The Record Making Process

by Paul W. Brekus
Aardvark Record Mastering

  1. Master tapes and artwork are completed by the artist. This includes all tracks timed and in the proper order on the master. Artwork for the label and jacket is at least in a "mock up" stage.
  2. Master tapes are sent to the mastering engineer, i.e.: Aardvark, with the following details:
    1. Master tape, edited with selections in order, and proper time between cuts. Preferred Formats are CDR, File Upload, DAT, Mini Disk, Reel-to-reel, or Cassette.
    2. For Files:
      1. Send the files in WAV or AIFF format on a CD or DVD,
      2. or Conctact us on the Contacts page for details about our FTP server,
      3. or Let us know where your files are hosted.
      4. Formats are from 44.1 to 96kbps, from 16 to 24 bit.
    3. For reel-to-reel tapes:
      1. Speed: 15, 30, and 7-1/2 ips in 1/4 and 1/2 inch formats.
      2. Tails Out or In.
      3. Tones of 1Khz, 10Khz, and 100hz at 0db recorded on the machine that recorded the master. If this is not available, let us know, and we’ll do our best to match our deck without tones.
      4. Noise Reduction, we can only handle DBX-A, and prefer no noise reduction.
    4. Timed list of selections.
    5. Speed of the record, 33-1/3, 45, 78, or 16-2/3.
    6. Size of the record, 7", 10", or 12" for standard sizes, odd sizes OK (5,6,8,9,11).
    7. Record (Matrix) number. This needs to be written in the "wax" so the pressing plant can match the stamper plates to the labels. There is really no standard convention for these numbers, but usually an abbreviation of your record company followed by a series number, then A and B for side one and two. (i.e.: AARD-7001-A and AARD-7001-B for Aardvark’s seven inch series, first record.)
    8. The record pressing plant where the stampers are to be shipped, or the plater that will handle the plating.
    9. Additional instructions such as write "Not intended for human consumption" in the "wax" on side "A".
    10. Payment, details will be discussed later.
  3. Reference Lacquers (Optional) When a record pressing plant does a test pressing, they press 5 copies, 3 for you, and two for their files. This requires the press to cycle 5 times to pop out 5 copies. When we cut a reference lacquer, it's a complete cutting with all the equipment set to how we plan to cut your master disk. The blank lacquers run over $12 to $15 each, and the time to cut is real time. The purpose of a reference lacquer is to check how your music will translate to vinyl without having to go through the full mastering, plating and test pressing stage. Reference lacquers are not to replace test pressings as there can be physical problems after we do the master cut. Examples are noise due to stamper damage in shipping or mishandling at any step, chemical imbalance during the plating process, or even a damaged cutting stylus. Once a reference lacquer is received by you, we will need your approval or comments on the sound of the reference lacquer so we can proceed with the mastering, or make corrections. If there are corrections, we will re-cut another reference lacquer with the corrections. If you require further reference lacquers after the initial two, we will charge the reference fee again.
  4. The mastering is usually done within one week of receiving the order.
  5. The master disks (one disk for each side of your record) are sent Express to the plater.
  6. Plating:
    1. The plater coats the master disk with a thin layer of silver. This is then electroplated with nickel to about 15 thousandths of an inch thick. When the metal is separated from the master disk, the metal that was facing the disk now has protruding ridges where the grooves were. This plate is called the FATHER plate.
    2. The FATHER plate is plated again. The resulting plate when separated becomes a metal duplicate of the master disk with grooves again. This plate is called the MOTHER plate. The MOTHER can be played on a turntable to check for errors in mastering or plating.
    3. In a two step process, the FATHER plate is converted into a STAMPER, the MOTHER is shelved for future use.
    4. In a three step process, the MOTHER is plated to make the STAMPER plates.
    5. One FATHER can produce 10 MOTHERs. One MOTHER can produce 10 STAMPERs. One STAMPER can produce about 1000 vinyl records. Therefore, a two step process can produce a maximum of about 11,000 records before a remastering has to be done, and a three step process can produce up to about 100,000 vinyl records before remastering.
    6. Advantages of the three step process:
      1. More records may be produced without remastering.
      2. When silver is used on the master disks, there may be some leftover silver on the FATHER plate that can cause some noise. In the two step process, this silver is removed, however, some may remain. The three step process will not have any residual silver on the STAMPERs. If there is noise caused by silver, a new stamper can be pulled from the MOTHER, and there will be no silver residue.
      3. In the cutting process, the edge of the groove forms a small ridge called a horn. This horn can catch the vinyl in the record press causing "non-fill" where the vinyl doesn’t quite fill between the grooves, and will cause a crackling sound. Polishing the MOTHER plate will remove this ridge, and the vinyl will flow properly between the grooves.
      4. We always suggest the two step process because of the savings over the three step process, and if problems arise, the MOTHER can be used to determine if there was a problem in plating or mastering.
    7. Plates are good for years. It is wise to have your STAMPERs returned from the pressing plant with your record order as they will cash in the scrap nickel after they store them for about 6 months. The MOTHERs are usually held for a year at most platers, but they can be returned to you. It’s best to wait until you have the records completed in case there is any problem with the pressing plant.
  7. Labels are printed from typesets or camera ready artwork. Usually they are one color ink on a contrasting paper such as red ink on white paper, silver ink on black paper, black ink on pink paper. The inks are to be the darker color except when using silver ink. Seven inch records use 3-5/8 inch labels with either a 9/32 inch or a 1-1/2 inch center hole. Twelve inch records use a 4 inch label with a 9/32 inch hole, and ten inch records use either 3-5/8, or 4 inch labels with a 9/32 inch hole. 78s use a 3 inch label, as do some odd sized records. Camera ready art should be black on white with specifications of what color inks are to be used where the black is, and what color paper on which to print.
  8. 12 inch jackets are printed at a jacket manufacture. They usually need printer's film. This differs from photography film as the negatives used for printing are actual size, and there is no gray scale in the photographs. To do photos, a process called halftones is used where the photo is converted into small dots of varying size. This gives the illusion of grays. Color photos are converted into 4 layers of printer's film, each layer appearing black and white. Each layer is used to print one of the 4 "process" colors of yellow, magenta, cyan and black. Combinations of these 4 colors in varying degrees will produce any nonmetallic color in the final printing. The process for black and white film is called engraving, and for color it is called color separations. Some jacket manufacturers have on-site or subcontracted film engravers, most want the film.
  9. Test Pressings are run using the stampers that will be used for the final pressings. These pressings are samples of the final pressings. They usually have plain labels. Sometimes the seven inch records will have the wrong size hole. This is because they either punch the 1-1/2 inch hole or not depending on what plant you use. Tests must be approved before the plant will go ahead and run the records. Check the following:
    1. Noise, pops occurring in the same place on every test pressing.
    2. Record Numbers, be sure the record number written in the "wax" for each side is correct with the "A" side being the "A" songs.
    3. Skipping, again on each copy of the tests.
    4. If there are problems, contact us. We cover excessive noise, and skipping, but We will only assume liability for remastering, and plating if we handled the plating. We may request that at least one copy of the tests be sent to me.
    5. All problems must be reported to Aardvark within 45 days of mastering. This is plenty of time for the plating, and your full evaluation of the test pressing. All issues reported after 45 days will be charged at the discretion of Aardvark.
  10. Pressing:
    1. The pressing plant needs the stampers from the plater, and the labels from the printer before they can start.
    2. The vinyl is loaded as a glob between the labels, then the mess is squashed in the press between the two stampers at about 300 degrees Fahrenheit, and 100 tons of pressure for about 20 to 30 seconds.
    3. The excess vinyl is trimmed off the edge of the record, and the record is stacked for cooling.
    4. The final pressing is then loaded into the paper sleeve and jacket if applicable.
    5. The completed product is then shipped to you.
  11. Our prices and how to figure them
    1. For each seven inch to be mastered, include m7
    2. For each 10 or 12 inch to be mastered, include m12
    3. For each seven inch to be plated, include p7
    4. For each 10 or 12 inch to be plated, include p12
    5. For each order, include s for shipping and handling. If you are doing just one seven inch, or 5 twelves, the shipping would be s for the lot.
    6. One seven inch mastered and plated would be:
      m7 + p7 + s = m7+p7+s
    7. One twelve inch mastered and plated would be:
      m12 + p12 + s = m12+p12+s
    8. One seven and one twelve mastered and plated would be:
      m7 + m12 + p7 + p12 + s = m12+p12+m7+p7+s

Main Aardvark Page