Thanks to the growing consumer interest in vinyl as a musical format, pressing music to disc has once again become a viable option for independent bands.
The decision to press to vinyl will inform the way in which you mix and master the record. On the mixing front it’s important to avoid the inclusion of excessively high or low frequencies. This is the same for mastering, which becomes of even greater value when you’re pressing to vinyl, due to the fact that it this process requires a specific type of master. These have a more dynamic and spacious sonic breadth – less compressed than a digital master – with levels and EQ catered specifically to the format. In both phases of production it’s important have an engineer experienced with the format, and an analysis of their discography is always a worthwhile exercise.
DURATION OF THE MUSIC
Timing should be a major consideration when pressing to vinyl. For maximum fidelity on a 12" disc at 33 RPM, each side of the record should dial in between 17 and 18 minutes. If either side exceeds this then EQ and overall levels will need to be adjusted to compensate.
SEQUENCING FOR BETTER SOUND
The grooves on a record have the greatest diameter at the beginning of each side, and are consequently best equipped to deal with the largest amount of musical information, resulting in better playback. It’s therefore worth positioning your most complex, sonically involved tracks at the beginning of each side, so as not to risk inner groove distortion on the record. The last thing you want is the lessening of louder and more intricately written songs merely because the grooves can’t handle the heat.
Before you get your hands on the test pressing there is often the opportunity to receive a reference lacquer. This is a sample disc that comes prior to the process of lacquer mastering or plating and is a meaningful way to gauge the sound of your music on vinyl. This represents an opportunity to make last minute changes or corrections – a confidence builder of sorts for any artist concerned about the process, or wanting that extra bit of insurance.
A test pressing is customary with most pressing plants, yet there are some that only offer it as an option. This is an essential piece of feedback – an opportunity to identify issues and defects prior to pressing the entire run of vinyl. While test pressings will rarely be perfect – they are usually made with a manual-type press and rarely in the ideal conditions – it’s important to be able to distinguish the difference between serious flaws and those limited to the test pressing itself.
Defects to listen out for include skips and repeats caused by locked grooves, swishing sounds and harsh, high frequencies called sibilants. Clicks and pops should also be investigated, as they are often caused by meaningful surface flaws.
It's important to keep in mind when investigating options for where to have your vinyl pressed that boxes containing thin discs of vinyl inevitably weigh quite a lot, which will be reflected in the cost of shipping from the plant. While there are several large plants located in Europe and the USA that may be able to give you a lower quote for the general costs, if you are planning to ship your merchandise to Australia you may want to also investigate local options. Otherwise you will either have to simply incur these extra fees or factor them into your retail pricing, resulting in a more expensive album for your fans.
Most plants will have a minimum amount of records that they will press per order, and as to be expected, the more you press the better value it is because there are several costs to do with the setup that are unavoidable. However, try not to get excited and order more than you can sell as vinyl is not only heavy but can also take up a lot of space. Most independent artists won't have a warehouse where they can store merchandise, and you probably don't want your living room being taken up with boxes and boxes worth of records before the next tour.