LACQUER CUTTING / MASTERING TIPS FOR THOSE NEW TO THE VINYL FORMAT
DISCLAIMER: All information on this page and elsewhere on the GGR website are intended to guide and assist you in the process of making a record. However, in no way should any of such information be taken as a “guarantee” of playability of your record on all systems, or an endorsement of the masters you submit. The ONLY way to make sure your master is ideally suited for the vinyl format is by hiring a mastering engineer to pre-master your material for vinyl. Please contact us if you would like referrals to some folks from whom we regularly accept masters (James Plotkin, Adam Boose with Cauliflower Audio (who also cuts lacquers for GGR sometimes), and Chicago Mastering Service are three of our most regularly used referrals, but there are many credible engineers whom we would be happy to refer to you. At the end of the day, listening to records is a mechanical process; and therefore many variables are at play. A record that is professionally cut may still “skip” on a poorly adjusted or “cheap” turntable. A record that is professionally cut may not sound how you expected it to when you submitted your digital masters. If you have ANY concerns, prior to paying for records to be made, we cannot more strongly suggest consulting with a mastering engineer who is familiar with the vinyl format.
All lacquer cuts ordered through Gotta Groove Records are engineered by our resident lacquer cutter, Clint Holley, or one of his associates under his supervision. You can contact Clint at firstname.lastname@example.org. Here are some basic pointers from Clint about preparing vinyl masters:
We work from the assumption that your master is “vinyl ready”. We do not alter your audio without contacting you first. That being said, a couple of things generally happen when your audio is cut to a master disc. A low cut filter is used at 40Hz to control and maintain the bass frequency information of the audio. This keeps the grooves from slamming into one another and helps fit your audio into the space provided by the lacquer disc. A high cut filter is placed around 16Khz to help control high frequency information in the audio. The vinyl medium does not “like” a lot of high frequency information. Instruments such as hi-hats, cymbals and tambourines often cause distortion if all high end is allowed to pass through to the cutting lathe. Vocals that contain a lot of “SSSS” sounds (sibilance) will also cause a distorted sound on your master recording if not properly treated.
Our mastering chain is clean and simple, in order to provide the highest quality and least alteration of your sound. We use a classic Neumann VMS-70 cutting lathe, which has been an industry standard for over 35 years. All audio is loaded into a specially built computer system that uses professional level software and plug-ins. Audio out of the computer is converted to analog via a Lynx II soundcard/converter which supplies clean, uncolored audio for the lathe to cut. The audio is routed directly into the cutting lathe rack from the soundcard. Our Neumann VG 74 B cutting rack includes a high frequency limiter that helps to reduce the possibility for distortion by compressing certain high frequency material.
What is a “Vinyl Ready” master?
For a master to translate well to vinyl, certain considerations need to be kept in mind starting from the mixing process all the way to the final cut.
1)Follow the general guidelines for proper mixing.
2)Leave headroom in your mixes to enable a mastering engineer to do his job properly.
3)Avoid the use of brickwall limiters or “Finalizers” in your mixes. They destroy dynamics and cause distortion. Let your mastering engineer use his/her tools to bring your mixes to their final levels.
4)Do not mix hi-hats and cymbals too loud. They will cause distortion and/or trigger the high frequency limiter in our rack.
5)Always center your bass frequencies. Drums, bass guitar and low synths need to be in the center of the stereo image to ensure proper groove geometry.
6)De-ess your vocal tracks!
7)Have a professional mastering engineer familiar with the vinyl medium master your tracks.
8)Especially if this is your first time mixing and/or mastering for vinyl, WE HIGHLY RECOMMEND THAT YOU PURCHASE THE LOW PRICED EMAILED TEST LACQUER CUT SAMPLE PACKAGE (only $20)! This will allow you to hear how your audio is translating to vinyl and will allow you to make corrections and adjustments before the lacquer is cut, plated and pressed. Recuts are time consuming and expensive – in most cases, mastering issues that arise at the test pressing phase are the responsibility and expense of the customer. Save time and expense by investing a little more up front!
If any glaring errors or concerns are noticed, you will be contacted by someone at Gotta Groove in order for you to correct the issue before your order is processed any further. But – please note, while we do listen to all masters, there is no way that all defects or flaws in masters can be caught prior to cutting your music.
WHAT ARE TEST CUTS? Test cuts are not test pressings. Actually, they are a few steps before test pressings, and are never suggested to be a replacement for physical test pressings. Test cuts consist of portions of your submitted masters being cut into an actual lacquer, and then played on a turntable and recorded into wav files for easy transfer via email. When possible, the cuts are made on the exact same part of the lacquer as where the grooves will ultimately land on a pressed record. Since these are actual grooves cut into a lacquer and then played on a turntable, it is about as close to a “pre-test pressing vinyl preview” you can get, outside of full reference lacquers. The $20 we charge helps cover a portion of the costs of materials (lacquers, in particular).
An even better option (albeit more expensive) is to have each side cut into a “dub plate” or reference lacquer/acetate to reference the entire master cut prior to even cutting the master lacquer. Please contact us for pricing on this option.
If you are providing your audio master in a digital form, we prefer either 96/24 bit wav files (if uploaded via our website) or a data disc containing these wav files. If all you have access to is redbook format (cd quality) audio, we can certainly work from that too. But, the wav files mentioned above will render a higher fidelity record.
Other General Considerations:
- A great rule of thumb is to put your loudest, heaviest tracks at the beginning of each side, and put your less dynamic and less high-frequency driven tracks at the end of each side (so, unlike with CDs, the order of your songs on the record is very important).
- Keep your bass centered (Kick, Bass) if you have toms, be extremely careful of hard panning (can cause skipping/skating issues).
- Keep your cymbals under control don’t mix them too loud or too bright.
- Make sure all of your vocals are De-essed properly
These four guidelines alone will help you through about 95 percent of the process.
With acoustic oriented projects, we have found that the less limiting you use on the master, the better. Our biggest suggestion with this kind of music is to mix and masters at levels that allow the music to sound natural and dynamic.
The lacquer cutter can turn the overall level up or down going to the cutting lathe, so overall volume is not really a major consideration when prepping masters for us; and heavy limiting really causes some distortion issues.
In terms of rolling off Bass and treble frequencies, don’t go too crazy on that end. Our lacquer cutter’s setup contains the needed EQ to do that job. Just mix according to the guidelines of proper mixing in general and you will be fine.
Side Length Considerations:
Ideal time limits for sides:
• 7″ @ 33 1/3 RPM: 6 minutes per side. (we can cut longer depending upon the music, however, please consult with us before placing your order). [NOTE: 45rpm is always the best choice for a 7", if side length permits. 33rpm is more of a "compromise", and can be more prone to distortion. Please call for more information.]
• 7″ @ 45 RPM: 4.5 minutes per side. (we can cut longer depending upon the music, however, please consult with us before placing your order).
• 12″ @ 33 1/3 RPM: 18 minutes per side is ideal, 20 minutes per side is still good, 22 minutes per side may cause issues depending upon the music, anything over 22 minutes – please call us before placing your order.
• 12″ @ 45 RPM: 12 minutes per side is ideal, 14 minutes is ok, anything over 15 minutes – please call us before placing your order.
Please Remember: The lacquer cutter’s job is to cut as flat as possible, in an effort to make the cut sound as close as possible to the provided master. Therefore, adjustments to the master to make it appropriate for the vinyl format need to be made at the mastering session — not at the point of the lacquer cut. If a master is provided that is pushing some element to the outer limits; such as vocals for example– chances are those pushed vocals are going to stick out much more on the vinyl record than on the digital master. For these reasons, it is very important that you provide a master that has been adequately prepared for the vinyl format.