How Are Vinyl Records Made?
Whether you are a new vinyl listener or a long-time record collector, you know there’s something very special about vinyl records. The magic of the needle drop will transport you to another place, another time, or another mood. But have you ever been curious about how it all works?
It’s quite the miracle the way our favorite sounds, favorite voices, and favorite songs come from that black disc isn’t it? So let’s take a more technical look at what it takes for us to experience music through this media. If you’ve ever wondered how to make a vinyl record, follow along just like your favorite song on the step-by-step journey from sound waves all the way to your record player.
The introduction sets the tone for the rest of the song. This first step in the record creation does the same. It all starts at the pressing plant where the manufacturer takes an aluminum disc and coats it with a veneer of nitrocellulose lacquer. Then, the center hole is punched out using a highly specific machine and a microscope to find the exact center. This beginning step of creating the lacquer prepares for the grooves to be cut with the sound of the album being pressed.
Have you ever heard the phrase “cut a record” before? It’s because that’s literally what happens in this next step of production. Like the verse of a song, we have to establish a melody and begin telling the story. To do that, the lacquer-covered aluminum disc is then placed onto a lathe, a recording machine that has an extremely sharp tip most often made of sapphire.
The tip then etches grooves into the surface of the disc while the recorded sounds play, matching with the sound waves coming through the machine. This process creates vibrations that are unique to the frequency and amplitude of each song. If you’ve ever placed a record on a turntable and put on the needle without the speakers turned on, you can sometimes still faintly hear the recording. That’s because the vibration caused by the needle moving is matching the vibrations created by the lathe when the record was being pressed.
This cutting process will be repeated for the other side of the album as well. Once the record is finished being cut, the manufacturer inspects it for any flaws. Usually, a few of these copies are pressed prior to the mass-production of the record so they can be approved by the artist, label, master engineer, and others. Of course, if any flaws are discovered, new lacquers will be made and the whole process would start again. Otherwise, if the record is approved, the master disc has now been created, and we’re on to the next step.
Like the pre-chorus of a song, we’re building to the important part but not quite there yet. So after the master record lacquers are approved by all the appropriate parties, this disc now gets “plated,” which means it will first be washed in a silver solution then left to sit in a bath of tin chloride solution.
For any of the science nerds, here’s where the process gets even more interesting: So the tin molecules in the solution bath are attracted to the silver ones. These molecules begin forming and congealing on the top of the disc, creating an inverse image of it. The tin molecules fill in the grooves cut by the lathe in the record which forms a “positive” image from the lacquer’s “negative” image. The result is a piece of metal known as the “stamper” which now will be used as the mold to press the vinyl records. The lacquer disc has played its part and is discarded once the stamper is created for both sides of the record. Now it's time to press the records.
And now we’re on the part of the process we can keep on repeating just like the chorus. It starts with the materials. Records are made from pellets of PVC, or polyvinyl chloride. These PVC pellets are melted into a soft, almost Play-Doh-like, lump. This squishy ball of melty PVC is then placed between the stampers, the mold plates made in the previous step, which are the A-side and B-side plates of the record. Now the hydraulic press does its job and presses the vinyl into a record.
The most common color used to press records is black vinyl, but as you might know from our exclusive collection of vinyl, PVC pellets come in a wide variety of colors, and they can create an endless amount of combinations of designs to make colored vinyl records. You’ll find records in solid opaque colors, various splatters, half-and-half, swirls, and more which is really what makes vinyl records so unique.
Once the vinyl has been pressed by the machine, the outer edge is trimmed up by spinning against a sharp knife to create a perfectly smooth circle. From there it's onto quality control, but otherwise, the record is complete.
Completed records will go onto the other departments at the pressing plant to receive all the finishing touches including labels, sleeves, jackets, and more. And then there’s the distribution process, the record store, shipping, but eventually, the record makes its way to its final destination: spinning on your home record player.
Just like a song, there are many, many other parts; however, as a simple look, that’s the record pressing process. It’s not the process that we enjoy most though–It’s the records themselves! Join our loyalty program to earn points and rewards every time you shop. And if you really want to discover more records, check out our vinyl subscription to get exclusive vinyl every month.