Artist Advice Column: Things To Know Before Pressing Vinyl

Pressing onto vinyl is not a simple task. Make sure you are prepared for the time consuming and costly, but very rewarding undertaking that is getting in your vinyl order.
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Two weeks ago we looked at how to create the right strategy to release your music in a physical format, whether that is vinyl, CD or cassette. CDs are still the most common format and will remain so likely for the foreseeable future given their price point, the modern infrastructure catered for them and their convenience in cars and radios. However, vinyl is surging and sales have increased in the US for the past 13 years. The boom has been led by nostalgia and boomers reviving their collections of classic records, but pressing vinyl has become a sort of right of passage for many artists today to create something more tangible instead of just releasing something onto a streaming service that will be supplanted by another 10,000 releases the following week.

Making vinyl is not an easy task. It is costly, takes a lot of time and requires the right attention to detail with artwork, text and color schemes. Knowing how and when to press your vinyl can be tough, but we are here to try and pierce through that fog and make the decision easier.

1. Decide On The Project:

This may seem obvious, but before you think about pressing vinyl, you have to know what you are going to press into vinyl. If you are an artist that press just about everything onto vinyl and plays vinyl out, then this is a no brainer, it is just the quantity that you have to worry about. For the rest of the market, deciding on which is project is key. Some random single is probably not the best idea. Go with a larger project such as an album that there is some serious buzz for. This will make that album even more special for the fans that get a copy of your vinyl.

2. Masters:

Before you are done even with your album, make sure it is mastered for vinyl. If you didn’t get is mastered for vinyl, send it to a different mastering engineer who can get that done. If the songs aren’t mastered for vinyl, then you have defeated the purpose of even having your project pressed on vinyl. If you have questions of if your music is mastered for vinyl, ask your engineer or have another engineer take a listen.

3. Timing For Pressing:

Pressing vinyl can take a long time. It can take a few months or even longer if your order gets knocked down the pecking order at a plant in favor of a larger client. If you want the vinyl ready on the release date, ordering several months ahead of time is necessary. Your other option is to wait until the project is released and then gauge interest in your album and press from there. However, the effort in making art, deciding colors and coordinating an order will add even more time.

If you are a small indie band or signed to a small label and working through them, you likely won’t have a large budget to press more than a couple hundred copies. The Infrastructure for vinyl pressing collapsed during the CD boom of the late 80s and 90s and has left the business wholly unprepared for the orders coming in today. There have been a few plants added in the United States, but there is still not enough capacity to handle the demand. So if a major comes in looking to get another 5,000 pressed of their big seller, that will likely take priority over you. Expect the unexpected.

4. Art:

Just as important as the music is the art for a vinyl record. That means the art on the sleeve and potentially the color of your vinyl. Picking out the font, text and style in which you write out the credits and any additional information on the vinyl helps preserve the artistic contributions of who worked on the album for decades to come. Looking back on old vinyl to see who played bass on a classic Miles Davis record is always a joy, so think about a future generation who may look at your record for who produced, did the graphic design or were studio musicians.

Important for your vinyl is the potential for colored vinyl. Most vinyl is all black, but you can also request to have it be in a variety of colors like white, yellow, red, blue or some sort of blend that would fit with your album. Color vinyl comes at an extra cost. The more unique the color, the more expensive it will likely be. If it is a very standard red, it may be cheaper then a niche light purple that has to be mixed. Talk to your plant to make sure this is possible and within your price range.

5. Number:

Knowing how many vinyl records to press is vital. It involves knowing your fan base and the demand for your vinyl. This comes back a bit to your calculations with timing, but you need to understand how many fans are asking for it online, how much merchandise you are selling and the digital sales. If you over order, then you will have to store those records either in your apartment or in storage space and that is costly. Less is more with your order.

Many plants will have a minimum number of vinyl you need to order to even start making your batch. This is how they make their biggest profits because cutting, then pressing five records just isn’t worth their time. Be prepared to have to do upwards of 100 or much more depending on the plant.

6. Cost:

All of this adds up to the most important thing with vinyl -- cost. You can get a quote from United Records Pressing to get an approximate idea of how much it will cost, but minimum for about 100 black vinyl records will be a little over $1,000. This will depend on the plant and your order, but doesn’t take into consideration any additional test pressings, color vinyl, shipping and art costs. Vinyl is a big investment, so have a big budget for your order and then some extra on hand to manage any extra fees or if something goes wrong.

7. Recording Time & Track Sequencing:

As with all recorded music, there is a limit to how much music you can press onto each side of a vinyl record. About 18 minutes is ideal for a 33rpm 12.” That is the most you get for a side according to Chicago Mastering Service, so know how you want to sequence your tracks. The album doesn’t always have to be in the exact order you put it online, but rather some of the more upbeat tracks can go first and then draw people in for the b-side for more mellow cuts. Don’t think about cutting your 80-minute ambient drone track into a vinyl record. It won’t work and nobody is flipping that over.

Bass heavy music cuts wider into the vinyl so you will need to have less time per side for that type of music. Bass uses more space than treble on vinyl, cutting wider grooves (read more about the technical process here).

8. Know Where To Sell It:

If you have ordered all of these vinyl records, you have to be able to sell them. The primary way will be online. They can be sold in bundles with other merchandise or with CDs. Have an online store to sell them through your website or through somewhere like Bandcamp or Bleep. If you are going on tour, take some with you and sell some at your merchandise stand if the venues will allow it and don’t take too high a commission on each purchase. Surprise some fans and sign a few copies to boost sales.

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