OK then, its nothing short of amazing that today, theoretically you can have your music on sale, worldwide in one of the biggest music retailers stores on the planet. Without a tour, without a manager and even without a record deal. You can be based in Brighton, UK (for instance) and someone in Alaska or Australia or Russia or wherever can download your music without leaving the house. You don’t have to leave the house to get it on sale either.
Also, if you signed up with a good distributor, you’ll be keeping around 75% of the retail price too.
I must admit, when I first saw my music on sale on the iTunes store it was exciting, as it was another ‘career landmark’ for me. Still, as music career landmarks go it really was no comparison to the day I walked into the Virgin megastore on Oxford Street, London, the day of its original release in 1996 when the original version of the 99th Floor Elevators ‘I’ll Be There’, went on sale.
There it was, prominently displayed in a rack with all the other big 12 inch releases of the week. And there it was in the big HMV just up the road too. More importantly to me, there it was in stock and in the top 10 buzz chart in Trax Records in Soho, ten minutes walk away from the glare of the west end. A few days later ‘I’ll Be There’ had gatecrashed the national pop charts.
I used to spend a lot of money in dance music specialist Trax back in the days in the late 80s when I had to travel 160 miles by coach from my home in South Yorkshire to seek out those elusive Euro imports and Belgian New Beat gems that only Trax had.
And there is the point of this article. In a world where you don’t even have to leave the house to get the latest 12 inch remix or latest indie release or even pay for music anymore, how do you as an artist make a difference when everybody is a digital record label and everybody can sit next to Elton on the virtual record shelf?
“Further hinting at physical music format’s dismal future, a new study shows 48 percent of U.S. teens did not buy a single CD last year. This means not ‘Graduation’, not ‘Kala’ and not even anything from that Soulja Boy guy. It means literally not a single one.” Brock Thiessen from the Exclaim.ca article, ‘Teens Not Buying CDs Anymore?’
If you’ve more than a just passing interest in the state of the music industry you may have noticed a recent surge of interest and press on the apparent vinyl revival. Recently a representative from Sony BMG, mentioned that his parent company is working on releasing its entire back catalog on vinyl. Even Warners interest in the format has been revived.
“It’s not a significant part of our business, but there is enough there for me to take someone and have half their time devoted to making vinyl a real business,” says John Esposito, president and CEO of WEA Corp., the U.S. distribution company of Warner Music Group, which posted a 30% increase in LP sales last year.
So, there’s no vinyl pressing plants left anyway right? Very wrong. There’s a handful of pressing plants across the USA, UK, Europe and even two active manufacturers in Australia.
“One thing we took away from the talk that I feel is pretty important is pressing size. Some efforts are getting to the point where the records aren’t going to hit store shelves anymore. We‘re past the point where it can be difficult to move 300 copies. You folks making vinyl should strongly consider even a slight increase in the number of copies made available. The demand is there as well as the infrastructure to handle it. In addition, increasing the number of available copies should do well to keep the eBayers off for a while. If you can do 300 copies, you might as well do 500. If you know you can sell 500, it’s very likely you can sell 1000. ” Tonys Tales of Texas BB discuss the Vinyl Revival panel at SXSW.
Pressing up a release on vinyl is undoubtedly more expensive than CD but as a limited run single or album its more of an event and even a great PR exercise. Safely Meeting Record label boss Carlos Wells sums it up best here. “The vinyl, it’s more of an event. If you throw on a CD, you can almost toss it in from across the room.” A record, by contrast, is a process. “In 20 or 25 minutes you’re going to have to go over, take the arm off, flip it over. You wind up paying more attention.”
Creating a record is a complex process, but essentially breaks down into six separate steps.
Taken from the Quick Press website.
1. Mastering: A mastered DAT or CD is brought to a vinyl press. Two main changes must occur to begin the process of audio mastering, tonal balancing and level adjustment.
2. Cutting: Once the mastered version is finished, the track will be cut into lacquer. A digitally created track will be converted into an analogue wave for the cutting lathe. Transferred through an amplifier, the wave travels down the arm of a diamond-cutting stylus and onto a rotating lacquer disc.
3. Stampers: The lacquer or vinyl master is delivered to the pressing plant. The plant completes the following steps:
a) The vinyl master is covered with a thin spray and dipped in a bath of electrolyte. A current is passed through the solution and the silver-sprayed lacquer becomes coated in nickel which creates a negative image of the vinyl.
b) A second generation negative is created and the nickel plate is peeled from this lacquer to become the stamper. The stamper represents a negative image of one side of the vinyl.
c) Two stampers are needed to press up both an A and B sided record.
4. Test Pressings: With both stampers in place, a “puck” of vinyl is introduced into the press. Two labels are placed above and below the puck and the press is closed. In order to flow seamlessly into the grooves of the stamper, the vinyl is heated up to 200 C.
It is then rapidly cooled so that the vinyl can be immediately lifted out of the press. This whole process takes approximately 25 seconds. Normally, a short pressing of 10 copies is made first. These “test pressings” are sent to the record label for approval.
5. Labels: Many people are under the misconception that a “white label” is much cheaper than producing a professionally designed four-colour label. The real expense, however, comes from having the label incorporated into the vinyl. The colour of the label really makes no difference in this process.
6. Artwork: Image is key in almost every industry, making the music industry no exception. Great consideration should go into the label and its packaging, as well as the marketing accompanying its promotional push.
7″ – 4:30 minutes per side @ 45 rpm; 6:00 minutes per side @ 33 1/3 rpm
10″ – 9:00 minutes per side @ 45rpm; 12:00 minutes per side @ 33 1/3
12″ – 12:00 minutes per side @ 45 rpm; 18:00 minutes per side @ 33 1/3 rpm
California based Rainbo Records have several short run vinyl pressing deals which start at $1329 for 500 12inch singles and $829 for 500 7inch singles. Things like picture sleeves would add to that cost.
Some pressing plants, like United Records Pressings in Nashville are offering vinyl + digital package deals which includes a secure digital music hosting service, custom digital download coupons with unique one-time-use codes, packaged together. With the popularity of new USB turntables kids can plug their vinyl straight into their computer and rip to MP3 anyway.
As for vinyl distribution, well for these short runs a band or DJ would be better served selling discs at gigs and via mail order using Paypal and publicizing things on their Bandcamp profile and own website.
Such is the fragile nature of the vinyl distribution business that many of the once thriving vinyl specialists have disappeared, leaving a narrow selection of ultra niche companies and major label offshoots.
“In the United Kingdom, where the CD single is basically dead, there is such a resurgence in vinyl that retailers can’t keep up with capacity. In the U.S., figures as high as 22 per cent are being floated about the growth in vinyl record sales.”
(National Post : March 2008)
If you want to see what your tracks would sound like on vinyl you can get a one off 7″ cut for around $50 from Custom Records, who’ll even go as far as pressing it in colour vinyl and giving it a picture sleeve for an extra $58!
Part 2 To Follow
Archer Record Pressing (Detroit, Michigan)
Quality Record Pressings (Salina, Kansas)
Erika Records (Downey, California)
United Record Pressing (Nashville,Tennessee)
Morphius (Baltimore, Maryland)
Alpha Record Services (Plantation, Florida)
RecordPressing.com (San Fransisco, California)
Trutone (New Jersey, NJ)
Record Tech Inc (Camarillo, Califronia)
Bill Smith Custom Records (El Segundo, California)
Musicol Recording (Columbus, Ohio)
Key Production – London, UK
Curved Pressings – London, UK
JTS Studio – London, UK
MPO – France
The Vinyl Factory – London, UK
Record Industry – Netherlands
GZ Vinyl (Czech Republic)
Return of the Record: Vinyl Sales on the Increase (Amoeba.com)
Amazon Vinyl Store (Amazon.com)
Teens Not Buying CD’s Anymore? (Exclam.ca)
Hard to Find Records (HTFR.com)
Vinyl Gets its Groove Back (MIT via Time.com) pdf file. Slashdot response
Vinyl Maybe Final Nail in CD’s Coffin (Wired.com) Digg response IndieHQ response
Putting a New Spin on Vinyl Records (NPR)
How to Reissue a Record (Classic Records)
The Making Of Vinyl (Random Good Stuff)
Vinyl vs. iPod (The Huffington Post)
The CD is Dead… Long Live the New CD ? (LAist)
The End Of the Music Biz As We Know It (Forester Research)
The Inevitable March of Recorded Music Towards Free (Techcrunch)