5 Things They Don’t Tell You About Pressing Vinyl

So, your band has recorded a new album and you’re thinking of releasing it on vinyl. Who doesn’t love vinyl, right? Well, you might not after you read through the following things no one ever tells a band when they’re contemplating a vinyl release. We don’t want to scare you off, we just want you to be loaded with all the info you need to make an informed decision.

RELATED: 7 Reasons Your Band Should Release Music on Cassette

1. VINYL IS HELLA EXPENSIVE

Yeah, you knew pressing vinyl would cost a bit more than your average CD run from Disc Makers. But no one ever tells you the true cost of pressing vinyl before you get started. United Record Pressing has a great online estimator that will allow you to (roughly) calculate what your dream vinyl release will add up to. We love their calculator because they’re completely upfront about the costs of pressing, and what it entails. And we encourage YOU to use it to figure out if vinyl really makes sense, financially, for your band right now.

You want colored vinyl? Great. That’s gonna cost you. Up to 70 cents per album if you’re doing a short run of 500 or less. Seventy cents doesn’t sound like much, right? Well, that’s about $350 extra when you press up 500.

Also, be prepared to pay a setup charge from your pressing plant of choice, fees for test pressings (which can be mandatory and up to $100 per release), printed labels (oh, you wanted color? that’s gonna cost you), inner sleeves, record jackets…the list goes on. Never thought of that stuff, did ya? You want the plant to insert your records into their sleeves? Well, of course you do. Guess what? Extra fees! Shrink-wrapping? Fees! This isn’t meant to slag the plants, it’s just a reality check when it comes to the manufacturing costs that add up when pressing wax.

The next time you see an advert claiming, “We charge $XX amount of dollars for #XX number of vinyl,” really look hard at what that includes.

2. YOU’RE ORDERING TOO MUCH

Vinyl’s great. Everybody wants it. Your fans will eat it up! OK, reality check. Most bands order far too much physical product – be it CDs, vinyl, tapes, merch, whatever. Look, we love vinyl, but unless you’re taking pre-orders, or really tracking anticipation through a crowdfunding endeavor, it’s hard to accurately judge the quantity of records you’ll need to order to satisfy initial demand and future sales after your initial release push. We caution bands to order LESS than you think you might need.

You may think your fans are clamoring for vinyl, because you’ve read all about it and there’s tons of other bands doing it, and vinyl’s supposedly hot right now. But over-ordering leaves you with extra costs and product that can be hard to move without losing even more money through discounting. Plus, having a limited release can actually be a bit cooler, as it might encourage those who were on the fence about buying your record to snag one up before they go out of print. Maybe order fewer copies, but make them a bit nicer (colored vinyl, gatefold sleeves, etc.). And if you sell out of your initial run, you can always press more later.

3. YOUR VINYL WEIGHS A TON

No, seriously. Have you ever tried moving your record collection? Vinyl weighs a friggin’ ton, and what that means for your lucky band is, you now get to pay to ship it all once it’s pressed! Oh, and not just once, but multiple times! You want to get the records once they’re done at the plant? You’ve gotta pay to have them shipped to you. You want to start selling them at an online retailer? Well, you’re likely gonna have to pay to ship them (again) to that retailer’s warehouse or storage facility (hint: drop ship them from the plant to your retailer if you won’t be fulfilling orders directly). You want to ship them to fans who order through your website? Great, you’re gonna have to ship ’em! All this shipping (and multiple shipping) adds up because records are heavy and require good packaging to arrive safely (you don’t want to have to pay return shipping on broken records, do you?!?)

The logistics of shipping (and storing) vinyl rarely enter the conversation, but it’s something to take into account. We know of at least one band who ordered a ton (well, not literally) of records only to find out they didn’t have enough cash to ship them. Then, you’ve got the extra fun of informing your fans of the extra shipping and handling charges you’ll need to pass on to them if you want to break even on postage, packing materials (you do plan to send these in proper LP mailers, right?) and tape.

Again, we don’t want to discourage you from releasing your next album on vinyl, we just want you to make smart decisions.

4. YOU GOT THE TIMING ALL WRONG

CDs and digital downloads take very little time to prepare and distribute. I did a rush order on CDs once and the turnaround time was just three days. Three days from the delivery of the master to fully pressed, professional CDs in cases. And downloads, as we know, can be instantaneous.

So, if you’re used to that sort of timing, be prepared for a lovely surprise when it comes to vinyl. Yep, these plants can get backed up. There simply aren’t enough presses still in operation, and with more demand comes more lead time. You can’t order a record on Monday and expect a shipping container to arrive on Friday, full of your new album. Contact the few remaining pressing plants still in operation and ask what their current wait time is. Oh, and for extra fun, don’t be shocked if major label records take priority over your smaller run. It’s not unheard of for smaller indies to get pushed down the schedule if there’s a big release taking precedent.

Delays and longer-than-expected lead times should be factored into your release strategy. The last thing you want to do is get fans hyped up for a vinyl release, only to totally bum them out when you’ve gotta tell ’em it’s gonna be a few more months. By then, they may have forgotten about it. Call the plants. Know the timeframes. Plan accordingly.

7-inch Nirvana single on Sub Pop. Happy #tbt

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5. TRACK SEQUENCING TIPS

Vinyl’s a cruel mistress. For maximum fidelity, we really recommend no more than 18 minutes per side at 33 1/3 RPM, so keep that in mind when it comes to your album’s run time. Inner groove distortion is also a very real concern, yet few bands actually sequence their albums properly to compensate for this when sending in their masters to the vinyl plant.

After you decide which tracks are going to be placed on each side, it’s recommended that you put “hotter” songs, or tracks with more frequency information, at the beginning of each side. That way, mellower songs, or acoustic tracks with less musical information, can be placed at the end of the side. With less room for musical information, packing the end of each side with blistering tracks will all but ensure you end up with noticeable inner groove distortion, even on good playback systems. For an example of a well-sequenced album, look no further than The Replacements’ Tim. Side A kicks off with the rocking “Hold My Life” and ends with the more subdued “Swingin’ Party.” Side B opens with glorious slop-rock of “Bastards of Young” and closes with the acoustic “Here Comes a Regular.”

Ah, if only all of life’s problems could be easily solved with a Replacements record…

main photo by Moehre1992, used under a Creative Commons license

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