Lathe Cut Records: A Slice of Vinyl

A Slice of Vinyl

Some music never makes it to vinyl, or any physical medium for that matter. This is not uncommon anymore given that digital distribution is king, but sometimes the physical is still desirable. In the past cassettes served as the primary vessel for over the air music to become physical. The low cost and wide availability of tapes made this easy. Popular culture such as Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy cemented the status of the mixtape as an icon. The classic cool of a Sony Walkman coupled with a handwritten title on a clear Memorex tape and puffy orange headphones is dated yet timeless all at once.

The iconic Sony Walkman from Guardians of the Galaxy

What better way to show your crush how much you love them than a personalized mixtape? In the 1990’s this evolved to the CD. Music sourced from peer to peer networks such as Napster expanded the selection of available music from radio singles to entire albums. Before long, entire discographies manifested into college dorms and home offices alike. The contemporary version of the mixtape is the Spotify Playlist, which is created and shared within the magic of the app.

A Little More About Lathe Cuts

Mixtapes have never gone away, but they have evolved. This brings us to lathe cut records. While not a new technology by any means, lathe cuts are seeing a bump in interest due to the internet. Unlike common records, lathe cuts are made on a one by one basis. The process takes as long as the music runs, so a 20 minute mixtape takes 20 minutes to make. This is just like a cassette in that manner. This removes any necessity to create a master lacquer to press multiple copies of a record. This opens up the possibility of cost efficient limited pressings available to all. Independent artists are now able to satisfy fan demand for records. This is reflective of the overall boom in vinyl’s popularity, but what about everyone else? What if you wanted to make a custom mixtape but on a record? Fortunately, there are options.

My Experience

Mixtape Vinyl on Demand is the name of a seller on Etsy who specializes in such a service. They offer various sizes, colors, sleeves, labels, and other services for a reasonable price. You must own the music files or pay for them via iTunes, but you are able to have anything cut on a record. They offer their service as a perfect gift idea. Imagine receiving a vinyl mixtape of your favorite music with a heartfelt picture as the cover.

I recently placed an order with the shop in hopes finally owning bo en’s 2013 album Pale Machine on vinyl. The album never saw a pressing, and It seemed a shame to never have it on vinyl. After discussing my options with Jen and Nicole from Mixtape Vinyl on Demand (and working through some technical difficulties), they were able to cut the record for me.

The jacket and record itself

The expectations for audio quality at this point are low; I do not expect a full-body experience comparable to an audiophile pressing on a 180 gram disc. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the audio. Adjustments to my systems equalizer were in order, as was a significant boost in volume, but this was anticipated. This was worth it since I now had the only vinyl copy of Pale Machine. The art is clearly a sticker stuck on a white cardboard sleeve, but the quality of the print is evidently high. The clear disc is beautiful and compliments the contents of the music.

The front cover.

Is It Worth It?

The desire to own any music on vinyl can be fulfilled with a short conversation and click of the mouse. There are no shortage of services available for this purpose, and mechanically inclined individuals can engineer their own lathe cut machine. A recent Kickstarter campaign for a mass produced machine saw success, so maybe we will see an explosion of independent labels. If you have a white whale record or want to impress a vinyl enthusiast for their birthday, this is an excellent gift idea that is a cut above the rest.

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Jose Diaz

Collector of analog media.

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