Never Records is a combination recording studio and record shop, all operating in one building. The sole proprietor, interior decorator, and engineer is New York-based artist Ted Riederer. Inspired by his own redemptive education at a young age inside the walls of a local record store in Rockville, Maryland as well as the field recording projects of Alan Lomax, Riederer devised his unique community art installation in the early part of this century and has been replicating it with regional variations throughout the world since 2010.
Performers from a locale sign up for recording sessions ahead of time, with no auditions necessary. Riederer usually offers three hour sessions, during which he mixes on the fly and cuts vinyl right in front of the artist’s eyes once both are satisfied with a particular take. The recordings are free to the artist, the sessions are open to the public, and you can’t buy anything you see. Ted hasn’t lowered prices by cutting out the middleman. He is the middleman. He is not a vertical operation; he is an elliptical one, a constant feedback loop supplying its own demand. Still, everyone takes something home, even if it’s the barest speck of record shop camaraderie inadvertently inhaled.
Within the walls of the Never Records shop, visitors can view a gallery of photographs and artwork from previous temporary establishments in the US and UK, as well as flip through stacks of vinyl representing the hundreds of solo folk artists, punk bands, storytellers, jazz groups, and noisicians who jumped at the chance for a free recording session. Black wooden bins hold a curated selection of records from the growing collection, but these aren’t for sale or even trade.
The artist or band is allowed to take their own copy home, and another is added to Riederer’s archives, as well as a digital copy. Riederer encourages bands to use the recording any way they want. There are no fees, royalties, or ownership issues.
“I walk them through the cutting process and show them their sound waves on a microscope. I consider this interaction the real performance of Never Records. The alchemy of cutting never fails to put a smile on participants’ faces. The machine is a new one made by these crazy but wonderful dudes in southern Germany. It is called a Vinyl Recorder and while it may not be able to compete with a $50,000 Neumann cabinet lathe, I can get pure, beautiful, hiss free recordings.”
Beyond the technical aspect of recording, his main job is to maintain the right conditions inside the shop for insecurity-free performances. The right conditions go beyond the gear and the Persian rugs covering the floors. The right conditions exist separately from the poster-covered walls or the fact that the distribution chain from studio to factory to anti-commercial outlet runs about twelve feet. The right conditions include Riederer’s ability to quickly ascertain a band’s influences and capabilities and the vast cross-genre knowledge that allows him to alter his recording methods for each artist. The right conditions have everything to do with musicians in eyesight of each other, no one isolated in a booth. Everyone experimenting without worry because the meter isn’t running on dead air, eating up the credit limit.
Never Records has a slogan. It is YOU ARE NOT LISTENING. Riederer explains, “A lot of people say that certain movements just need a voice. But it doesn’t matter if you have a voice if no one is fucking listening! You can have the most articulate voice, but if no one’s listening, it’s like the voice doesn’t matter. You gotta listen. Someone has to listen, and this process I take very seriously."
In a world where bands are judged on 30 second samples and MP3s are collected and traded like baseball cards with no thought to the hard work and personalities behind their creation, Never Records creates a physical reminder of what a virtual platform can never truly duplicate.
- Ryan Sparks, New Orleans 2013