vinyl record on a custom turntable

Steps To Making Your Own Record

There's something undeniably captivating about the warm crackle of vinyl spinning on a turntable. This is especially true today where digital streaming is prominent. The resurgence of vinyl records has sparked interest among music enthusiasts and artists alike.

However, can you make your own record? The answer is yes, and there are various methods to do so. In this article, we'll explore the processes of vinyl pressing and lathe-cutting, look into the history of vinyl record production, and discover how to make your own record with Freestyle Vinyl.

Vinyl Pressing vs. Lathe-Cutting

Vinyl pressing involves creating records using molds and high-pressure machines. This process is commonly used for mass production and offers consistent quality. However, it often requires a significant investment and minimum order quantities.

The limitations of the MOQ make it less accessible for independent artists. Most pressing plants start at orders of 250 copies or more, with a select few offering packages starting at 100 copies.

The manufacturing process of record pressing involves several stages. Each stage contributes to the creation of vinyl records. Here's a detailed overview of the typical record-pressing process:

  1. Mastering: The process begins with mastering, where the audio tracks are prepared for vinyl production. This involves adjusting levels, equalization, and other parameters to optimize the sound for vinyl playback.
  2. Lacquer Cutting: Once mastered, manufacturers transfer the audio onto a lacquer disc using a cutting lathe. A cutting stylus engraves the audio waveform onto the lacquer-coated surface which creates a master copy of the record.
  3. Metal Stamper Creation: The lacquer master is then used to create a metal stamper, which will be used for the actual pressing of vinyl records. They make the stamper by electroplating the lacquer master with metal to create a negative impression of the grooves.
  4. Vinyl Pellet Preparation: Meanwhile, vinyl pellets made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride) are heated and mixed with additives to achieve desired properties like color and durability. The molten vinyl mixture is then formed into small pellets or biscuits.
  5. Record Pressing: They place the vinyl pellets between two stampers in a hydraulic press. The stampers are heated to soften the vinyl. Then, they apply pressure to mold the vinyl into the shape of a record. This process is known as injection molding and creates the grooves and shape of the record.
  6. Cooling and Trimming: After pressing, they cool down the newly formed records to solidify the vinyl and ensure structural integrity. Excess vinyl is trimmed from the edges of the record, resulting in the final size and shape.
  7. Labeling and Packaging: Once cooled and trimmed, the records are ready for labeling and packaging. Labels with album artwork, tracklists, and other information are affixed to the record center. Then, they place the records in sleeves or jackets. Sometimes, they also include additional inserts or promotional materials.
  8. Quality Control: Throughout the manufacturing process, they implement quality control measures to ensure the records meet industry standards. This includes visual inspections for defects, audio tests for playback quality, and physical tests for durability.
  9. Distribution: Finally, the finished records are packaged and distributed to retailers, distributors, or directly to consumers. Music stores may receive them in bulk shipments, be sold online, or be distributed through record clubs and subscription services.

Overall, the record-pressing process is a precise and multi-step procedure that combines craftsmanship with modern manufacturing techniques. Together, manufacturers can produce the iconic vinyl records enjoyed by music lovers around the world.

Lathe-cutting, on the other hand, is a more artisanal approach to vinyl production. This process combines many of the above steps into a shorter timeframe while allowing for orders of just 1 copy. It involves cutting grooves directly onto a blank vinyl disc using a lathe:

  1. Preparation of the Cutting Blank: The process begins with a blank vinyl disc, typically made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride) or other suitable materials. These blanks come in various sizes, usually ranging from 7 inches to 12 inches in diameter. The blanks are cleaned and inspected for any imperfections that could affect the cutting process.
  1. Audio Mastering and Cutting: Unlike traditional pressing, where metal stampers are used, lathe-cut records are individually cut in real-time using a cutting lathe. The audio source is fed into the lathe.

Then, a diamond-cutting stylus engraves the audio waveform directly onto the blank disc. This process requires precision and expertise to achieve accurate groove modulation and maintain consistent audio quality throughout the record.

  1. Variation -- Embossing: Certain lathe-cutting machines do not use PVC plastic and diamond-cutting styli. Rather, these lathes use softer plastics and emboss the groove into the “vinyl” plastic. This means the plastic is pushed around and manipulated by a relatively blunt stylus (at a microscopic level).

The groove is not actually cut in. These embossed records may have lower fidelity in sound, and may not last as long as a cut record. However, they also may be cheaper to produce.

  1. Real-Time Playback and Adjustment: As the record is being cut, it is simultaneously played back to monitor the audio quality and ensure fidelity to the original source. The lathe operator may make adjustments to the cutting parameters. Adjustments are made to depth and pitch, to optimize the audio playback and minimize distortion.
  1. Labeling and Artwork: Once the audio has been successfully cut onto the disc, labels and artwork can be applied. This may involve printing labels with album artwork, tracklists, and other information to affix to the record center.

Additionally, you can etch or print custom artwork directly onto the disc surface for a personalized touch to the finished product.

  1. Final Inspection and Finishing: After the cutting and labeling process, each lathe-cut record undergoes a final inspection to ensure quality and consistency. Any imperfections or defects are then addressed. The records are carefully cleaned and packaged for distribution.
  2. Packaging and Distribution: Lathe-cut records are often produced in limited quantities. These records are popular among independent artists, small labels, and collectors seeking unique and personalized music releases. Once packaged, the records may be sold directly by the artist or label at shows, online, or through specialty record stores catering to vinyl enthusiasts.

Overall, the manufacturing process of lathe-cut records combines craftsmanship with modern technology to create bespoke vinyl releases with a distinctive charm and character.

While not as scalable as traditional pressing methods, lathe-cutting offers artists and collectors the opportunity to create custom records in small batches. It nurtures creativity and individuality in the world of vinyl production.

The History of Vinyl Record Pressing

The history of vinyl record pressing dates back to the late 19th century with the invention of the phonograph by Thomas Edison in 1877. Initially, they made records out of materials like rubber and shellac. These materials were fragile and had limited playback capabilities.

However, vinyl didn't emerge as the dominant material for record production until the 20th century. In the 1930s, the music industry widely adopted polyvinyl chloride (PVC) for its durability and superior sound quality. This marked the beginning of the modern era of vinyl record manufacturing.

During the mid-20th century, the advent of high-fidelity audio systems and the rise of popular music genres such as rock and roll, jazz, and rhythm and blues ushered in a golden age for vinyl records. Record labels invested heavily in vinyl pressing facilities to meet the growing demand for records.

This led to advancements in manufacturing techniques and quality control standards. The introduction of stereo recording in the 1950s further propelled the popularity of vinyl records, as consumers sought immersive listening experiences.

However, the vinyl era faced challenges in the late 20th century with the emergence of cassette tapes, CDs, and digital downloads. Despite these technological advancements, vinyl records endured as a niche market catering to audiophiles and collectors who appreciated the tangible and nostalgic qualities of vinyl.

In recent years, vinyl has experienced a remarkable resurgence. This revival is driven by renewed interest from music enthusiasts and artists seeking physical formats in an increasingly digital world. Today, vinyl record manufacturing continues to develop with modern technologies and innovations. Fans of vinyl ensure that the legacy of vinyl remains alive for generations to come.

Lathe-Cutting at Home

Lathe-cutting machines offer an intriguing option for music enthusiasts and independent artists seeking to create custom vinyl records in small batches. Generally speaking, professional-grade lathe-cutting machines can be expensive and complex. They usually cost at least $10,000 and potentially run up to $100,000+ for a fully functional operation.

One popular choice is the VMS-70 lathe-cutting machine, known for its reliability and versatility. This manual lathe offers greater control over the cutting process. It allows users to adjust cutting depth, pitch, and other parameters for optimal results.

While it requires more hands-on operation compared to automated systems, the VMS-70 offers flexibility and customization options. It's ideal for artists and DIY enthusiasts looking to experiment with different vinyl formats and cutting techniques.

For those on a budget or looking for a simpler option, there are lo-fi DIY lathe-cutting kits available that allow users to convert a standard turntable into a lathe-cutting machine. These kits typically include cutting attachments, templates, and instructions for modifying the turntable to accommodate lathe-cutting capabilities.

While these DIY setups may require some technical know-how and experimentation to achieve satisfactory results, they offer an affordable entry point into the world of lathe-cutting. It can be a rewarding way to create personalized vinyl records at home.

Overall, whether you're a hobbyist or an aspiring vinyl producer, there are lathe-cutting machines available to suit a variety of needs and budgets. Lathe-cutting offers a unique and hands-on approach to vinyl record manufacturing.

Freestyle Vinyl

Freestyle Vinyl is a pioneering platform that empowers artists and individuals to make their own records without the need for expensive equipment or minimum orders. With Freestyle Vinyl, anyone can create custom vinyl records from the comfort of their home.

Steps to Create Your Own Vinyl Record with Freestyle Vinyl

  1. Audio Curation: Choose your favorite tracks or recordings to be pressed onto vinyl. Ensure the audio files are of high quality for the best results.
  2. Artwork Selection: Design custom artwork for your record sleeve and label. Let your creativity shine as you personalize every aspect of your vinyl release.
  3. Final Touches: Complete your customization with your chosen vinyl color, center labels, and custom add-ons like hype stickers or a personal note. Once you've finalized your order submit your files to Freestyle Vinyl. Our team will handle the cutting and production processes to ensure your vision comes to life on vinyl.

Benefits of Building Your Own Custom Vinyl Records

  1. Personalization: Create a unique listening experience tailored to your tastes and preferences.
  2. Memorabilia: Commemorate special moments or milestones with a custom vinyl record.
  3. Artistic Expression: Showcase your creativity by designing custom artwork and packaging for your record.

The resurgence of vinyl records has reignited our love affair with physical music formats. The ability to make your own record has never been more accessible, whether you opt for traditional pressing methods or explore DIY lathe-cutting.

With platforms like Freestyle Vinyl, artists and music enthusiasts can unleash their creativity and bring their music to life on vinyl. So go ahead, take the plunge. Embark on the journey of making your own custom vinyl record with us today.