The following guide comes from Zach Hangauer, owner of Range Life Records, home to artists like White Flight, Fourth Of July, Suzannah Johannes and Say My Name.
Nothing’s sweeter than the day UPS shows up with a box full of your very own hot-off-the-press LP’s! Getting there can be a journey, though.
Be prepared to wait
Making actual records takes time. Not only are there multiple steps required before production but the whole vinyl industry is notorious for delays.
And it takes $$$. You’ll need to be prepared to pay for Mastering, lacquer-cutting, test presses, album-jacket printing and shipping along with the vinyl manufacturing costs.
$4 per unit, with a minimum of 500 units, is a good rough cost estimate (“unit” = the finished packaged product).
In other words, 500 12″ LP’s in custom-printed Jackets will cost you $2000. (7″ records are about half that.)
The same Mastering Engineer you use to master your digital files can create a secondary digital master specifically tailored to pressing vinyl – it typically takes a little more time so there’s an additional cost, but engineers and audiophiles will encourage you to do it. (Yes, of course you can just use the digital master for your vinyl but vinyl manufacturing introduces a different set
of quirks and dynamics, so if you want your record to sound its best, Master for vinyl!)
Here are some recommendations for affordable Mastering Engineers with great reputations (price per song approximate):
Carl Saff ($40/song)
The Boiler Room ($40/song)
Lucky Lacquers ($40/song)
Eureka (Mike Nolte) ($50/song)
Focus (Doug Van Sloun) ($55/song)
SAE (Roger Seibel) ($60/song)
Salt (Paul Gold) ($75/song)
Josh Bonati ($75/song)
Golden Mastering ($75/song).
After you have your Mastered files there is a second step involved in creating a vinyl master, known as cutting lacquer. This is the process by which the audio from your Master is transferred by a mastering lathe onto the lacquer, cutting the grooves into it.
Here’s a fly-on-the-wall video demo:
There are 2 ways to cut lacquers:
1) Send it to a lacquer-cutting specialist (who will then send it on to the manufacturing plant for production).
2) Have the manufacturing plant you’re using cut the lacquer.
Both options cost about the same amount of money (approximately $350 for standard 12″ or $150 for 7″).
The benefit of having a specialist do it is that they are really focusing on you and making your vinyl sound as true to the Master as possible. The negative: the extra time it takes to schedule them.
The benefit of having the record plant do it is efficiency – it’ll save time and, as long as you’re happy with your digital masters, it should sound fine. But a record plant is cutting a huge amount of lacquer and they’re not really promising the service of a “close” listening.
Some lacquer-cutting specialists with sterling reputations (they also all happen to be popular Mastering Engineers) (prices per standard 12″ approximate):
Lucky Lacquers ($350)
Bonati Mastering ($350)
Salt Mastering ($380)
Golden Mastering ($440)
Vinyl Manufacturers typically make a distinction between the services they offer: “Vinyl Manufacturing” is one service, while “Album Art/Jacket/Insert printing” is another (and may require its own separate order.)
Some people prefer to have their Album Jackets and any insert material printed by companies that specialize in custom printing (such as Imprint or Dorado). *Note: 500 is the standard minimum order for 12″ jackets (and 300 for 7″ jackets) regardless of whether you use a specialist or the vinyl manufacturer. If you need fewer than the minimum, you’ll simply be left with a stack of extra jackets…
As with lacquer cutting, the costs are about the same whether you have the Vinyl Manufacturer print your packaging or send it to a specialist. One advantage of having the Vinyl Manufacturer print the Jackets is that they will typically insert the records into the jackets for you at no extra charge (as opposed to having to do them all yourself in your studio apartment.)
Either way, if you want to keep your LP costs down, stick with the standard or default options and consider limiting the number of colors on your artwork and labels!
Price Breakdowns for Professional 12″ LP Vinyl Manufacturing
Prices include lacquer cutting + *standard 12″ Jacket printing* but do not include shipping (prices are effective Summer ’16 – always double-check!):
From United Record Pressing:
300 records with b/w labels in paper sleeves = $1306 ($4.35 per unit)
500 records with b/w labels in paper sleeves = $1445 ($2.89 per unit)
500 4 color LP Jackets = $695 ($1.39 per unit)
* Best package deal: 500 records with b/w labels and
500 4 color jackets = $2140 ($4.28 per unit)
+ Digital Download coupons and hosting package (1000 coupons) = $275
From Erika Records:
100 records with b/w labels in paper sleeves = $989 ($9.89 per unit)
300 records with b/w labels in paper sleeves = $1154 ($3.85 per unit)
500 records with b/w labels in paper sleeves = $1429 ($2.86 per unit)
500 4 color LP Jackets = $595 ($1.19 per unit)
* Best package deal: 500 records with b/w labels and 500 4 color jackets = $2024 ($4.05 per unit)
300 records with one color labels in paper sleeves = $1038 ($3.46 per unit)
500 records with one color labels in paper sleeves = $1275 ($2.55 per unit)
300 records with one color labels and 4 color Jackets = $1743 ($5.81 per unit)
500 records with one color labels and 4 color Jackets = $2025 ($4.05 per unit)
* Best package deal: 500 records with one color labels and 500 4 color Jackets = $2025 ($4.05 per
+ Digital Download cards and hosting package (500 cards) = $300
There are a number of other vinyl manufacturers both in the US and abroad. Here is a good reference list.
Vinyl On Demand
The prices are premium, but if all you’re looking for is a limited number of copies of your album on vinyl, there are services that will lathe cut each record one-by-one, allowing you to make as few as 1 copy(!) Keep in mind that lathe-cut vinyl is done by hand and not by the precisely-calibrated machinery of a record plant, so it is susceptible to volume and fidelity fluctuations, but still… pretty cool.
Here is some sample pricing from Vinyl On Demand (prices are effective Summer ’16 and do not include shipping):
1 7″ record in a blank jacket = $25 ($25 per unit)
20 7″ records in blank jackets = $280 ($14 per unit)
1 12″ record in a blank jacket = $48 ($48 per unit)
20 12″ records in blank jackets = $480 ($24 per unit)
Along with being a (fairly premium-priced) professional manufacturing option, Qrates offers a “Fund and Press” business model, where you can create what-will-be your product and then crowdfund it through them. Once your project is funded, Qrates handles all the manufacturing, takes a 15% cut of sales, and either ships your orders (for an additional 20%) or ships you the product (you are then responsible shipping out the orders yourself).
Yep. Just as with CD Manufacturers, Vinyl Manufacturers are on the look-out for unlicensed samples and will waste no time pulling your project from the production line if they locate any unlicensed samples in your music. (The manufacturing plants are always the ones that will call you out, by the way — the Mastering Engineer and the Lacquer-cutter won’t care.)
How have others bypassed the problem? They’ve taken their chances, and by taking their chances, I mean avoiding the cheaper, high-volume manufacturers and trying to find smaller manufacturers who may not have the manpower to run everything through detection software. But unlicensed samples are always a gamble when having your music manufactured, so consider yourself warned!
To get your LP in record stores across the land you will need a Distribution Deal, which is typically only an option if you are signed to an established record label. For more details, see CD Distribution.
Without a Distribution Deal, your best bets for selling vinyl are:
✔ from your merch table at shows
✔ at your local record store, where you can establish a relationship with the buyer and clerks
✔ from your band website and from online stores and services such as Storenvy, Big Cartel, CD Baby, Bandcamp and CASH Music (and by linking to whichever stores/services you’re using from your social media)