Vinyl Mastering

Vinyl sales are on the rise! Still not a big item in the overall revenue picture but up double from last year so lots of bands are releasing their album on vinyl as well as CD and uploads to a digital distributor.

People are now asking more and more if there is any difference between CD/Digital Distro mastering and vinyl mastering. The answer is YES!

The (pre-) mastering process starts with the usual audio sweetening, balancing and spacing of the songs and then cutting a lacquer. Both these steps can be done by the vinyl lacquering engineer or it can be done by the same mastering engineer who is doing the CD/Digital Distro audio who then delivers the album to the lacquering engineer who then does a FLAT transfer. A flat transfer means the lacquering engineer ONLY modifies the audio where necessary in order to transfer it successfully to the lacquer.

After the lacquer is made, it is sent for plating and then goes through more processes before manufacturing starts. This can be done at one company or in three different places!

So why not use the lacquering engineer for the actual mastering work while he is cutting the lacquer? The answer is simple! You have put some thought into selecting your mastering engineer for the CD and Digital release so why would you trust someone you don't know to do the work for vinyl?

Many years ago, I learned that it is difficult for the engineer making the lacquer for vinyl directly from modern CDs. They are usually too clipped and/or limited in order to make them loud. In addition, some of them are very bright which causes the lacquering engineer to have to de-ess the audio(take away the excess vocal sibilance and equalize out the excessive high end).

I learned what not to do when I got a call from a band whose CD I mastered saying that the lacquering engineer was complaining about how my CD master was making it difficult for him to make a good lacquer! So I called him and got some feedback on what to change in my approach. I also talked to another lacquering engineer for confirmation and more tips.

So these days, if my client tells me they are manufacturing vinyl as well as CDs, I recommend that they create a separate album for the vinyl manufacturing. This is not as difficult or expensive as it might sound! In fact, what I do after mastering the first song of the album for CD, is to calculate how I want to create the same song for the vinyl guy. Once I figure that out, I run the vinyl version. I make note of what I did and follow the procedure for the rest of the album. In other words, we find the appropriate settings for the next song for CD and then apply the same couple of changes that we did to the first vinyl master, and so on, until we end up with two albums. The changes are the same for every song for vinyl so you retain the same tone and balance for the whole vinyl album. Works like a charm!

I then sequence the CD and use exactly the same spacing for the vinyl album except for the Side A, Side B split. Once all audio is approved, we make the CD master for the client and a test master on CD of the vinyl work, for proofing purposes. With unattended sessions, proofs are all done via FTP. If no further changes are to be made, we upload the 24 bit audio to the vinyl mastering engineers FTP site so they don't have to work off a 16 bit CD.

So how much time does it take? Once I have the difference between the first CD master and Vinyl master noted, it only takes about 7 minutes, or so, to set up and run each vinyl version provided it is done at the same session. If you decide to do it later, it takes much more time as I have to recall all the gear for each song before I can print it.

So maybe an hour and a half to set-up and run the vinyl master plus do a separate sequence. At our hourly rate, that works out to about an additional $125. for a ten song album as long as done at the same time as the album.

Those that have done it are very satisfied with the results!

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