This is a much needed update of a post that first appeared in Buzzsonic.com (way back in March of 2008!).
I’ve updated the links and information to bring things bang up to date. I thought it was worth reviving, simply because there is a massive renaissance in interest (and sales) in vinyl records, a format virtually killed off by major record labels in their crude attempts to get us to buy everything again on CD.
“Vinyl sales are at their highest level for 15 years, according to figures from the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) and the Official Charts Company.
Just over 780,000 vinyl albums were sold in 2013 – the largest number since 817,000 were sold in 1997. The 2013 figure also constitutes a 101 per cent rise on 2012 sales.” (The Telegraph)
Now that we’re swamped by a billion and one MP3 downloads from a bazillion bands, there’s a absence of scarcity, fans with musical ADD and bands are having to get increasingly creative to even get five minutes of attention (let alone that Warholian 15!).
The Ease of Digital Distribution
OK then, its nothing short of amazing that today, theoretically you can easily have your music on sale, Worldwide in the biggest music retail store on the planet. Without a tour, without a manager and even without a record deal. You can be based in Brighton, UK and someone in Alaska or Australia or Russia (or wherever) can download your music without leaving the house. You don’t have to leave the house to get it on sale either.
Also, if you signed up with a good distributor, you could be keeping around 80% of the retail price too (assuming you’re working as an independent). Compare that to the old school record label deal where you’d be lucky to get 15%.
99th Floor Elevators
I must admit, when I first saw my music on sale on the iTunes store it was exciting, as it was another ‘career landmark’ for me, but as music career landmarks went it really was no comparison to the day I walked into the Virgin Megastore (RIP) on Oxford Street, London, the day of its release in 1996 when the original version of the 99th Floor Elevators ‘I’ll Be There‘, went on sale.
There it was, prominently displayed in a rack with all the other big 12 inch releases of the week and there it was in the big HMV just up the road too. More importantly to me, there it was in stock and in the top 10 buzz chart in Trax Records in Soho, ten minutes walk away from the hustle of the London’s West End. A few days later ‘I’ll Be There’ had gatecrashed the national UK pop and dance charts.
I used to spend a lot of money in dance music specialist Trax Records back in the days in the late 80s when I had to travel 160 miles by coach from my home in South Yorkshire to seek out those elusive Euro imports and Belgian New Beat gems that only Trax had.
Making A Difference
And that is the point of this article. In a world where you don’t even have to leave the house to get the latest 12 inch remix or latest indie release or even pay for music anymore, how do you as an artist make a difference when everybody is a digital record label and everybody can sit next to Elton John and the Beatles on the virtual record shelf?
“It’s been well documented in recent years that vinyl sales are on the rise, but who is buying the shiny black discs, and can the antiquated format really be sustained in a digital world?” ‘Why Wont Vinyl Die?’ (Sabotage Times)
The New Vinyl Phenomenon
“This year’s Record Store Day was the UK’s biggest yet, racking up 30% more album sales than during 2013’s event. 245 British shops participated in the sales bonanza on 19 April, which saw particularly good results for the Pixies, David Bowie and Tame Impala” (The Guardian)
Pie And Vinyl Documentary
So, there’s no vinyl pressing plants left anyway right? Very wrong. There’s a handful of pressing plants across the USA, UK and Europe, manufacturers in Australia, Japan and Russia and others dotted around the rest of the world.
“While sales only account for a small percentage of the overall market, vinyl sales are growing fast as a new generation discovers the magic of 12 inch artwork, liner notes and the unique sound of analogue records, often accompanied by a download code for mp3s.” (Daily Mail Oct 2013)
Pressing up a release on vinyl is undoubtedly more expensive than CD but as a limited run single or album its more of an event and even a great PR exercise. Kickstarter and other crowdfunding outlets have also proved to an invaluable source of funding for hard up bands planning deluxe vinyl pressing runs.
“On a day-to-day basis, Music Review receives 10 – 30 digital download codes/links a day. That’s in the region of 300 – 900 albums a month. That’s too much music for our small team to meaningfully listen to. With the advent of technology, just about anyone can release an album nowadays, but when it comes to vinyl, the story is very different. Unlike the digital revolution, there are fairly large barriers of entry to get a vinyl pressed, which means that only the most serious and only the most in-demand would consider it as a pursuit.”(MusicReview.co.za)
Sculpting Sound:The Art of Vinyl Mastering
The Vinyl Pressing Process:From Studio Master to Plastic Disc
Creating a record is a complex process, but essentially breaks down into six separate steps.
1. Mastering: A mastered CD is brought to a vinyl press. Two main changes must occur to begin the process of audio mastering, tonal balancing and level adjustment.
2. Cutting: Once the mastered version is finished, the track will be cut into lacquer. A digitally created track will be converted into an analogue wave for the cutting lathe. Transferred through an amplifier, the wave travels down the arm of a diamond-cutting stylus and onto a rotating lacquer disc.
3. Stampers: The lacquer or vinyl master is delivered to the pressing plant. The plant completes the following steps:
- The vinyl master is covered with a thin spray and dipped in a bath of electrolyte. A current is passed through the solution and the silver-sprayed lacquer becomes coated in nickel which creates a negative image of the vinyl.
- A second generation negative is created and the nickel plate is peeled from this lacquer to become the stamper. The stamper represents a negative image of one side of the vinyl.
- Two stampers are needed to press up both an A and B sided record.
4. Test Pressings: With both stampers in place, a “puck” of vinyl is introduced into the press. Two labels are placed above and below the puck and the press is closed. In order to flow seamlessly into the grooves of the stamper, the vinyl is heated up to 200 C.
It is then rapidly cooled so that the vinyl can be immediately lifted out of the press. This whole process takes approximately 25 seconds. Normally, a short pressing of 10 copies is made first. These “test pressings” are sent to the record label for approval.
5. Labels: Many people are under the misconception that a “white label” is much cheaper than producing a professionally designed four-colour label. The real expense, however, comes from having the label incorporated into the vinyl. The colour of the label really makes no difference in this process.
6. Artwork: Image is key in almost every industry, making the music industry no exception. Great consideration should go into the label and its packaging, as well as the marketing accompanying its promotional push.
- 7″ – 4:30 minutes per side @ 45 rpm; 6:00 minutes per side @ 33 1/3 rpm
- 10″ – 9:00 minutes per side @ 45 rpm; 12:00 minutes per side @ 33 1/3 rpm
- 12″ – 12:00 minutes per side @ 45 rpm; 18:00 minutes per side @ 33 1/3 rpm
The Dying Art Of Pressing Vinyl Records
Some pressing plants, like United Records Pressings in Nashville are offering vinyl + digital package deals which includes a secure digital music hosting service, custom digital download coupons with unique one-time-use codes, packaged together. With the popularity of new USB turntables kids can plug their vinyl straight into their computer and rip to MP3 anyway.
Jack White’s Third Man Records Tour United Records Pressings Nashville
If you’re looking for a vinyl pressing quote do take into account that there is a huge amount of variables/possibles (quantity, vinyl size, coloured vinyl, artwork) and generally speaking, the more you have pressed the cheaper the amount per unit. Also, if you need a repress then you wont have the expense of having plates to make up. Disc cutting and processing (metalwork) is the biggest single outlay in the whole process.
If you know what you’re doing, then dealing directly with the pressing plant of your choice is the way to go. If you’re a complete newbie, then using a third party broker – who may well cost a bit more- but who takes care of every part of the process , including dealing with the pressing plant, makes a lot of sense.
As for vinyl distribution, well for these short runs a band/artist or DJ would be better served selling discs at gigs and via mail order using TopSpin and Bandcamp and using Paypal on their own website. There’s also other mail order options like CDBaby and Hifidelics and mail order behemoth Amazon.
Such is the fragile nature of the vinyl distribution business that many of the once thriving vinyl specialists have disappeared, leaving a narrow selection of ultra niche companies and major label offshoots.
If you have a release in Florida you don’t want to be trusting your stock with a distributor thousands of miles away in California. DIY for short runs. Vinyl record mailers you can get here or here in the USA. Here and here in the UK.
“The Nashville-based United Record Pressing will nearly double the volume of records it’s able to create, which it currently does 24 hours a day, six days a week to the tune of 30-40,000 pieces of vinyl per day. The company will bring 16 new presses online, some they had already and some purchased from shuttered competitors, by the end of the year.
The move is illustrates the success of vinyl in recent years — 76.2 million units in overall sales so far this year — which has exploded in the wake of Record Store Day, launched in 2007.” (Billboard May 2014)
If you want to see what your tracks would sound like on vinyl you can get a one off 7″ cut for around $50 from Custom Records (in the US), who’ll even go as far as pressing it in colour vinyl and giving it a picture sleeve for an extra $58. In Europe you can find these ‘lathe cuts’ at Dr Dub in Austria and Dub Studio in Bristol. There are a few more, including legendary lathe cutter Peter King in New Zealand.
Pressing Plants and Vinyl Brokers
With many, many thanks to all at ‘The Secret Society of Lathe Trolls’ which has proven to be an incredible resource for anything to do with vinyl pressings, manufacturing, mastering and anything remotely related!
Archer Record Pressing – Detroit, Michigan
Quality Record Pressings – Salina, Kansas
Erika Records – Downey, California
United Record Pressing – Nashville,Tennessee
Morphius – Baltimore, Maryland
Alpha Record Services – Plantation, Florida
RecordPressing.com – San Fransisco, California
Trutone – New Jersey, NJ
Record Tech Inc – Camarillo, California
Bill Smith Custom Records – El Segundo, California
Musicol Recording – Columbus, Ohio
Furnace MFG – Fairfax, Virginia (Broker)
Tail Records – Sweden
Vic-Tone Records – Sweden
Key Production – London, UK (Broker)
Curved Pressings – London, UK
Sound Performance – London, UK (Broker)
Phoenix Of Vinyl – London, UK
The Vinyl Factory – London, UK
JTS Studio – London, UK (Broker)
Vinyl Records – Russia
Magnetic Mastering – France
My45 – Germany
Optimal Media – Germany
Celebrate Records – Germany
Rand Muzik – Germany
Flight 13 Duplication – Germany
MPO – France
Record Industry – Netherlands
Foon Vinyl – Netherlands
GZ Vinyl – Czech Republic
Related Reading On Vinyl Pressings & the Vinyl Revival
Worldwide Vinyl Pressing Plants (Mono Equipped)
The Truth About Selling Vinyl; Independents React to Amazon’s 745% Rise in Record Sales (TheVinylFactory.com)
Music Industry Survival Guide:Everything You Need to Know About Vinyl (Tunecore) PDF
Vinyl Revival Continues as LP Sales Reach Highest Level In More Than A Decade (BPI)
The Baffling Revival of the Vinyl LP (TheWeek.com)
Vinyl Frontier: The Music-lovers Behind London’s Big Record Revival (London Evening Standard)
The Vinyl Revival:From The Frontline (Clash Music)
75 Percent of Topspin’s Sales Are Physical (DigitalMusicNews)
The Secret Society of Lathe Trolls (Lathe Trolls Forum)
The Rebirth of Cool: The Turntable Strikes Back (DigitalTrends.com)
Your New Favourite Record Company. How Kickstarter is Igniting the Vinyl Revival (Shiny Shiny)
How to Reissue a Record (Classic Records)