Making A Record

A Little Background + Mastering

I mentioned in a post last week that I was starting a label and would be documenting each step of the process here. This post will establish the background and the first crucial decision: mastering. I’m gonna keep this stuff really general for now, the label name, artist name, and sound samples and things like that will all come out as the record is nearing its completion.

It all started back in January when I got a friend request on Myspace for both my account and the ISM account from a guy with a pretty entertaining screenname. When I went to check his profile out, I listened to a bunch of his tunes and found that I was really into them. I contacted him straight away and told him there were two in particular that I really liked and that I would be starting a label later on in the spring. He then sent through a link to a joint he had just finished, and that was that. I knew immediately that this would be the first release on my label. We stayed in touch, bullshitting on the phone and via email about various topics and planning how we would go about things. We saw eye to eye on just about every issue, and that made choosing our route pretty easy.

The first (and possibly the most important!) decision that needed to be made was where to get the record mastered. Mark Richardson at Prairie Cat has a client list that reads like a who’s who of my favorite labels. Prescription, Balance, Planet E, Sound Signature, Fxhe, Dance Mania, Main Street, Sistrum, Elevate, Aesthetic Audio, M-Plant, and many more have had releases mastered through Mr. Richardson, so we knew he had the ear for how dance 12″s should be cut. After talking with him on the phone to get the specifics on payment and info that needed to be submitted, I mailed out our master this morning.

Mastering for vinyl, for those who aren’t sure about this part of the process, is when a sound engineer plays the raw uncompressed master version of a track through his audio processing equipment in order to make the recording work well and sound loud in the vinyl medium. The master lacquer is a 12″ round disc of soft material that is cut buy a diamond tip lathe creating the grooves that will play back music when a stylus and needle run through the groove. Mastering involves compression and equalization to allow the lathe to cut the lacquer without distortion or errors that would cause pressing flaws. This is also the point where the label’s matrix number is etched into the runout grooves. Lacquer is not a stable material, it begins to break down pretty quickly after the cut. Once the master lacquer is cut at Prairie Cat, it will be shipped overnight to the place for the next step, plating.

20 Comments

  1. vinyluser says:

    wow! sounds great! it’s already on my wantlist 🙂

  2. jitterbug says:

    I WANTS MA TEST PRESSING

  3. mkb says:

    I am very interested to read more about the distribution and promotion steps.

  4. kent says:

    Going with Prairie Cat is a wise choice. Mark Richardson has an exquisite signal path of boutique mastering EQ and compression, and he has a scientific knowledge of the physics of cutting vinyl. And unlike Ron Murphy (RIP), he has a variable-pitch lathe, so he can get an extra couple minutes per side at proper DJ levels.

    Lacquers are actually pretty stable and last nearly forever if kept away from temperature extremes. They are more brittle than vinyl records, so back-cueing can put a big burr of noise in the groove. But you can play them many times if you treat them with respect.

  5. pipecock says:

    the plating is time-sensitive due to the lacquer not being a permanent thing. you’re supposed to have it done within a day or two of the lacquer being cut, this is why the shipping of the lacquer is done overnight. you can probably listen to them alright, but in terms of making a stamper you start to lose fidelity somehow. that’s what Mark said at least.

  6. [mark] says:

    congrats, man. big step!

  7. dillinjaxx says:

    congrats man and all the best with the label 😀 Im really interested in finding out what kind of work u have to do in a label. thnx for posting this stuff.Good luck again. or luck is not needed? 😉

  8. JonR says:

    look foward to reading more installments of this….

  9. gmos says:

    very interesting stuff, excellent idea having this diary type entry tom, seems like a blog is perfect for doing that kind of thing.

    incidentally, a mate of mine runs a small independent jazz label here in Ireland and he’s been getting all his mastering done by the famous Bob Katz, which is really cool I think. I was reading some of their correspondence during the process and it’s really quite amazing what an expert will pick up that nobody else notices.

  10. lerosa says:

    well done Tom, best of luck with this…also, you are totally sending me a promo 🙂

  11. pipecock says:

    ha, i cant believe you or jitterbug would think i WOULDN’T already be sending you one! punks 😉

  12. pipecock says:

    what i’m really hoping is that this will sort of demystify the experience of putting out a record as well as give people and idea of how relatively inexpensive it can be to do. we gotta get more people taking that step to put the good shit out on wax!

    if you look at the list of equipment on the Prairie Cat site, the last thing on it is “(1) well trained set of ears”! and it really is important that you get someone who knows what the style of music you’re doing needs to sound like on wax. i know for drum and bass there are a couple guys who do almost all the big releases, the guys at D&M obviously know how to do some big bass on techno and dub records, etc. that’s why i consider the choice of masterer to be the most important step, since that really dictates how the record is going to sound!

  13. pipecock says:

    i’m sure some luck will come in handy at some point, thanks!

  14. Denise says:

    This is all very exciting! Well done, I hope everything goes well. I love that you are documenting this whole process. Hurray for transparency!

  15. jonny5 says:

    yeah. cool stuff tom. interested to hear the results. nice cats too.

  16. kuri says:

    can’t believe this hasn’t been documented before. this should prove quite enlightening and possibly inspiring. thanks Tom.

  17. ihav2p says:

    very cool that you are documenting this. if i may ask, how much did it cost to have your 12 mastered?

  18. pipecock says:

    the prices are right there on the Prairie Cat website. he didn’t reccomend the “Hot Club” mixes that he advertises on there for this record, i’m guessing that usually works best with one shorter track per side. so it was $275 total including overnight shipping of the lacquer. some (most?) places in the US are cheaper than that, but as this step is so important and we knew that he knows the style of music we were having cut we thought it was easily worth the extra $$$.

  19. pipecock says:

    there are a few sites out there that i have found, but none that are specific for dance 12″s which are a different beast from a rock LP or 45 or whatever. especially for mastering, there are guys who know how to cut dance very well.

  20. ihav2p says:

    thanks! really enjoying your blog too.

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