VINYL PRESSING 101 FOR MUSICIANS
Learn the essentials about making a vinyl release in under 5 minutes. Here you will find everything you need to get started, from the terminology to must-know of the medium. All in a concise and easy to understand format. Let’s get started!
How Vinyl Works
Imagine typing on a A4 size sheet. It’s just a matter of time before you run out of space. Large or heavyweight font and headlines use the sheet quicker. And you have to mind the empty space to prevent letters, lines and paragraphs from tumbling. Thus, a good balance between text, font and space is a key to delightful reading experience.
It is similar with vinyl, where in recording, a heated stylus vibrates to the music and curves a disc. When you play a record, grooves force a needle to vibrate in the same way, recreating the recording. What there is on a disc is only a pattern of vibrations.
While gentle sounds tremble, loud and powerful sounds quake. Limited by the diameter, a disc can contain plenty of trembling and only some quakes. This is like typing on a sheet of paper, where more text requires a smaller font. On vinyl, more or louder music results in a weaker signal.
That is why 25 minutes of heavy music on a record side will not be able to vibrate to its full potential. Reminiscing a style that attempts to hit hard but falls short.
Producing For Vinyl
As you may know by now, every inch counts on a record. To save space, shorten intros, outros and cut other insignificant passages. You will not only save space but time for your listener. It might be tempting to put as many songs on an album as possible. But leaving trivial ones behind will allow best quality for the most important tunes.
Every disc sounds best at the start and degrades in quality towards the center. Thus, start each side with high intensity and finish with ease. It will allow high definition sound for your major tunes, and will diminish distortion by the end.
Human ear is insensitive to stereo bass and there is little musical value above 15khz. A record won’t respond well to the range above 15khz or stereo below 200hz either.
Mix instruments within the vinyl frequency range from the start. And try to achieve rounded and balanced sound with levels and EQ rather than limiting. The album will sound strong and more pleasing on all formats.
Audio Master & Cue Sheet
Vinyl cue sheet is an instructional protocol that describes a project and a song layout. Start and end time determine the visual gaps on a record. Take your time and make sure the cue sheet is flawless to avoid unexpected results.
While a digital master can work on vinyl, it may also sound terrible. You should always aim for a decent vinyl master. But in case that is not available, let the pressing plant know in the cue sheet.
Masterplates & Stampers
A vinyl master is a single copy 14 inch disc with recorded music, also called a master plate or a master lacquer. There are only two options for a master plate: lacquer or DMM. If you plan a long, very dynamic or a quiet album, choose DMM over lacquer, the record will have less surface noise.
Sonic qualities of the master plate will remain on the stamper and further in production. Altering audio properties later is a fast rewind to mastering and start over. That is timely and expensive.
When moving from digital to analog, some detour in the tonal balance may occur. It is unavoidable, but with adequate preparation, however, it will translate fairly close.
With plethora of formats to choose from, some albums may sound better on CD, cassette or streaming. And a cost-effective way to test that is a reference cut.
Singles & Albums
EP is a short record used for singles. Due to little space and short playback 7 inch and 10 inch records are singles. But 12 inch can also be a single with loud and powerful signal and plenty of space between grooves. Exactly because of this, DJ records are singles.
While 7 inch and 10 inch work best with one song per side, LP record is long playback used for full length albums. Full length for vinyl is 18-22 minutes per side. If your albums is longer, then you may consider a double LP to make the best of your release.
33 & 45 RPM
For the most part, the record length will decide the speed. You can count on 45 RPM with under 15 minutes of music per side on 12 inch. Faster speed provides more clarity in high frequencies. Would you need accuracy in the upper register, 45 RPM will work best.
If the record exceed 15 minutes per side, it’s inevitably 33 RPM. 7 inches are always 45 RPM, as so called 45s.
By many, 45 RPM records are perceived as better quality. Although, that is not always the case. For some music, 33 RPM will provide a fuller and deeper sound.
140 gram & 180 gram
140 gram is a standard weight for 12 inch and records made back in the day are even lighter. Most DJs prefer 140 gram or less since it’s easier to control and lighter to carry. 180 gram records are sturdy and resistant to warping. But for the most part, weight is a matter of personal preference.
It’s common to see weight associated with audiophile quality. Indeed, heavy weight records have a special market value and you can sell them at a higher price. But the craftsmanship of music production makes it audiophile, not the weight.
Black & Color Vinyl
Black vinyl enhance quality control and consistency. Scratches and other defects are more noticeable on black than on color. Thus, it is a primary vinyl color. Due to high demand, pressing operators know better how to work black vinyl.
Consider music and production goals when choosing color. Loud music will not suffer much from color vinyl. But if your album is calm or long, the noise level will be higher on color than on black. Single color vinyl, except from gold and silver, is quite stable and will sound fine for most of the projects.
When it comes to color blends, more colors in the mix, higher variation in quality. The manual process of pressing split and splatter records will create another level of inconsistency. Although, records look impressive, they are not the best sounding records.
Test Pressing Stage
You made it all the way to test pressings. Exciting times! That’s indeed the last quality control stage. But it is also the first time hearing a record, where anything can happen.
During test pressing we look for defects and experiment with settings. Thus, we will analyze the noise floor, clicks, flutter, echo, skipping, warping, weight and distortion. Some issues can be tackled quickly, however, others may delay the project.
Some people think of skipping test pressings. Don’t. It’s the only way to verify that the album is on track. Moreover, you can sell test pressings. Bandcamp recommends charging 60-100 euro per copy. And with us, three copies are free with every order.
Like with mastering, consider hiring a professional for the cover artwork. But if you decide to do it yourself, start in resolution of 300dpi or more. A vinyl cover is quite big and low resolution becomes unpleasing.
Unlike computer screen, print uses subtractive color model CMYK. Start your project in CMYK as converting the final design file will alter color scheme. Make sure all graphic elements used in the project are high resolution and in CMYK.
The project fonts may not be present on another computer. Thus, transform text to objects or embed fonts to a .pdf document. Use color contrast and size for readability. As with all design, simplicity is the key. Study the vast catalog of vinyl artwork to get inspired and to learn. You will find many examples of excellent as well as bad design.
The price per copy depends on quantity as production of a master stamper is costly. But with one stamper set, you can press up to 2000 records. Considering price per copy – more you press, cheaper it becomes. With most pressing plants, the least you can order is 100 copies, but that will be the most expensive option. You will achieve a better cost structure with 250-300 records.
Turnaround time for vinyl changes with demand. As a rule of thumb, allow 2-3 months for receiving the records. It might be tempting to schedule a release date once you place an order. Don’t. Making vinyl is complex, where delays and re-work happen.
Remember, you or the pressing plant may reject test pressings for whatever reason. Thus, schedule the release party after test pressing approval. You will have at least a month for promotion.
Ready to Release on Vinyl?
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