Vinyl

Let's start with a very brief explanation of what we do here. We do vinyl mastering, which means cutting a lacquer master disc on a cutting lathe. This disc can be played a handful of times (some djs do this, but the lacquer is quite soft and will wear out with repeated use), but primarily this is the disc which will be sent to a plating facility and turned into a metal stamper used to press vinyl records. We can cut multiple copies of a record, but each one will be slightly unique and requires an entire pass just like the first one. And it is not particularly cheap! If you don't have any experience with self-releasing a record and need to know where to start, see the bottom of this page for a quick primer on what's involved!

We offer vinyl cutting not only for projects we master here, but also for projects mastered for CD at other facilities. In most cases (unless your master contains problems which will make a flat cut problematic), we simply charge a flat per-side rate for this service.

In many cases a good sounding master created for CD will also make a good vinyl master. However there are a few elements unique to the physical nature of vinyl as a playback medium, as well as the vinyl manufacturing process which require special consideration.

RUNNING TIMES:

While it's not uncommon to make a CD with a running time of 45-50 minutes (or more!), this is very much on the long side for a 12" vinyl album. As a side gets longer, grooves must become thinner (i.e. quieter) to fit on the side.

Below are recommended optimal and maximum times for sides that can still be cut at a reasonable volume (though the maximum times are pushing what could be considered reasonable). There is some wiggle room as levels get lower. However, as you come down in level, you move toward the noise floor of the medium and the pops and clicks usually present in a manufactured record will be much louder relative to the music. At a certain point, it's time to just step up and go for DOUBLE VINYL!!! For sides that exceed the maximum times listed below, a $50 charge will be added per side. This is due to the greatly increased likelihood that we will end up cutting the side more than one time to optimize the usable cutting area.

Recommended Optimal and Maximum Times for Sides for Vinyl:
12" @33 1/3 RPM: 12" @45 RPM:
OPTIMAL - 12 to 14 minutes per side OPTIMAL - 9 minutes per side
MAXIMUM - 22 minutes per side MAXIMUM - 15 minutes per side
10" @33 1/3 RPM 10" @45 RPM
OPTIMAL - 9 minutes per side OPTIMAL - 7 minutes per side
MAXIMUM - 14 minutes per side MAXIMUM - 11 minutes per side
7" @33 1/3 RPM 7" @45 RPM
OPTIMAL - 5 minutes per side OPTIMAL - 3 minutes per side
MAXIMUM - 9 minutes per side MAXIMUM - 6 minutes per side

SEQUENCING:

Another important way in which vinyl's physical nature differs from the CD is the degradation in high-frequency response which occurs as the needle moves toward the middle of a disc. This is due to the fact that as the radius of the disc decreases, the speed at which the groove is moving past the needle decreases as well. The innermost usable area on a disc has a circumference that is less than half of that found at the beginning of a disc. Since the speed is constant, this much smaller circumference leaves a lot less area in which to cut a high frequency groove which swings back and forth a lot faster. By the inside of the disc, this becomes so tight that the cutting stylus can actually begin to wipe out the high frequencies with it's own rear edge as it moves past the waveform it just cut with its leading edge.

If you've ever noticed how a number of classic records often had a really mellow or somewhat anticlimactic song at the end of each side, this is why! When vinyl was the main release format, records were sequenced to put the songs with the most high frequency content, or often, just the more important songs nearer to the outsides of each side. So consider putting your most blistering tracks towards the outside when sequencing for vinyl!

SIBILANCE AND HIGH FREQUENCY DISTORTION:

Even when you are rocking the outside grooves and all should be well, you may find that something unpleasant happens on those heavy cymbal crashes or "S" vocal sounds which wasn't there on your mix. Excessive high frequency material is the Achilles' heel of record cutting.

In a (very small and incomplete) nutshell, when an especially intense burst of high frequency information is encountered by a playback stylus, it can actually end up making the needle begin to just bump up over the grooves, which is heard as distortion. Bursts of high-frequency material often have this problem. For this reason, one of the more common corrective processes in vinyl mastering is the use of the de-esser (also called a high-frequency limiter). This device (much as the name suggests) reduces "S" sounds and other excessive high frequency material. In the age of vinyl as the predominant format, recordings were often a good deal darker in tone partly to avoid this problem. In the current digital age, mixes are often made quite bright (sometimes ear-shreddingly so) and vocal sibilance is often accentuated rather than reduced.

If you are preparing a mix for either CD & vinyl or especially for vinyl only, working during mixing to keep excessive high frequency material under control will make it much easier to do a "flat cut" or to cut the disc without the use of additional eq or high-frequency limiting.

STEREO BASS MATERIAL:

A cutting stylus moves from side to side to cut material that is in-phase or mono. This makes for a groove of a relatively standard depth, which is easy to track. When low-frequency material contains a good deal of out of phase content (panned bass synthesizers or bass guitars perhaps), the groove must begin to make each wall of the groove do different things, which it can only do by cutting up and down rather than side to side. Excessive vertical motion makes for a groove that can be difficult for many turntables to track during playback and is usually compensated for for in a couple of different ways. One is the use of an elliptical equalizer, which uses an adjustable frequency, below which all frequencies (the bass material) are summed together into mono. This takes care of vertical groove cutting problems, but may do things to the program material that were not intended or desired. The other method is to split the signal into its mono and stereo components and then to use a limiter on the stereo portion to reduce movement in the out-of-phase portion of the signal. Both of these processes can be made to work, but ultimately, the best solution is to avoid the problem during mixing by keeping bass instruments more or less in mono when vinyl is a possible release format.

FOR RECORD ROOKIES:

If you are a self-releasing artist who is unfamiliar with the process of shepherding a record through the mastering and manufacturing process, here are the steps presented ever so briefly:

-FIRST, select a record pressing plant to press your records with! We have links to a number of manufacturers in our links section. You will probably need to fill out some paperwork with this facility in advance of sending them a master. One of the steps in this process will be to create a matrix number which is what will be etched into the master disc and will be used by the pressing plant as a reference for your job. It is usually an abbreviation of your record label and the number of the release, so the matrix number for the first release from Pizza Box Records would be something like PBR001, for instance.

-Make an appointment with a mastering facility (such as this one) to have a lacquer master created from your album mixes. We will want to know where you are having this project pressed and will typically send the lacquer straight to the factory for plating as quickly as possible after we cut the disc. For an extra charge, you may request a reference lacquer, which you can play a few times to see if you like the sound of the cut. More typically, people skip this step and just request test pressings from the factory, which is a handful of copies of the actual finished records you will get before they press them all.

-A few places offer full-service work with packaging and record pressing, but many facilities only offer record pressing, in which case you will need to sort out jacket printing. Ask your pressing facility for advice with this as they may often have facilities they work well with and you will typically have these sent to the plant to have the records inserted in them and shrink-wrapped.