The vinyl record format’s newly gained popularity has helped financially challenged musicians have their very own vinyl records. Thanks to pressing plants that offer short run vinyl record pressings where musicians can order in smaller numbers.
Apparently, these short run vinyl pressing offers can be availed to press just one vinyl record copy. But did you know that before these short run vinyl pressings were even offered there was another method of vinyl record production that was already ideal for short-run and one-off orders.
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LATHE CUTTING V.S. VINYL PRESSING
The other vinyl production method I was mentioning earlier is the lathe cutting method. In comparison to vinyl pressing, where a molder needs to be created to press onto polyvinyl chloride, lathe cutting uses a needle to directly cut through the record.
This individual cutting of vinyl records is what makes it better for short-run and one-off orders. Most cutters can handle fifty vinyl records at maximum. Vinyl pressing, on the other hand, is better for bulk orders, like maybe a hundred or more, as they already have a metal stamper on the record.
If you’re planning on ordering a one of a kind custom vinyl record that would only be exclusive to you or the person you’ll be giving it to, then why not try lathe cutting.
WHAT IS THE PROCESS OF LATHE CUTTING?
Lathe cutting obviously has different steps and different needed materials and equipment from vinyl pressing. Some may know how it goes and some may not, so let us walk you through the process lathe cut records undergo.
Before we go through the steps of lathe cutting, let us introduce the materials and equipment needed for lathe cutting. There are three important materials needed for this mode of production: discs, needle, and lubricant. A lathe cutting machine is also necessary to cut records.
Preparing the Audio
Before cutting the disc, the audio to be cut onto its surface should be mastered well. It should be of high quality and should ideally be mono mixed.
Lubricating the Discs
And before it gets cut, a lubricant is needed to soften its surface. Lubricating the discs also prevents unwanted friction during the cutting process.
To start the actual cutting of the disc, the platter with the disc in place is spun first. Then the needle and the cutting head is brought forward above the outer side of the spinning disc. And last is the lowering of the cutting head to start the cutting.
Cheaper Production Cost
There sure are short-run vinyl pressings offered nowadays, which are cheaper than the bulkier orders. But even with it being lower, it sometimes is still way beyond an independent musicians’ budget.
When you avail vinyl pressing, there are three steps to complete its process: disc mastering, electroplating, and vinyl pressing. These three steps all need expensive materials, equipment, and professional people to achieve a good product. This means that there will be more money to spend.
With lathe cutting, it almost has the same principle with disc mastering since the first step of vinyl pressing also cuts through a disc or lacquer. The mastered lacquer is then electroplated with nickel or copper to make the metal plating to be used for the vinyl pressing process.
So unlike vinyl pressing that undergoes three main processes, lathe cutting only needs to go through one.
Moreover, there’s no need for an electroplated metal plate and a pressing machine. All it needs are discs, needles, lubricants, and a lathe cutting machine. Nothing more, nothing less.
Faster Turnaround Time
After cutting a disc, we already have a finished vinyl record product. So if you think about it, going for lathe cutting would mean quicker turnaround time. There will be no need to undergo another two steps before you have your vinyl records.
In addition, there are times that the mastering and electroplating are not done by the pressing plant. They are sometimes outsourced by pressing plants and this may cause delays due to delivery time or the differing schedule of the pressing plant and their outsourced engineer. This is one of the reasons for vinyl pressing turnaround time delays.
With lathe cut records, if you order a one-off record with 12 minutes of playback then you will get your record after 12 minutes plus the set up time. So if you order 25 records with 20 minutes each side then:
20 minutes x 2 = 40 minutes
40 minutes x 25 = 1,000 minutes
… you will have to wait for 16 hours and 40 minutes plus the set up time. So you can have all 25 records with you after maybe a day and a half, presuming that the cutter takes breaks.
Lathe cutting is more accessible because you will need a pressing plant if you want to have vinyl pressing. Pressing plants are very much sought after by numerous commercial projects. Your vinyl order might get pushed back if you order with only one or twenty five pieces vinyl records.
So to answer the question “Can you press just 1 piece of vinyl record?” Yes, you can. However, it would be a bit pricier than when having it cut.
If you’re planning to have a vinyl pressing for your vinyl release, I suggest you at least go for 100 copies instead of having just one or lower than a hundred. One hundred is a great number, I’m sure you won’t be spending much money and worrying about not selling all the copies.
James Hill is a veteran of the music industry. He first worked at Warner Reprise Records then later joined Interscope/ Geffen Records where he managed producers and songwriters and got his first platinum record for Keyshia Cole’s The Way It Is. He is now helping indie artists with branding and manufacturing through his company Unified Manufacturing, a CD/DVD, custom vinyl records and merch company in LA.