Vinyl epiphany - Benbo

A couple of Thursdays ago I watched Mandy Parnell cut the lacquers for the first publicly available Pink Lizard Music vinyl – Pablo’s ‘Feels Like.’ It was an amazing and surprisingly emotional experience.

Cutting vinyl

There is an incredible difference between cutting and manufacturing vinyl, and just getting your tracks mastered for digital download.

Mandy had already sent me back to the studio once to rework the mix. Too much bass coming from too many instruments. That can be fine with digital, but it’s a no-no for vinyl because the limitations of the format will mean your cut sounds worse.

So I was finally in the studio with a cleaned-up mix. Mandy fired up the lathe, a vintage machine last manufactured in 1984, and cut a version at 45rpm. We listened back; it was crunchy and hard-hitting.

Then she cut a version at 33rpm. It became warmer, easier on the ear, more enveloping – especially as the track developed.

Deciding on the rpm

We debated, and eventually settled on the 33rpm version.

How do you decide? It’s almost imperceptible. You stop analysing the sound and instead pay attention to what your body’s doing. If you’re moving, it’s good. If you feel elated, it’s good. If you want to throw your hands in the air when the drop hits, it’s good. It’s emotional. Some masters make that happen, some don’t.

As I write this I’m remembering the only other time I’ve ever cut vinyl.

It was 2005. I’d found the cheapest broker I could and paid something like £300 for 200 7″s. I’d also gone for the cheapest mastering I could find, about £30. I turned up and the guy was already off his box. My mixes sounded shit (because they were shit) and everything he did to them made them sound worse to me.

No compromise

Of course the cheap broker used the cheap pressing plant – it’s still the main cheap plant today. And when the vinyl came back, it looked shit and sounded shit. But I hadn’t ordered test pressings and I didn’t know my arse from my elbow, so what could I do?

There are so many differences in what happened then compared to last Thursday.

A key one is budget. Our production budget for this release is about £1500. (We won’t make that back, of course. Nobody releases vinyl to get rich!)

But the main one is this: NO COMPROMISE. I wish I could go back to my younger self and say – stop trying to do everything cheap/yourself/at a profit. None of that honours the thing I learned from Pablo when we first started working on this tune in 2012. He said: ‘it’s all about the work.’

Lightbulb moment. Not making money, or getting noticed. Just about the work, and making it the best it can be.