How to Make a Vinyl Record
Play Alone Records is a DIY record label that fully supports others with the inspiration to create and to put out their own vinyl records This year was our first full year, and we have learned a ton. Here we'll share how to make a vinyl record from start to finish.
What type of recording is needed?
The first step in the process is to get a high-quality recording of the release. Since we are a DIY record label, we generally leave this stage to the band. We want bands to be able to work with the recording studios that they are most comfortable with. Here in Pittsburgh, we work with "My War" Matt Schor. After the bands record, they provide us with digital files at the sample rate/bit rate they were recorded at. These files need to be in a lossless audio format, either WAV's or AIFF's (no mp3's).
What is vinyl record mastering?
Once we have the high-quality audio file, the next step in making a vinyl record is mastering. We work with Dan Randall at Mammoth Sound Mastering. He has been mastering records for over 15 years and has worked on hundreds of releases.
So what is mastering and why do we need a professional like Dan. Mastering professionals are specialized sound engineers who optimize music files for the formats they will be released on. Different mastering is required for a CD as opposed to a vinyl record. The crucial differences between them are practical. An example of this optimization is the level and extent of limiting on a specific track. With vinyl records, there is a physical limit to what can be fed to the cutting head of the lathe. A good mastering engineer will supply specific versions for the digital masters as well as vinyl masters.
I should also make a note, at each stage of the vinyl record making process, you'll want to get approval band approvals. Protect yourselves and obtain approvals in writing or at least in an email. At this point, we would ask our bands to approve the final master.
What is a vinyl record lacquer?
Now that we have our finished vinyl master, we'll need to get lacquers made. Lacquer plates are made using a lathe to imprint the master onto an acetate-coated aluminum disc. Each side of the finished record will need its own lacquer plate. We get our lacquers done at Telegraph Mastering. Once Telegraph is done with the lacquers, we have them ship them to our friends over at Cascade Record Pressing in Oregon.
What is a vinyl record stamper?
Now that Cascade has the master lacquers they make stampers for the record. Stampers are a fortified version of the master lacquer in a stronger material. There are two kinds of stampers, ones that go through two-step plating and ones that go through a three-step plating process. The decision of which plating process to choose boils down to the size of your project. Cascade recommends the two-step process for pressings up to 6,000 records and the three-step process for runs up 25,000 records.
How does vinyl record pressing work?
The stampers that Cascade made are mounted to a hydraulic record pressing machine. Vinyl shaped like a hockey puck is placed between the two stampers on the hydraulic device. Using steam to soften the vinyl and the pressure from the stampers, the permanent imprint of the record is pressed into the vinyl. Once the pressed records have been imprinted, the edges are rounded, and the record is dipped in water to cool.
We will talk about artwork more momentarily, but it is important to note that the one piece of artwork that is needed at the pressing plant is the label art. The labels are actually attached to the records during the pressing stage. The pressure of the pressing fuses the label to the vinyl itself. The labels do not require the use of an adhesive.
What is a vinyl record test pressing?
Test pressings of the record equate to a super small run of the final vinyl record. They are made for the band, so they can hear the final product for quality control. We need this approval before mass production is started, so we can ensure a great sounding record. Once everyone has approved the test pressings, we alert customer service and Cascade will start the full production run.
How are Jackets, Inserts, and Posters completed?
Play Alone Records leaves artwork to the band, much like the recording itself. We want our bands to have the creative freedom to make the music and art that represents them best.
Once a band has an artist or artwork ready for their record, we supply them the templates for the jackets, inserts, and posters. If they don’t have someone to do layout, I can actually do the layout for those things. It boils down to whether the band has someone for design, I am the "on the cheap" option.
Once we have the final layout, we use Imprint Indie Printing out of Florida to make all of our printed goods for our releases. Imprint does excellent work and is often cheaper than if we had one of the larger pressing plants do the printing.
How do the vinyl records get put together?
This is the fun part, Erica and I get beer and pizza and have a little record stuffing party. Note, we don't allow pizza grubbied hands to touch any of the vinyl record components. We enforce a strict hand washing policy post pizza consumption.
That's our whole process. I hope it helped some of you other DIYers out there. Start a band, play shows, and make your own vinyl records.
Play Alone Records
Check out our other blog posts here.