Ever played one of your vinyl records and wondered how much it would cost to make one? Vinyl record sales have grown consistently, with a significant 30% jump in sales from 2019 to 2020. Vinyl continues to thrive in a world where music is taking the digital leap. But how much does it cost to make vinyl records?
Creating a single pressing would take anywhere between $5 to $20 while making an initial run of 100 vinyl records will cost around $450 to $2500 (among less expensive options).
The exact rate will then depend on several factors, such as the size of your vinyl, weight, music length, color, design, which company you decide to work with, and the packaging. This article will go through the production cycle of vinyl and the music industry’s economy to help you better understand why the price exists in this ballpark.
Procedures That Go into a Vinyl Record Production Process (With Cost Breakdowns)
To give you a clear idea of the cost of producing a vinyl record, you need to know what goes into it. Every vinyl record pressing requires these processes:
Lacquer cutting is the process of physically cutting into a record disc via a lathe. As your electronic needle travels along grooves, music plays through the record player.
The cost of a lacquer coating is $400 per 100 records (on average). The price can be much higher if you make smaller batches, making bulk production more cost-effective.
Lacquer cutting is also dual-sided, flipping both sides to get the most use out of the material. While this increases the per-record cost of creation, it does increase the value of your record.
Cutting on both sides ensures you can have longer records. When you create a record that holds more music, you can sell it for more money.
Afterward, the lacquer is then treated into various chemicals, helping it fuse and solidify to create a metal stamper with the same mold as the lacquer.
Electroplating and Plating
Electroplating has a coating of silver sprayed over the lacquer master with dipping into a nickel bath. The cost of plating a record is typically about $350 if you make 100 records). There are both two-step and three-step electroplating processes.
Two-step electroplating has a single “mother plate” for all the other records to use. The surfaces are magnetized, and the process is cheaper, but the master plates will wear out faster. This is because you are using a single plate to press all of your records.
Three-step electroplates add another step to create a larger number of records. In this case, a “father plate” makes a series of mother plates (usually around ten mothers), allowing for the creation of more than five thousand records.
If you are a smaller musician, you will most likely stick with two-step electroplating. The record industry uses both depending on the number of records you want to ship.
Center labels are the paper labels located in the center of the records. Bulk orders typically are cheaper, costing around five cents per creation.
Contrary to popular belief, labels are not stuck to the record with adhesive. Instead, labels bake onto the record’s surface, removing all moisture and attaching it to the surface.
The thing that impacts the per-record cost comes from design. If you have a more intricate label, you’ll have to pay the designer more to print and use it.
Inner Sleeves and Record Jackets
Inner sleeves and record jackets act as protection for the record, costing anywhere from $0.05 to $0.20 per record on average.
A good sleeve and jacket combination will prevent the record from moving around. This avoids scratches and damage, ensuring your musical disc can last for many years.
Test pressing a record is your first test of the mold you create during the plating and lacquering process. It is the ultimate test for your stamp (the mother/father record base) to see if it works.
The testing process can cost about $75, and this includes your first stamp, test playing, and inspection for defects.
The pressing comes from Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) pellets pressing into small “patties” before being flattened by the metal stamper and imprinted with the music.
These cost breakdowns assume you are working with a standard 135-140g black vinyl record.
Assuming that the music and the artwork are ready, the production process can take 6 to 12 weeks. The longer your procedure, the higher the cost goes.
This also depends on how big the order is and how busy your manufacturer is. During busier months, you can expect delays on your order. More active months are during Autumn or Spring when the weather is most temperate.
After confirming everything is going well during testing, the manufacturer presses and produces multiple vinyl records in a formal run. Here’s a video detailing the record production process:
Factors that Affect the Price of Vinyl Records
Aside from the generic production process, a few other factors influence the cost behind vinyl records.
Should you ever plan on making a vinyl record, knowing, the factors below will help you arrive at an accurate estimate of the expense you’ll incur.
Preparing and Pre-Mastering the Audio
Before making any test pressings, the audio needs to go through mastering, a form of audio post-production that involves adding the final touches to a song and preparing it for a format.
Compared to digital CDs and streaming, mastered music on vinyl tends to sound a lot warmer and fuller and generally sound closer to what the artist played. This warmness comes from the standard format for a vinyl master file, 24-bit 96kHz (either WAV or AIFF file).
Typically, there’s the standard 12-inch, which can hold about 22 minutes of music on each side. This situation is why albums pressed into this size last no more than 45 minutes. These are relatively cheap to press and are the most common size used in vinyl.
However, there’s also the 7-inch, which is significantly cheaper than 12-inch records. However, the catch is that 7-inch vinyl holds much less music, making them more expensive if you need to fill in 45 minutes of music.
Finally, there’s the 10-inch record, which was popular back in the early 50s. However, producing these tend to be more expensive than the 12-inch.
To guarantee the investment return after the initial costs, almost all processing plants will have a minimum requirement of at least 100 records.
Logically, the more records you want to make, the more expensive the final cost will be. However, there is still an economy of scale that makes each record cheaper when you produce more.
Additionally, the larger the run, the more likely it is that the processing plant will give you discounts or deals, the same way you can get items for cheaper when you buy in bulk.
Weight also matters in the world of vinyl production, as heavier vinyl pressings tend to bring the cost up.
Ideally, you would want the weightier 180g pressing over the standard 135g, which is more durable. Many also believe that the 180g sounds better than the 135g, although that claim is debatable.
Vinyl mastering precisely requires a mastering engineer with extensive expertise in the craft, which would cost more. This process is more expensive than digital mastering, which applies to all other popular audio formats.
Usually, processing plants would offer mastering services as part of the package, but some do not. Either way, it’s an extra cost that you should take note of.
While some opt to only one press one side of the record, the more common practice is to press both sides. While this makes it more expensive, it’s often par for the course. Remember that 45 minutes is standard when you use both vinyl sides when working under a 12-inch format.
Determining how long your record will be and how many minutes of music will be pressed on each side before starting will make the process easier.
Of course, a plain white center label is cheaper than a printed color label, the same way that white inner sleeves will be more affordable than colored ones.
Likewise, increasing the colors of the record jackets (as opposed to plain black or white) will also considerably raise the costs. Going all out with a color gatefold jacket is usually the most expensive option.
Any inserts like booklets for photos or lyrics will also add to the cost.
The color of the vinyl and any inscriptions you want also raise the costs. Because black is the standard color, adding dyes will increase the price by quite a bit.
Also, standard inscriptions cost less and will only increase in price the more complicated it gets.
Additional Factors Influencing the Cost of Vinyl
Vinyl production is a detailed process with several factors influencing the ultimate cost of creating a record. This section delves into the various additional costs encountered during production, which are pivotal in determining the market price of vinyl records.
The Scale of Production: Pressing Quantity and Unit Price
Understanding the relationship between the quantity of vinyl records produced and the unit price is crucial. Below we explore the dynamics of scale in vinyl production:
- Economies of Scale: Larger production quantities often mean a reduced per-unit cost, as fixed costs are spread over a larger number of units.
- Minimum Pressing Quantities: Industry standards dictate certain minimum quantities for pressing vinyl, affecting not just new artists but also limited edition releases that aim for smaller circulation.
- Limited Edition Runs: Conversely, limited edition runs, typically characterized by lower quantities, naturally incur a higher per-unit cost, both due to the lower quantity and often higher quality and unique features of these releases.
Geographical Factors: Production Costs Around the World
The geographical location of the production facility can significantly influence the costs. Below we navigate the cost implications in different regions:
- Labor Costs: Different regions come with distinct labor costs, directly affecting production costs. For instance, pressing plants in countries with higher labor costs will generally incur higher production expenses.
- Material Availability: The availability and cost of raw materials in different regions can fluctuate, adding another layer of complexity to the pricing structure.
- Shipping and Logistics: The logistical costs can vary based on the geographical location of pressing plants, with further influences from international shipping and customs duties for cross-border transportation.
Equipment Maintenance and Upgradation
Maintaining a modern, efficient production line is no small feat. Here, we discuss the intricacies of equipment maintenance and upgrades:
- Initial Setup Costs: Setting up a vinyl pressing plant involves considerable capital expenditure, including acquiring high-quality pressing machines and other ancillary equipment.
- Maintenance Costs: Regular maintenance is essential to ensure the optimal functioning of the equipment, entailing ongoing costs that can influence the pricing of vinyl records.
- Technological Upgrades: The industry continually evolves, necessitating periodic technological upgrades to maintain competitive production lines, an aspect that invariably adds to the costs.
- Skilled Labor: Employing skilled labor capable of operating and maintaining sophisticated machinery is another critical factor influencing costs. Proper training and retention of skilled workers add to the operational expenses but ensure a smoother, more efficient production process.
How Much Do Vinyl Records Cost for Fans to Purchase?
Vinyl records have witnessed a resurgence in popularity, making a comeback as a favorite medium for music enthusiasts and collectors alike. Fans who are eager to acquire these analog gems might be curious about the potential costs involved. In this section, we explore the different price points fans can expect when purchasing vinyl records.
The Basic Costs
- Standard Releases: Generally, newly released standard vinyl albums can range from $20 to $30. However, deluxe editions or double LPs can fetch a higher price due to the additional content and production costs involved.
- Classic Albums: Reissues of classic albums are often priced similarly to new releases, though some iconic albums with a rich history might command a premium price, potentially exceeding $30 or even reaching the $50 mark.
- Rock and Pop: Albums from the rock and pop genres are frequently available and can vary significantly in price based on factors such as artist popularity and album rarity, with a broad range generally falling between $20 and $40.
- Jazz and Classical: These niche markets may offer records both at a lower price point for less renowned works, and at a higher price point for seminal works or rare releases, potentially reaching upwards of $50 or more.
Limited Editions and Box Sets
- Exclusivity Factor: Limited releases, special editions, and box sets provide a more enriched experience but come with a higher price tag, sometimes being priced at over $100, owing to their exclusivity and additional content.
- Autographed Copies: Albums autographed by artists carry a premium, and the prices can skyrocket based on the artist’s stature and the rarity of the autographed edition.
- Vintage Collections: The second-hand market is a treasure trove for fans, with vintage collections, rare finds, and first editions often priced based on their condition and rarity. Prices can range from as low as $5 to several hundred dollars for coveted items.
- Condition and Rarity: A mint condition record can be worth a lot, while those with scratches or other impairments will see a reduced value. The rarity of the press also significantly impacts its value in the resale market.
Record Store Day and Special Releases
- Event-specific Releases: Events like Record Store Day often see exclusive releases, sometimes in limited quantities, which can command higher prices due to their uniqueness and limited availability.
- Promotional Offers: However, fans can also avail themselves of discounts and promotional offers during these events, potentially making valuable additions to their collection at a lower cost.
The creation of vinyl records is a bit of a process. Given the unique manufacturing process, it is easy to let the cost of these records get out of hand.
Having a bit of knowledge beforehand will help you understand what you need to know when producing a vinyl record. Given the niche appeal, you could potentially see the price drop a bit as more bands return.