HomeHow I Released An A Cappella Album on Vinyl

VOCOMOTION's picture

I had done some research and found that people are still really into collecting

vinyl. It hasn't died like many might think. As a matter of fact, it's making a

bit of a comeback. There is just something about the sound that can't be

reproduced in digital form. When we listen to something recorded digitally, it

has been recorded at a certain "sampling rate". This rate describes how fast the

original audio is "sampled" or chopped up. General consensus is that the more

samples (or chops) you make, the better the sound. Higher sampling rates will

sound a bit better. High-Definition recordings are done at 96khz, as opposed to

standard CD rates of 44.1khz. Now, think of analog as having an infinite number

of samples or chops (no chops, really). Smoother, better. Analog does has some

drawbacks, though, that digital doesn't: noise. Some people actually like the

added noise. It also seems to smooth and warm up the sound. But this is all a

completely different discussion, right?

My plan was to release a Limited Collectors Edition of the album on vinyl. No

need to print 1000 copies, just a small run to try out the medium and see if we

can get Dark Side into more hands. 300 copies would do it.

Prepare Your Master

Before anyone can press your record, you'll need to have a lacquer master

created. This lacquer master is used to make your "metals": the Mother and the

Stampers. I first had my entire album re-mastered from our high-definition

digital mixes (24bit/96khz), by Doug Sax at The Mastering Lab. Then Kevin Gray,

of AcousTech Mastering, created our lacquers from the new master that Doug made.

Kevin created the lacquers for Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon 30th

Anniversary release on vinyl.

Find A Pressing Plant

You'll need to do is find a pressing plant to manufacture the records for

you. There are a bunch of them out there, some better than others. I was

actually warned to stay away from one or two of them, so if you're

seriously considering this, please contact me and I'll let you know who

to avoid. I did some research and found that most of the audiophile releases

that are being pressed today are done by a company called Record Technology Inc

(RTI). When it comes down to it, most of the companies cost about the same. So

you'll need to go with one that you feel comfortable with. I had already worked

out that I would be having Kevin Gray cut the lacquers for the album, and he is

affiliated with RTI, so it was a natural fit.

About The Vinyl Itself

You'll need to choose a "weight" for the vinyl. The standard vinyl weight is

130g/cm2. Most likely, when you are quoted a price for pressing it

will be for standard weight. If you want a heavier weight vinyl (audiophile

quality), you can pay extra to get 180g (at almost twice the price). The Dark

Side record was pressed in 180g. There are even releases that are pressed on

200g vinyl, but you probably won't be able to find any plants that will do this

weight for you. The heavier the weight, the quieter the record and all-around

improved sound.

You can also choose colored vinyl, swirled colored vinyl, or even picture discs.

These will all add to the price. Most plants can do all of these "extras".

Prepare Your Artwork

If you've already released your album on CD, you won't be able to just re-use

the same artwork for your record jackets. A CD cover is only about 5" square,

while a record cover is about 12" square. You'll need your artist to re-create

the artwork at a larger size. You cannot simply scale graphics larger without

losing sharpness. It'll get all fuzzy or pixelated. So just be careful.

Some pressing plants will handle the printing of color record jackets and some

won't. RTI does not. I had to go with a separate printing company who could

print the record jackets for me. I went with Dorado Press and the process was

pretty smooth. They're a regular print-shop, that also prints record jackets.

You'll also need labels, the little pieces of paper glued to each record that

tells you which side is which, what the album name is, etc. Again, some pressing

plants will handle this printing and some won't. Once again, RTI does not print

labels (they do apply the printed labels to the records though). So, upon the

recommendation of RTI, I went with G&M Printing, a small printing company in

southern California that only prints these labels and nothing else. Very small

company, eh.

Test Pressings

They used to do Test Pressings when you were replicating CDs, but they don't do

it anymore. Your vinyl pressing plant will send you somewhere between 5 and 10

test copies of your album for you to "proof". You are going to have to listen to

these and make sure there are no problems with the pressing. Be sure to have a

turntable all setup and ready to listen to these or it will throw off your

schedule. Please, don't blindly (or deafly) approve these Test Pressings, or you

may find your final records to have problems. Save the Test Pressings for later,

they're kind of neat to have as a collectors item. Sometimes you'll find Test

Pressing copies on eBay.

How Long Does It Take?

It varies. Usually about 3-4 weeks for pressing, just like a CD. After the

pressing is complete, you can also choose to have the pressing plant sent you

your metals back. If you do this, be very careful with them! If you ever want to

press more copies, you'll need these metals (just leave them in the box and

never open them). If you're never going to press this album again, you can frame

and hang up the Mother on the wall, it's basically a metal record. Very pretty.

Conclusions

Should you release an album on vinyl? Probably not. I know that's not what you

wanted to hear, but it's the truth. It can be much more expensive than releasing

a CD and you might have trouble selling lots of copies. For Dark Side of the

Moon A Cappella, it made sense. For a collegiate record that is just another in

a series of annual releases from the group, maybe not worth it. It is really cool to hear your voice on vinyl, though.

Why make records?

Pros:

  • The sound: there really is a nice "sound" to vinyl records.

  • It's neat.

Cons:

  • Few people still have turntables

  • It costs more to produce vinyl than it does to make CDs

  • Vinyl records are much more fragile and heavy than CDs. Hard to sell them at

    shows.

  • The process of making records is not as smooth and refined as the CD

    replication industry. Expect delays and hiccups.

Some Sites With Vinyl Info/Forums:

Vinyl Engine - This is a

very active forum for vinyl aficionados from around the world. Good articles and

reviews too.

Vinyl

Asylum - Good vinyl forum. It's a part of the Audio Asylum Forums.

Some Articles About The Vinyl Revival:

New

Vinyl Sales Rose 15-Percent in 2007

Vinyl

May Be Final Nail in CD's Coffin - A recent article from Wired

Magazine about vinyl.

Music

Lovers Are Voting For Vinyl - A 1994 NY Times article about vinyl.

Seems that this phenomenon is cyclical.

Some Vinyl Retailers:

AcousticSounds - The

largest online retailer of new and used vinyl.

eBay - Always good and interesting

deals to be found on eBay.

Terminology

180 Gram - This is the weight of the record itself. You can press a

record with either 140g/cm2 or 180g/cm2 weight. The

heavier, 180g discs, provide a much thicker and more stable playing surface.

These will be a bit quieter and should warp less. They also will not break as

easily if you drop them. Audiophiles prefer 180g records. There are even 200g

records being pressed, but you probably won't be able to press at this weight.

Dub Plate - Originally, Dub Plates were just test pressings. More

recently, DJs will get a single-pressing of a record made and this is called a

Dub Plate. It is made of thinner vinyl than a regular record and cannot be

played nearly as many times.

Jackets - This is the cardboard album cover.

Labels - This is the paper label in the middle of the record, usually

says the name of the record, the side, and other info.

Lacquer - This is the soft waxy master of your album, used to create the

metal stamper

Stamper - These are the actual metal plates used to form your record.

Sleeves - This is the thin paper or plastic envelope that the record sits

in.

Test Pressing - A run of 5 to 10 copies of a record that are printed

before a full-run of pressings are done, used as a "proof".

Virgin Vinyl - This is vinyl material that is completely new and contains

no recycled material. Not-so-perfect for the environmentally-conscious, heh.

Freddie Feldman is a CASA Board Member, Record Producer, and Owner of

VOCOMOTION Studios. He is a

Voting Member of the Recording Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (The

Grammys).

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