Vinyl and tape production and digital distribution
Updated June 2014
We get a lot of email from bands and other labels asking who we use for our vinyl pressing, tape dubbing, printing etc, so I thought I’d put it up here for anyone that finds it useful.
Who we use and why
We have used Disc Manufacturing Services for all our vinyl so far. They were recommended to us and they’ve been amazing. They will match other prices, be patient with newbies like us and listen to the tracks to give an opinion on whether they will press OK (vinyl can be funny with certain frequencies etc). Dave at DMS has genuinely gone out of his way to help us with our lack of knowledge and stupid questions.
If we were in the US, we’d probably get our vinyl pressed at United. We had a tour of the place recently, and they really love what they do, and put a lot of work into making it great.
We upload full quality, lossless tracks (WAVs or AIFFs) and the label artwork (PDFs from their templates) to Dropbox, then send a Dropbox link to DMS to download. Roughly two weeks later we get 5 test pressings in the post. These are to check that we’re happy with the pressing and there are no problems with either sound or imperfections in the metal plates that press the records. Once we approve them by email, we are sent the full pressing of records, after another few weeks.
Remember that vinyl has pretty short duration limits. These depend on the pressing plant’s engineers and the actual audio you submit, but as a rough guide:
- 7″ – 5 mins per side @ 45 rpm; 7 mins per side @ 33 1/3 rpm
- 10″ – 9 mins per side @ 45rpm; 12 mins per side @ 33 1/3
- 12″ – 14 mins per side @ 45 rpm; 22 mins per side @ 33 1/3 rpm
We have done releases where these limits are stretched. The production company’s engineers should keep you right.
Label artwork (for the label in the middle of the record) has to be supplied at the same time as the audio. This is because the labels are pressed into the vinyl, rather than stuck on afterwards. Full colour labels cost a bit more than black and white ones. Unprinted (white) labels are cheapest. The company you use to press your records will have PDF templates for each size of record label which should have guide lines to show you where the hole is, where the little ridge is around the middle of the label, and where the ‘safe’ areas are. See the packaging section below for more on safe areas.
A wee pet hate of mine: please remember to state the speed on the label, and which side is which.
Vinyl pressing is like printing: the more you buy, the cheaper each unit becomes. Pressing 500 records is not that much more than pressing 250. Many companies (including DMS) will only do 250 units minimum now.
Do remember, though, that if you’re only likely to ever sell 250 copies, there is no point in spending any extra just to have 250 extra records taking up space in your house. Remember that vinyl is very heavy and very bulky.
In June 2014, prices for black vinyl with black and white labels, paper inners and no sleeves are roughly:
- 250 x 7″ = £480
- 500 x 7″ = £650
- 250 x 12″ – £650
- 500 x 12″ – £900
The same with standard colour sleeves.
- 250 x 7″ = £680
- 500 x 7″ = £890
- 250 x 12″ – £890
- 500 x 12″ – £1200
Vinyl pressing can take a long time, and times vary greatly depending on time of year etc. Don’t ever plan to get records back in the time estimated by the company. Ideally set your release date as twice the estimated time from order. Don’t try and get records pressed from January till April, as Record Store Day orders for April are crazy. Estimated time at the moment is roughly 8-12 weeks.
Cassettes / tapes
Who we use and why
We get our tapes from Tapeline. They have always given us exactly what we asked for. Tapeline will supply exact lengths of tapes. You don’t have to buy C60s or C90s. They also supply them in lots of different colour options.
We have recently used Infinitely for our tape duplication. They don’t advertise their cassette duplication service on their website, but they do it. We were really happy with the results and they arrived on time.
You have a couple of choices with tapes. You can either pay a company to dub (record the audio onto) your tapes, or buy blanks and dub them yourself from a CD, computer or another tape deck. Having a company dub them means you don’t have to sit and do it by hand and the sound quality will probably be a bit better. We have had all ours professionally dubbed, apart from the 10 we did for the Yusuf Azak album, which we dubbed ourselves. Tapeline have a minimum number of units they will dub for you. I still haven’t been able to get them to tell me what the minimum is, but it’s more than 10.
Onbody artwork is what is printed onto the actual tape itself. You can have your tapes professionally printed, for a price. Tapeline will supply with a template and you send them back finished artwork which they print. This will make your order take take longer to produce.
They also sell A4 sheets of tape labels, so you can print them on your home printer and stick them on. If you do this, wait till you get the sheets and measure them to make a template in your graphics package. All the templates we found online were the wrong size for the sheets we were sold.
The other option is just write on the tapes with permanent marker.
Times can vary wildly, so ask them first. Tapeline have to be chased many times normally. Our orders have taken anywhere from two to six weeks. I’ve heard of orders taking longer. Always ask for a delivery date.
We have never done CDs. If you are doing them, Disc Manufacturing Services produce them. If you are doing anything more than a few demo songs, please consider getting proper CDs pressed rather than burning your own CD-Rs. CD-Rs have a really short shelf life. They degrade and scratch very easily, and unlike records or tapes, when it’s scratched, it just doesn’t work any more.
Recording Magazine explain mastering in much more detail than I could. If you are doing tapes or CDs then you may not _need_ to have the tracks mastered. You really, really should if you can though. If you are doing vinyl, you absolutely have to get the tracks mastered. Most vinyl pressing places will do this for a fee. We have had all our vinyl mastered by Sam McIntosh at 45 A-Side Recordings. Sam does an amazing job for us every time with a fast turnaround, and he’s cheaper than most of the press plants. Highly recommended.
Most vinyl pressing companies offer sleeve printing too. Ask them about it. You can normally send the company other things to be inserted into the sleeve (download codes for example) and they’ll insert them for a fee. It’s the simplest option, as your records arrive all made up. It is normally not the cheapest or most interesting way of doing things though.
We try and do something different with each release, and we haven’t done any ‘normal’ printed cardboard sleeves yet.
For vinyl we get our records packed in paper inners, or in plastic sleeves if we need them. We did fabric sleeves for the Trapped in Kansas / Yahweh 7″ using a cheap roll from eBay. We had a 12″ sleeve printed by Newspaper Club. We hand screen printed the Lady North / PAWS 7″ sleeves at Edinburgh Printmakers. For the Conquering Animal Sound / Debutant 7″ we had the vinyl packed in plastic sleeves and then got the top part printed by what is now The Online Print Company. They’ve always been really helpful for Gerry Loves work as well as other jobs I’ve used them for. For the Yusuf Azak album we bought blank, pre-made 12″ sleeves with a 3mm spine with no centre hole from The Carvery in London and had them shipped to us (they don’t advertise this service on their website). We then had Colour Hotel in Glasgow screen print a two colour design onto them, front and back. For any screen printing job, be sure to order at least 10% more sleeves/paper/whatever per colour of print to allow for misprints.
For the Wounded Knee tape, we bought the cardboard sleeves from Tapeline which are supposed to be for sending tapes, and cut to exactly the right size. We then got stickers printed by Solopress for the front. Solopress are good quality, cheap and fast. The only problem with them, in Edinburgh at least, is that they use Citylink couriers, who only seem to employ the worst, most useless, inept, uncaring degenerates. If you really do need your artwork the day it’s supposed to be delivered, ask Solopress if they can use another courier. For the Field Mouse / The Japanese War Effort tape, we bought packs of handmade Indian paper in A5 sheets form our local art supplies shop, which is exactly the right size to wrap a tape in. Then we used more Solopress stickers on the front and tied it together with hemp string from the art supplies shop.
A word about artwork
Getting artwork done in the right formats at the right sizes and resolution is hard if you don’t know what you’re doing. Please try and get someone who does know their stuff to check your files before you send them off. Always ask the company if they have templates you can use. Always return files in the same format they sent them to you. Always make sure artwork is at the resolution of 300 DPI (sometimes called PPI). Try printing it out to see if it’s the right size. Always send artwork in CMYK or black and white format. Don’t scale images up by more than 20% (or at all if you can manage). Artwork is hard. Take your time, and plan time for correcting it if the company says it’s wrong.
Free downloads with physical products
We offer a free download with every record or tape when you buy it online from us. We use Bandcamp for this. They take 15% of your sales, but we think it’s worth it for the service they provide. It allows buyers to get an instant free download of what they just bought, in any format they want, with bonus material if we want. They can stream all the tracks there and then, and see photos of the records/tapes. They also allow you to generate download codes for your releases so you can create download cards to put in records/tapes for sale at gigs etc. You can print all the download codes from the website and then cut them out, or hand write them onto different cards you have printed yourself, as we do. We just get these done at our local copy shop, black and white. You can also sell downloads directly with Bandcamp. The best part is you can style your page to look the same as the rest of your website if you have one, so people feel like they are still on your site.
Since 2013 we have also used digital distribution to get our releases listed in the digital music stores and streaming services. Most stores and streaming services won’t deal with individual small companies, so you have to use a third party for this.
Who we use and why
We’ve been using Emubands and they’ve been great. They’re close to us (Glasgow), have the best prices, and have done everything perfectly so far. They charge a one-off fee to add your release to as many of the listed stores and streaming services around the world as you want.
Their website used to be infuriating but they’ve just updated it and it seems to be much better.
It’s worth noting that many digital stores require a specific capitalisation for song and album titles, where every word must have a capital letter to start. While this is not correct in our opinion, you have no choice. So we have to change titles like ‘Peace in the Underworld’ to ‘Peace In The Underworld’.
Emubands have helped us a few times by calling or emailing to double check things or point out mistakes so that when the songs are submitted to stores, they don’t get rejected, which would slow everything down.
Most distribution services charge a yearly or monthly fee. If you stop paying, your release will be pulled from all stores and services. Emubands only charges a one-off fee. In June 2014 that’s £25 for a single, £35 for an EP and £50 for an album. You don’t get to control what prices the stores charge for your releases. Stores will take a fee for every unit sold before giving you the rest as royalties. Most stores only report sales a month or two behind, so you won’t see any return for at least that long. Once you have royalties to be collected, you can request Emubands transfers that money to you.
Because we do physical releases, we always have final mastered songs well ahead of release date so we’ve always submitted to Emubnads in plenty of time. However, I believe the time taken to get songs live on stores is around a few days for iTunes and up to a few weeks for some of the other stores. Submit your songs as early as possible. You submit a release date with the songs so they won’t go live on stores until you want them to, no matter how early you submit them.
There is probably a lot I’ve missed here, so please contact us if you have any other questions and I’ll add them to this post.
- Buzzsonic has lots more vinyl info.
- If you’re looking for more info on releasing stuff in general, Song, by Toad has a really good guide.
- Made Mountain wrote a really detailed, useful post about self-releasing his album.
- How to Release a Record is US-centric but an excellent resource for releasing vinyl, cassette, CD and digital.