We love how dedicated our community is to the vinyl format. But do you really know how the wax gets made? We’re going to get technical and run down the step-by-step process of how a record goes from sound waves to finished product.
Step 1: Creating the Lacquer
The manufacturer at the pressing plant takes an aluminum disc and coats it with a veneer of nitrocellulose lacquer. Also, the center hole is punched using a highly specific machine and a microscope that finds the exact center. Now, it’s ready to have the grooves cut with the sound of the album being pressed.
Step 2: Cutting The Album
You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘cut a record’ before, right? Well, that’s literally what happens in this next step of production. The aluminum disc with the lacquer painted on it now goes onto a lathe, which is a recording machine with an extremely sharp tip, usually made of sapphire.
This tip etches the grooves into the surface of the disc while the recording plays, matching with the sound waves coming through the machine. This process creates vibrations which are unique to the frequency and amplitude of each song. This is also why, when you put a record on the turntable and put the needle on, but don’t have your speakers turned on, you can faintly hear the sound coming out! The vibration caused by the needle moving is matching the vibrations created by the lathe when the record was being pressed. Cool, huh?
The same cutting process is repeated for the other side of the album. Once the record is done being cut, it’s inspected for flaws by the manufacturer. Usually, a few of these are pressed prior to the mass-production of the record and are approved by the artist/label/engineer, etc. If there are any flaws, new lacquers are made and the process starts over.
Step 3: Plating and Stamping
After the lacquers are approved by all the appropriate parties, the lacquer disc gets “plated,” which entails it being washed in a silver solution and left to sit in a bath of tin chloride solution. This is where it gets scientific!
The tin molecules in the solution are attracted to the silver, so they all start to form and congeal on the top of the disc, creating an opposite image of it. The tin molecules fill in the grooves cut by the lathe, creating a “positive” image to the lacquer’s “negative,” and the resulting piece of metal, known as the “stamper,” will now be used as the mold to press the vinyl records. The lacquer is discarded once the stamper is created for both sides of the record.
Step 4: Pressing the Records
Records are made from pellets of PVC, or polyvinyl chloride. The standard color used is black, but as our club members are well aware, these pellets come in an endless array of colors, and can be used to create all kinds of designs on the surface of the record. Opaque color, splatter, half-and-half, swirl, you name it!
These PVC pellets are melted down and shaped into a soft, squishy, Play-Doh-looking lump. The lump is then sandwiched in between the two plates made earlier in this process; the A-side plate is on the top, and the B-side plate is on the bottom.
The rough edges are trimmed away by spinning against a sharp knife so it creates a perfect circle, and voila, the record is done! It then goes onto the other departments at the pressing plant to get all the finishing touches: labels, sleeves, jackets, etc., and soon enough it winds up at home on your turntable!