now, the missing tape. To make a long story short—they found it. Where was it? Probably in the archives all along. But the only finger I have to point is at myself—for not knowing who and how to ask. It can be easy to grouse about missing masters but one of the archivists at Warner Bros. put it in perspective to me once on the phone: you are asking, he said, for a piece of tape from a movie made decades ago, owned by a multinational corporation with thousands of employees, one of the largest media companies in the world, that has gone through numerous changes in ownership and management. And almost all of the time, when you ask for a piece of tape, someone looks in a computer, goes “there it is,” and you have it a few days later. So, if once in a while something can’t be found right away—or even at all—consider yourself way ahead of the game.

He was right. Honestly, in your own life—do you know where everything is? What lurks in the attic or basement? If someone asked me for my high school diploma, I have no idea where it is. I remember I got one. Anyway…we got the missing Omega Man reel, we redid the master completely, and eight years later, this “2.0—Unlimited” version of The Omega Man is exactly as it should be. Is it gratifying? YES!

One wildcard remains: what will people think when we ask them to buy The Omega Man all over again? Actually I know the first thing they’ll ask, and it will have nothing to do with The Omega Man: they’ll ask when we will reissue our other out-of-print titles like The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure. The answer is, not anytime soon. Those scores involve much larger orchestras and studio relationships that are no longer active for us.

In order to maintain the collectability of the original edition of The Omega Man I wanted to package the second edition without our exhaustive liner notes—instead printing them here, online. That way everybody can read them, yet the first edition remains special. (The first edition is also the only place you can find the bonus track of the children singing, conducted by Grainer.) I also thought it would be cool, for a change, to package the second edition almost like a rock record and not an archival soundtrack, with minimal packaging…like the old days when soundtrack packages had almost nothing in them and yet you were grateful just to have them. As always Joe Sikoryak, our fearless art director, obliged. You be the judge whether or not it’s a worthwhile exercise in nostalgia.

The lessons of The Omega Man are many. One that hardly needs repeating is that this is the incredibly cool music. Who knows where Ron Grainer got this particular collection of melodies for an apocalyptic sci-fi Charlton Heston film—it sounds like the best-ever version of this era of British jazz-rock mood music—but it’s like he stumbled onto the mother lode of melodic kernels of that time and that place. To be able to extract this music from the film and put it on a CD for the world to enjoy feels like capturing lightning in a bottle.

For me, personally, The Omega Man is a lesson in perseverance, creativity and hard work—it just won’t die. The mistakes of the 2000 CD haunted me for several years, but it offered a chance for redemption. It’s a lot like life in that way: it keeps going, whether you want it to or not, and you can either roll over and sulk or you can rise to the challenge, fix your mistakes and stay on top of it. And when the problems are too big for you to manage yourself, you can reach out and ask your fellow man (I’d say women too, but this is a film music site) for help. Privately, I asked the folks at Warner Bros. and the AFM, and publicly, I ask you, our loyal listeners, to understand the story behind the two editions. I wish I had produced the CD better in the first place, and I wish it had been continually available, but better late than never. At least I hope, after reading this essay, you appreciate the journey that got us to this point. But whether you are confused, intrigued, satisfied or whatever: listen to the music, you’ll feel better. —