How to Master, Manufacture & Release a Vinyl Record
By Michael Greig Thomas
A rising popularity of vinyl records in recent years, coupled with an industry that has failed to keep up with growing demand, has led to issues with supply and resulted in delays of up to sixth months as labels wait their turn to press records (see previous article Will New Record Presses Solve Vinyl’s Supply Problem? for more info).
In an attempt to sidestep these delays, an increasing number of independent labels and studios (and individuals!) have started mastering, manufacturing and releasing their own vinyl records.
But just how complicated is this process? Could an uprising of independent manufacturers be a feasible solution to current supply and demand issues?
Let’s take a look at the vinyl manufacturing steps…
Create a Master Lacquer
Once a master has been recorded in a studio (commercial or private), the first step to creating a record involves creating a master lacquer. A master lacquer, much like a carbon copy of a final record, is usually manufactured by engineers that are able to delicately recreate the master recording:
- A mastering engineer first creates an acetate lacquer with grooves on it from the recorded master.
- The 14 inch aluminium disc, coated in acetate lacquer, is placed on a mastering lathe. As it rotates, electric signals from the master recording travel to a cutting head, which holds the stylus.
- The needle etches a groove in the lacquer that spirals to the centre of the circular disc as the sound is recorded.
Once the disc has been successfully mastered, the record is ready to be pressed.
Spray Lacquer with Silver
The next step is to clean the master lacquer using distilled water and a soap solution to remove any grease and dirt. The disc is then placed in a silver plating tank, where mechanical jets shower it with a thin layer of silver to make it electrically conductive.
Dip into Nickel Tanks
The lacquer is then dipped into nickel tanks to produce a metal master. When the metal master is separated from the lacquer, the resulting disc has ridges instead of grooves. The metal master is then used to create a metal record, known as a mother copy.
Create and Shape Stampers
The mother copy is played and checked for faults, before negative nickel “stampers” are shaped from the mother. These are cleaned and used to press the final run of records.
Stamp Labels and PVC Mould
- Black vinyl PVC pellets are injected into the sealed press and sandwiched between two printed record labels.
- This injected vinyl “sausage” is flattened between the A and B side stampers and melted at high temperatures.
- Steam softens the plastic as the stampers push an impression of the master recording onto it and press into the labels, before a pilot hole is punched through.
- Finally, the disc is stiffened using cool water and any excess PVC is trimmed off.
Et voila – the final record is ready to be packaged!
Release Your Record
All that remains after mastering, manufacturing and packaging is to release the record.
Distribution deals for record stores are usually only an option if you are signed to an established record label. If this is not viable then the best option for releasing a vinyl record is either through local record stores where you can establish a relationship with the buyer, or through online marketing channels such as personal/related websites and/or social media channels.
Once the manufactured record has been distributed, the rest is up to the vinyl market
Have you ever manufactured and released your own vinyl record? Share your experience below if you have!