How, Why & Where To Press Up A Vinyl Record.

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!).

MP3 Marketing Tips, Press Vinyl Records

 

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 12 inch

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

If you’ve more than a just passing interest in the state of the music industry you may have noticed a recent surge of interest and press on the apparent vinyl revival.

“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.

For a rough guide as to how much music you can fit on a vinyl record Nashville veterans United Record Pressings have a useful FAQ and quick reference.

  • 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

And there’s more record manufacturing tutorials here and here.

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.

Also be aware of the difference between an actual vinyl pressing plant and a vinyl broker.

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!

USA Pressings:

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)

European Pressings

Phonopress (Italy)
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

ROTW

Rip-V – Montreal, Canada
Samo Media – Canada (Broker)
Zenith Records – Victoria, Australia
Toyo Kasei – Japan
Tuff Gong – Jamaica
Polysom – Brazil

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)

Timeline For Promoting A UK Single Release, A Radar Rough Guide

Timeline for Promoting a UK Single Release

By Caroline Bottomley, Radar Music Videos.

A lot of promo people we talk to say artists and managers often don’t know what professionals do to promote single releases.

So we asked for help from some real professionals (see credits below).
Then we made up an indie band with an established following and a few previous releases. We made up £5,000 to spend.
Then we wrote this rough guide – enjoy and feel free to add your own tips. 

14 WEEKS OUT FROM RELEASE

* Commission single artwork, even if it’s for download only. Designer £300
* Commission artist photos. Photographer £500

TIP: “Commission nice/weird/cool COLOUR band photos, the brighter the better” David Laurie SiC Records
Start social media engagement. Digital Promotions £500 – £1,000

NOTE: Social media work continues from here up to and after release date.

12 WEEKS OUT FROM RELEASE

* Engage PR £500 – £1,500
* Release advance copies/links to share to monthly press, for review, eg Q, Mojo, Clash, Uncut.

Start with sending out a simple press release announcing the single and put the single into context, eg from an album or a stand-alone track? Will there be associated shows? PR TIP: There are very few print outlets for singles, a couple of dozen really. It’s ALL about online for singles. David Laurie, SiC Records.

NOTE: Press work continues from this point up to and after release date

TIP: “The press release needs to be straightforward and attention-grabbing “artist releases great new song/album” just isn’t enough. What’s your story? What’s special about you/the song/album and why?” Gillian, Million PR and Naked Press.

* Engage Agent 10% of gross
* Engage Radio & Video Plugger £500-£1,500

NOTE: “I would separate Radio & TV costs. Radio Promotions £1000-2000 and TV Plugger £500-1000 per release. They might be able to get it for less, but this is much more realistic of the going rates.” Prudence, Rocket PR

* Commission the official music video, the aim is to create a stand-out, remarkable video. Producer/director (Radar) £2,000

TIP: “The video must be one that compels you to hit SHARE at the end, that is the idea. Not the new Bammers video but the video where the guy turns into a monkey and eats the aeroplane” David Laurie, SiC Records
TIP: “Commission the video now so it can be ready to service at least 6 weeks before release” Prudence, Rocket PR
TIP: “All video people take longer than they say to deliver, so I give at least 2 weeks ahead of my deadline as the actual deadline” David Laurie, SiC Records.

* Create a lyric or packshot video, the point is have this video on the band’s YouTube channel when radio play begins ahead of release date, capturing early views and interest. Producer/director (Radar) or Digital Promotions £0 – £200

8 WEEKS OUT FROM RELEASE

* Track/remix completed.
* Book banner/Facebook/Google advertising. Digital Promotions £500
* Advance copies/links to share released to weekly and daily press, for review. PR
* Release show/s booked. Agent
* Radio promotion begins. Single and album promos are presented to radio producers and presenters with a press release and list of forthcoming live dates. Plugger

TIP: “Almost none of them (radio producers and presenters) listen to albums or anything after the first track on a single promo unless there is some headspinning remix” David Laurie, SiC Records
* Build up support through plays on individual radio shows, working towards playlist consideration. Plugger
* Social media begins to focus on the release campaign. Digital Promotions
* Digital store promotions set up. Digital Promotions

4 – 6 WEEKS OUT FROM RELEASE

* Service video to TV for playlist rotation consideration. Plugger
* Radio playlist consideration. Plugger
* Digital store promotions set up once you have provable ammo from press. Digital Promotions
* Soundcloud stream premiere on a top site followed a day or two later with a blast out to other sites for more embedding, start adding up those NUMBERS to convince radio you are POPULAR. PR

2 WEEKS OUT FROM RELEASE

Securing Music Press

* Secure a video exclusive with a popular music site and general coverage in music media. PR
TIP: “Securing exclusives is PAINFUL and you have to (more or less) only ask one at a time – Pitchfork; Fader; Guardian; Stereogum in that order.

Each one takes at least 24 hrs to get back even if you have a shit hot PR, so running through those top four will take a week and likely they will all pass” David Laurie, SiC Records

* Fan special offers; exclusive tracks, early order discounting etc. Digital Promotions

RELEASE WEEK

* Digital store promotion. Digital Promotions
* Music media coverage. PR
* Paid advertising live. Digital Promotions
* TV rotation. Plugger
* Radio sessions and interviews. Plugger
* Release show. Agent

POST LAUNCH

Post-Launch Promo

* Follow up press campaign to generate further press coverage. PR
* Album and tour news to be associated throughout if appropriate.

NOTE: “It might be an idea to mention that there will be VAT on top of all costs as this seems to come as a surprise to many unsigned acts as they are most likely not VAT registered themselves.” Prudence, Rocket PR

Companies providing these promotion services can be found in Radar’s resources.

This rough guide has been complied with the help of David Laurie at  Something in Construction Records (SiC); Gillian at Million PR & Naked Press**; David Riley at Good Lizard Media**; Prudence at Rocket PR and Caroline Bottomley of Radar Music Videos.

** Willing to advise new artists and labels about promotion strategies.

PS: An important note about paying for services. It’s possible to do just about all these things for free. You do it yourself, get friends to do it, pull in favours. The reason these services are worth paying for is good professionals will do a much quicker and more effective job.

More to the point, people will actually listen to stuff from reputable PRs; press and pluggers are personally connected to press and playlisters; promotions people know which advertising is cost-effective; experienced directors make attractive music videos that get featured on blogs. All that should result in more sales of your single and more tickets sold to your gigs.

Special Thanks to Caroline at Radar Music Video.