It’s no secret that the record-making industry has had a resurgence over the past few years. As the vinyl industry continues to see chart-topping growth, more independent plating and pressing plants are popping up all over the country. The process of making records hasn’t changed much since it’s inception, but the gritty details of how a recorded sound gets onto a 12-inch disc and placed under your turntable needle is still rather puzzling. Let’s take a closer look at the process.
Step One – Mastering:
Mastering is the process in which the master recording (either digital files or recordings on tape) is transferred onto a lacquer disc using a record-cutting lathe.
We use a Neumann VMS-70 cutting lathe to cut our lacquers, which is so big it gets it’s own room. The lathe has a cutting head that moves laterally across the record, cutting grooves into the lacquer as it rotates on the turntable. At this stage, our cutting engineer is keeping a close eye on the grooves to make sure they’re not running too close together – this will cause errors in playback. The goal is to find a balance between cutting loud enough and at enough depth that the vinyl will sound great upon playback without any pops, clicks, or sonic impurities.
Lacquer discs have an aluminum base with a thin layer of lacquer on top – it’s malleable and soft, which is why once a master lacquer is cut, even though you can place it on your turntable and listen to it, you won’t want to. Every time you do, it degrades in quality, adding pops and skips onto the disc. We cut and ship out reference lacquers (sometimes called acetates) for this reason. Mastering to vinyl comes with some limitations, and we want to be sure the artist is happy with what they’re getting at every step of the process.
Since vinyl is a physical medium, it also has limitations on length – the louder you want the music on the record, the larger the grooves, which equates to more physical space you’re going to occupy. So, at a slower playback speed (33), you can fit more music on the disc, but that typically means you can’t cut the grooves as wide as you would at 45rpm, which impacts the sonic quality of the record.
Here’s what we recommend for maximum lengths on a record:
7″ 33 = 6 min/side
7″ 45 = 4 min/side
10″ 33 = 15 min/side
10″ 45 = 10 min/side
12″ 33 = 20 min/side
12″ 45 = 15 min/side
12″ 33’s are the standard, and they sound great! Especially under 18min/side. 10″ and 12″ 45s are a great way to get a louder record for a single or EP. Typically, 7″ 33s and 45s are used for singles, and the lower speed is more of a lo-fi format.
Step Two – Plating:
Plating, or electroplating, is the process of creating metal parts, or stampers, from master lacquers for the replication of vinyl records. Since lacquers are so sensitive to impurities, it’s best to plate the lacquer as soon as possible to ensure the highest quality stampers. Lacquers have only one side that you can cut onto, so for a standard 2-sided 12″ LP, you would need two lacquers cut and two stampers made – one for the A side, and one for side B.
Once the lacquers are ready to go, they are cleaned and sprayed with a thin layer of silver and then placed into a series of electroplating baths. This process involves using an electrically charged nickel solution to transfer metal onto the surface of the silvered lacquer. It’s done in two stages: the first is building up a base layer on the disk at a lower amperage (current), and the second is thickening up the plate at a higher current to the desired thickness.
At this stage, the lacquer is destroyed once the metal stamper is pulled off of it. Now we have a negative copy of the lacquer, which is called the father. From here, we use the father to make a mirror copy of itself in a similar way we used the lacuqer to make the father. This is called the mother. If you want to think about it in terms of 3rd grade biology, the father has ridges and the mother has grooves. Since the mother is a negative of a negative, it’s essentially an exact copy of the lacquer, but made of metal. It can be played back on a turntable, and often is in order to check for any impurities on the record before moving on to the next step.
Once the father and mother have been made, the mother is cleaned and then plated to create stampers. These are similar to fathers in that they are negative copies of the lacquer and have ridges. Stampers are sent to the pressing plants and are used to actually stamp out, or press, vinyl records. From the father we can create 3 mothers, and from each mother, 5 stampers. And each stamper can be used to make 300-700 vinyl records!
Step Three – Pressing:
The third step of the process is pressing, which involves using a large piece of machinery called a record press which aides in the process of creating the physical disc. The stampers for each side of the record are fastened onto the top and bottom of the press and then vinyl pellets are heated up to form what is called a biscuit - complete with labels, and placed inside. The press does it’s thing and exerts the necessary pressure to ensure the vinyl is spread evenly and over all the ridges of the stampers. The excess is trimmed and then after the vinyl cools it is inspected for error. Typically, most pressing plants will send the artist 5-10 test pressings to make sure everyone’s happy before moving forward.
The process of creating vinyl records is at the same time an art and a science. With all sorts of new independent pressing and plating plants popping up over the country, there are more chances for artists to be selective and more opportunities to be involved in the process. The better informed artists are, the better their products will be. And although there are some risks and limitations involved, the payout is definitely worth it!
Vinyl Camp was this past weekend at 1979 and we had a blast!
We were joined by 13 campers from all over the country for a weekend of networking, discussions, demonstrations, and FUN! Lead by our own Chris Mara and Cameron Henry, we spent the weekend dissecting the vinyl-making process step-by-step.
The first day we split into groups, toured the facility and got an in-depth look at what goes on behind the scenes at 1979 including the ins and outs of lathe room, plating facilities, Mara Machines shop, and all over the studio space. We finished the day off creating a session plan for the next day and an awesome demonstration of an Edison wax cylinder recorder where the group even got to record a song onto a cylinder!
Day 2 was when the fun really kicked into over-drive. We had a local band come in and setup for their direct-to-disk session in the morning, and then spent the first half of the day tracking live, directly to a 12″ 45RPM lacquer! The band cut 2 songs – an A side and a B side of the record. While the band performed, Chris and half of the group were upstairs perfecting a mix, and Cameron and the other half of campers sat transfixed around the lathe as it cut the recorded sound directly to the lacquer.
After a few takes and practice runs for everyone, the band cut the master lacquers that we used to create electroplated stampers and eventually, vinyl records. After everyone was satisfied with the finished product and we listened back to the ProTools recording of the session for posterity, we moved over to the electroplating facility where Dan Emory showed us the process of electroplating!
At the end of the day we had 2 mothers that were ready to create stampers and send off to any pressing plant in the world!
Be on the lookout next year for our next Vinyl Camp! If you’re interested in life-long learning, we’ve also got Tape Camp coming up in September, so be sure to sign up now before spots fill up!
Tape Camp is back and you don’t wanna miss it!
Join us September 24th-26th, 2016 for a weekend packed with demonstrations, lessons, and hands-on fun. Act fast, spaces are limited!
Tape Camp is a weekend of hands-on analog recording and networking for people of all ages! During the two-day workshop (Saturday & Sunday), participants will learn the differences and similarities between analog & digital recording through discussion, demonstrations, and hands-on practice.
We’ll bring in an acoustic act on Saturday afternoon, and at the end of the weekend, we bring in a band for participants to try out their newfound techniques on — everyone gets to engineer, assist, tape op, punch-in, and learn how to use our “Mara Machines” to the fullest!
With a few add-on packages, participants have a chance to learn all about vinyl cutting & tape machine alignment:
SATURDAY NIGHT | “Lathe Night”
Hosted by our cutting engineer Cameron Henry, this is an in-depth look into the vinyl world! (+$50)
MONDAY | “Alignment Day”
Learn the fundamentals of elevated levels, bias and head alignments. With some guidance, each person will align a machine (+$250)
Weekend | Sept. 24th, 25th – $250
Weekend + Lathe Night | Sept. 24th (day & evening) + 25th – $300
Weekend + Alignment Day | Sept. 24th (day), 25th + 26th – $500
Weekend + Lathe Night +Alignment Day – $550
Check it out – The Tennessean featured Welcome to 1979 on the front page of the Sunday Business section!
““Record labels want to know why records from the ’70s sound better than today,” Mara said. “Everyone is scratching their heads. Well, in the ’70s, it was the only format that music was listened to. There were five electroplating facilities in Nashville alone.
“Lacquers would get plated the same day or next day tops,” he added. “Well, now the vinyl infrastructure crumbled and is getting put back together very fragmented. A guy in New York will cut a lacquer and ship it to California and they sit there for a week.”
Mara, who launched his business after working for years as an audio engineer, said the improved sound quality has been instantly recognizable.
“We’ve been cutting a lot of records and listening to every test pressing and they never sound the same,” Mara said. “We knew it was going to be better, but when we listened to our first test pressing, it was stunning.
“Cutting it and having the metal process take place within a half-hour, everything you put on there is captured. And the piece of metal can sit there for decades and not change.””
Read the full article here.
We’re passionate about music! That’s why we’re taking quality control into our own hands. We can now do your vinyl mastering and manufacture the metal parts the pressing plant needs in a matter of minutes, creating the highest fidelity record available. Visit our website at www.welcometo1979.com to find out more!
We’ve partnered with select pressing plants to ensure you will get your great-sounding test pressings within 15 business days, and records in-hand in 8 weeks, tops!
All you need to do is follow these three easy steps:
It’s that time of year again folks, and one of the biggest and best music business showcases is happening in just a few short weeks – Summer NAMM!
Cameron Henry will be joining a panel moderated by mastering engineer Glenn Meadows with other special guests on Thursday June 23 to discuss the process of mastering!
“Your recording, however it’s accomplished, isn’t ready for prime time until it’s been properly mastered—the critical last step in the recording chain. In this session, TEC Tracks and AES pay respect to these unsung mastering heroes. Grammy-winning mastering engineer Glenn Meadows moderates this golden ears panel, discussing the latest tools and technology they employ in pursuit of ultimate sound.”
WHEN: Thursday, June 23, 2016 – 1:00pm to 2:00pm
WHERE: TEC Tracks (Booth 263)
We’ve been getting a number of inquiries about direct-to-disk recording lately! We were very lucky to have Pete Townshend come visit us last year for a one of a kind direct to disk session.
Check out this video of him discussing the experience!
Mix Regional News: Nashville sat down with owners Chris and Yoli Mara to discuss the expansion of Welcome to 1979, including their electroplating facility and the addition of new equipment.
“After cutting lacquers for three years, Welcome to 1979 studio owner Chris Mara decided to expand the recording studio and vinyl mastering facility to include its natural, logical next step: the addition of an electroplating facility.” – See more at: http://www.mixonline.com/news/facilities/mix-regional-news-nashville/427439#sthash.Si9v5vnx.dpuf
Recording Studio Rockstars included our own talented Cameron Henry on their latest podcast episode. Cameron discusses the process of vinyl mastering, operating his Neumann VMS70 cutting lathe, and the basics of mixing and mastering for vinyl, including some tips and tricks!
“In the room I have a Neumann VMS70 cutting lathe which is a giant spaceship looking machine which cuts a lacquer and that’s the first record. The process of making a vinyl record starts with a machine like mine. The music is pumped into the amplifiers of the machine it vibrates the cutting stylus on the cutter head and it just literally, in real time, cuts the groove onto a lacquer.”
“Dynamic music fits on a record better. The physicality of how a record works is you
have a disc and there’s a spiral going around and around. The more that groove deviates and moves around then the more space of each groove is required so you can only fit so much time. So, the louder the music is the more space the groove is going to use up. The quieter it is, the less space. When you have dynamic music, in the quieter moments you can cram the grooves together. So over time with the less compressed master you have an overall higher volume output.”
“Record things. Everybody’s bad at one point. Best way to get good at recording is to record things.”
Calling all vinyl campers! We only have one spot left for our 2016 Summer Vinyl Camp! Better act fast if you want in, this is a weekend you do not want to miss. Sign up here: https://squareup.com/store/welcometo1979/item/vinyl-camp
Spearheaded by our fearless leaders, owner Chris Mara and mastering engineer Cameron Henry, Vinyl Camp is a two day workshop centered around the art of creating great vinyl records. Saturday will be an in-depth look at recording and mixing for vinyl and the art of lacquer cutting. On Sunday we will do a live, direct to disc recording. Welcome To 1979 is one of the few studios in the world that can record directly to a vinyl master! This is a hands on workshop, so come prepared to learn while doing!
Here’s what the weekend will look like:
*Technical/Philosophical Tour of Welcome To 1979
*Lathe Room Demonstration (standard cutting procedures)
*Demonstration and discussion of recording techniques specific to vinyl
*Cylinder Recording Demonstraton (very cool!)
*Discuss setup options for Sunday, focusing on direct to disc requirements.
*Setup for Sunday’s session
*Direct to disc recording
*Talk with Band about the experience
*Tour of Our New Vinyl Electroplating Facility & Discussion