Vinyl records are magical, but releasing vinyl introduces a lot of unexpected complexities. Here are a few tips from someone who learned the hard way.
Alandis Brassel is a music industry attorney and former audio engineer. He also dedicates his energies to product releases for artists, including vinyl LP releases. On Thursday, Brassel hosted a quick webinar with Music Business Accelerator, and broke down some hard-learned lessons about releasing a vinyl record successfully.
Tip #1: Know your production timeline.
Basically, rush jobs don’t exist in the vinyl manufacturing world, unless you’re a massive buyer like Universal Music Group. “Most vinyl manufacturers don’t do rushes as we traditionally know it,” Brassel told webinar attendees.
The absolute fastest turnaround Brassel could find was 5 weeks — and that’s pushing it. Here’s a quick sampling of what some of the largest vinyl record manufacturers offered in terms of turnaround:
Of course, there are other production plants, but those turnarounds are pretty typical. In total, Brassel advised allowing a 3-4 month production turnaround time for a vinyl release.
That introduces some tricky scheduling. Basically, your music has to be completed and mastered four months in advance if you want all formats (digital, CD, vinyl) to come out at the same time. “If you’re going to release your music on vinyl, have your music ready well in advance of your release date,” Brassel urged.
“Or, schedule a separate vinyl release date…”
Tip #2: Get your records properly mastered.
Keep in mind that vinyl requires a separate mastering process. A mastering engineer should provide you with a separate production master for CDs, digital formats, and vinyl. The vinyl-specific mastering process accommodates for different sonic qualities and various limitations of the format.
“You don’t want to skimp on that ,” Brassel urged, while pointing to potential “volume issues, distortion,” and other unforeseen issues endemic to vinyl.
Tip #3: Get the right artwork done.
When it comes to artwork, vinyl is a totally different beast!
The large album introduces far more real estate than any other format, as well as unique aspects like a sticker in the middle. All of it needs to be designed for and taken advantage of.
The cover will require seriously high-res photography. But there’s also the back and inner sleeve to consider. And if you’re doing a double-LP, you just multiplied the design tasks (or, opportunities, depending how you look at it).
And here’s an interesting bonus: inner sleeves are a great place to put lyrics. In fact, lots of older vinyl releases included lyrics — and before the internet, they were pretty much the only place you could find them.
Just for fun, take a look at some classic LP releases for some ideas. Of course, groups like the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin could seriously expand traditional packaging during the LP’s heyday. But barring over-the-top designs, older releases offer plenty of good lessons in packaging artwork.
But Brassel warned: just make sure the dimensions are correct!
Tip #4: Don’t forget the UPC.
Because the LP is a completely different format, it requires a totally different UPC. That ties back into the artwork as well, as it must be incorporated into the design.
It also need to be on the center label. “The big thing is the planning of the label,” Brassel warned.
Tip #5: Sequencing matters!
Here’s another unexpected foible to consider: track sequencing. In fact, you might need to rearrange the order of the tracks on an album to properly accommodate LPs.
CDs have one track sequence, which is usually the same as iTunes album downloads and the order of songs in a streaming album. But vinyl can have a totally different sequence, for a number of reasons.
For starters, each side of a 12″ LP can only hold 22 minutes of sound. Brassel advised just keeping it to 18 minutes to avoid any problems. “You don’t want to squeeze a lot of music on one side of vinyl, it just won’t sound good,” Brassel said.
Amplitude and volume are also key considerations. Louder songs are better placed on the outside of the disc, with quieter songs on the inside. The reason is simple geometry and physics: on the outside, there’s less angular curvature of the grooves, making it more optimal for fortissimo levels (of course, if you’re a brutal death metal band, you might not have the luxury of optimizing).
Tip #6: Review your reference master carefully.
In the production process, you’ll typically receive a ‘reference press’ to listen to the record in advance. It’s critical to listen carefully to the reference, and try to identify any issues or errors. It’s your last chance before serious runs begin.
Tip #7: Be prepared to pay for shipping.
Shipping is often an overlooked expense, and it can add up. “You’re gonna pay for it,” Brassel found out (probably the hard way). And once double-LPs, bigger jackets, or other special configurations come into play, those costs multiply.
And be prepared for minimum orders. For example, Brassel said United Records had a 300 minimum, while Standard Vinyl required at least 200 orders to start.
And what about HD Vinyl?
Brassel admittedly didn’t know much about HD Vinyl, which has yet to be released. But stay tuned: this format upgrade could dramatically change production costs and turnaround time.