How Are Vinyl Records Made, Exactly?
The process of manufacturing the mother plate, creating a stamp, creating and adhering the labels, pressing the puck into the flattened disc, and inspecting the disc for flaws is time consuming and quite involved. This process has many stages and eventually creates the records that we all know and love.
Does vinyl truly sound better than other mediums? Sonically, vinyl records have great benefits and downfalls in comparison with digital files. The process in which something stays analog is surely different, and the artist is able to take music from magnetic tape, to LP, and then directly through your speakers and into your ears.
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This is the beauty of vinyl. No digitalization process necessary, and hopefully when done right, the closest listening experience to what the original artist has intended. Digitalizing music can lead to fatigue in sound, squishing out the dynamics and nuances of the artists intent.
So if you love vinyl, and you’re interested in discovering just how vinyl records are made, this is the article for you.
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It has been said by many that records have an authentic and high-quality sound that cannot be replicated by other music playing devices. It was not long after the first LP (long play) was created by Columbia records that the whole country caught on and wanted to join in the vinyl revolution.
This revolution made it so that vinyl would be manufactured in a long and precise process that would ensure a high-quality disc. The entire process has remained pretty much the same as it started many years ago.
The last few years vinyl has made a huge comeback and is more popular than ever. Records are so unique and the process by which they are made is like none other. Any great record starts with a musician of sorts with a digital or analog recording that has played their music and been captured by a sound engineer on a hard drive.
A sound engineer is in charge of operating the equipment in a proper manner, reproduce, synchronize, and finalize the sound. Once the sound has been created and is up to the appropriate standards, the vinyl is ready to be started.
How Vinyl Records Get Made
A sound engineer will sit in a mastering studio and level out the music in various ways in order to optimize and elevate the music for a vinyl listener. The music is then sent to the cutting amps which go directly into a cutting link.
The mother (mother plate) is manufactured by a machine called a lathe, which is a machine that is used to shape metal, wood, and other various materials by using cutting tools on a rotating driver.
A lacquer is created, and the lacquer is placed on a record cutting machine (lathe) that will create the new disc and essentially transfer the sound.
When the master disc is placed on the lathe, there are protective strips, and those strips are removed by the manufacturer. The sound engineer secures the disc and a cutter is moved to the outer edge on the disc.
This is an initial test cut, that will allow an assessment of the groove and of any issues that the groove may have. The record will then start, and a vibrating ruby chisel moves up and down and engraves specific grooves and electric currents. The grooves are monitored on a computer, and adjustments are constantly being made if there is a need for more space between them.
After this process is complete, a serial number and sometimes a signature as well is scratched into the disc. This will now be the master lacquer disc that will eventually generate the jams coming out of your speakers. These grooves indicate different sound waves and create the music you hear coming out of your speakers.
The initial lacquer disk created is the “master disc” or master copy in which all other duplicates will be created from. The disk must first get washed, then sprayed with chloride, liquid silver, then a nickel solution is on the disc for many hours, which essentially hardens the disc itself.
This process is coined electroplating, and is defined as the process of submerging the disc into nickel and creating the metal layer that will be the stamped. This will the end of the creation of the metal master disc that will be housed for safekeeping for future needs.
The stamper is created from the electroplating process and is now ready to use. The metal master stamper will have ridges in it instead of grooves that will eventually be transferred to the discs. This is when a stamp must be created in order to create the ridges necessary.
These ridges act like a stamp and will eventually stamp millions of vinyl records. A centering punch creates a hold in the middle of the stamp before and any additional metal is trimmed off.
Before the pressing process can start, the pucks must have labels. The labels must be created initially in order to fit in the circles on the puck or a biscuit shape. Labels are created in many square stacks; and eventually are adhered to the puck.
The squares are trimmed into circles and then the label sticking process is complete. Finally, is the pressing stage polyvinyl chloride is melted (hence the name vinyl, eh!) in the hopper into a puck, labels are advised to the lacquer to keep the record from warping, the lastly then two silver stamps are placed on the puck and an enormous amount of pressure flattens the blade.
The pressure applied is more than 100 tons of weight applied at very high temperatures in order to mold the puck into the proper shape, and then it must cool down. The excess vinyl is shaved off of the record, and voila, a record has been created! The disc now needs to be perfected, trimmed and given a final buff before hitting the stands.
The manufacturing time can be quite long and take much longer than a CD. It can take almost 4-8 weeks to create all the necessary components to have the final product. This includes the initial pressing, jackets, inserts, pressing, and stickers.
Before any packaging is done, often quality control specialists listen to the record to ensure its quality and make sure there were no hiccups during production. Yes, you’ve heard it from us, there is a job out there where you essentially listen to records all day and wait to hear any flaws, bumps, or issues.
Where do we sign up for that job? Assembling the vinyl record into the sleeve is often done by humans, but as time goes on and larger record companies have been created, assembly lines are more common.
Once the vinyl goes into the sleeve it is sometimes put in plastic to keep debris and dirt out of the new disc. The vinyl is finally complete and can be put into a moving vehicle and shipped to your local record shop and any place to look to find where to buy vinyl records.
The process is complete, yet the disc sound can alter depending on the quality and maintenance of it in the process of learning how to store vinyl records. The process of altering and changing records may never fully completed.
Difference Between Standard and 180 gram vinyl?
There are also differences between a regular record and a 180-gram vinyl. The 180-gram vinyl is heavier than a traditional record that is normally weighted between 120-150 grams.
The thicker 180-gram vinyl is often considered to be superior to its smaller counterpart. At times, there are vinyl records that are even heavier than 180-grams in a pursuit of a more masterful sound. It is debatable if the heavier vinyl is truly superior to the original record.
The weight has been attributed to many redeemable qualities including higher bass, noise and distortion reduction, higher treble, and many additional successes.
The sheer weight of the 180-gram record is potentially the reason behind the improved quality. Also, record companies put more care and finesse in created these heavier records and use a higher quality material in the creation process.
These records also are made from plastic that has no impurities and that is not recycled which will have a cleaner playback. However, the groves on the stamp are no different or refined in the manufacturing process of a 180-gram disc. There are benefits to these discs as they are weighted more heavily, last longer, are more durable, and provide a more unwavering platform for the stylus.
How Expensive is this Process?
Creating vinyl records can cost thousands of dollars, and that’s because pressing plants like Gotta Groove Records, for example, are not going to just press one vinyl record for you.
And so, you have to understand that quantity matters. If you get your records pressed at Gotta Groove Records, an expense of approximately $1,015.00 would get you 50 pressed records (black vinyl). This doesn’t include the cost of printed inner sleeves, jacket stock printing, inserts, posters, booklets, download codes and more that are involved in the actually packaging.
Still, Gotta Groove Records and other pressing plants do a great job of breaking down the cost of all of these things. For example, getting 50 black and white printed inner sleeves would cost $300. Full color inner sleeves, by contrast, would be $485.00 for the same 50 records.
Single pocket jackets (50 of them) would run you or your business $490 at Gotta Groove Records, while a Gatefold Jacket in the same quantity (with one or two open pockets) would cost $1,250.00.
So, as you can see, the vinyl manufacturing process isn’t cheap. And, things such as colored vinyl, or vinyl that glows in the dark, or vinyl that has a splattered color effect on it, is going to cost you much more money.
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