By Ken Sharp
In the past five years, vinyl has been making a big comeback. Given the major resurgence of interest in the medium, vinyl pressing plants have understandably been busy, many backlogged for six to eight months trying to meet demand. Established in 2015, Real Time Vinyl, a small company based out of Calabasas, California, is run by four die hard twentysomething vinyl-a-lolics — Alex Vojdani, Matt Kronish, Donald Fisher and Jordan Avesar — whose mission is simple: they specialize in limited pressings of vinyl albums and singles ranging from one to 50 and the company can also do larger orders as well. This ability to offer limited pressings that are high quality, and equally important, both affordable and provide significantly faster turnaround times is a godsend for independent musicians interested in putting out their music on vinyl. Musicians with limited financial means can feed their vinyl jones without having to meet larger quantity, minimum pressings required by most traditional vinyl manufacturers. Join us for a conversation with the founders of Real Time Vinyl as they fill us in more about the company.
Goldmine: Explain the magic and allure of vinyl.
Matt Kronish: Part of the allure comes from the nostalgia that most people feel for vinyl records. The look, feel and sound of vinyl records evoke a certain ‘vibe.’ From an engineering perspective, music that is captured on vinyl is as unique sonically as it is physically. The process of cutting vinyl is very different than any other style of capturing audio. The music/frequencies are literally being etched directly into the record blank, meaning that there is actually not a lot of loss of fidelity from the original source recording when it’s done well. We believe all of this adds to the ‘magic.’
GM: How do you account for the resurgence of interest in vinyl spanning multi-generations?
Alex Vojdani: In the digital age the music industry has likely been affected more than any other entertainment industry. Things are quickly moving towards a mainly streaming-based platform for music consumers. Vinyl records can be bought and sold but not copied or duplicated. This helps the artist and their production team because there is no such thing as ‘vinyl piracy.’ There is also a subconscious nostalgia that consumers seem to have for the analog recording formats. We don’t think this is surprising, because up until a few decades ago every piece of music was recorded to tape and then printed to vinyl.
GM: What’s the business model for Real Time Vinyl?
Alex: We are all about catering to the artist. We have fast turnaround times, and there is no minimum on how many vinyls you can order. We offer customizable jackets and stickers so the clients can really make their records stand out. This allows independent artists and bands to stay within a budget while still being able to get their music on high-quality vinyl records, and fans seem to really enjoy having limited-edition, hand-cut records. The low-batch sizes that we offer allow for super limited and more customized releases which tend to drive demand.
GM: Fill us in on the research that was involved/hands-on trial and error done before hitting upon a recipe for great warm-sounding vinyl records.
Alex: We had to be trained by the engineer who built our machines on how to operate, maintain and troubleshoot them. Even with all of the training it took months to calibrate and tune the machines once we reassembled them in our own studio. Regarding the ‘warmth,’ it is a result of the music being specifically cut onto vinyl which tends to add a lot of low end to a mix/master naturally. As far as our personal mastering process goes we tend to be as non-invasive as possible. We keep our master as close to the original mix as possible. In most cases we aren’t trying to change the original mix at all. That being said, there are certain EQ, compression, phase and stereo-imaging adjustments that must be made for almost vinyl to be cut successfully. We strive to keep these adjustments as transparent as possible to keep the integrity of the original mix. Cutting records is an ongoing learning process and it has taken years to reach this point.
GM: What crucial pieces of information did you learn during the start-up phase?
Alex: Any start-up has its inherent hurdles. It is not easy to start any business without the right capital and publicity … and vinyl is no exception. When you do something like this you quickly learn how many small steps you have to take along the way. From cutting the actual record to sending the client their confirmation and tracking information and everything in between. We have to handle every step of the process, so having an effective workflow is key. Social media has been a great way to introduce our service to the public but having a physical presence in the vinyl community we feel has been even more effective at creating long-lasting relationships with our clients.
GM: Describe what makes Real Time Vinyl stand apart from other vinyl manufacturers?
Alex: The initial thing that sets us apart is that we offer no minimums, even on our most customized packaging. Anyone can log onto our website and order anywhere from a single vinyl to a batch of 50. Our turnaround times on orders are from two weeks to a month, which is significantly less than a traditional pressing plant. Secondly, the material our vinyl blanks are made of are very pure poly-vinyl carbonate which makes clearer transcription. Our records are also perfectly flat which allows for a more precise cut and steadier playback. Lastly, we offer custom die-cut center stickers, which as far as we know is unique in the vinyl cutting industry. Other than that there are more steps to the process of making pressed records: first you have to cut a master lacquer copy of the record, then you have to make a metal mold of the master, then you have to physically press the records to poly-vinyl using a hydraulic press. In our process, we simply cut a master record straight to poly-vinyl and give it to the customer.
GM: Discuss how the company specializes in smaller runs with much quicker turnaround, a key issue that makes it affordable for those without deep pockets to fund a small pressing.
Alex: Because we cut our records instead of pressing them we have to keep our batch sizes low. Our maximum is 50, this keeps it affordable for our customers to order small batches on a monthly basis. It also keeps the projects flowing because we don’t spend as much time on one project. Due to our small batch sizes we are able to minimize our turnaround time as well.
GM: Run us through the process of making a vinyl album from start to finish.
ALEX: The first thing that happens is we receive a request form with our customers music and artwork files through our website. Next we send our customer a mockup and quote for their order with a link for payment.
Once the mock up is approved and the payment is received we begin the mastering process. We setup the machine to cut several test samples of the music for quality assurance and then begin the first master cuts. Once we achieve the best master we feel is possible we begin cutting your batch.
After the cutting is finished we apply custom stickers to each vinyl. Lastly we print jackets with your custom artwork and send your order on its way.
GM: What are the crucial principles that help create a great sounding vinyl album to one that’s mediocre?
Alex: There are certain things that vinyls just can’t do. If a client’s digital master has a lot of low end on the sides or if the kick drum is not panned in the center of the mix or even if there is just too much low end and super high frequencies in the mix in general the needle will jump during playback after the record has been cut. It is also a good idea to carefully check for phase cancellation between instruments and frequencies in a mix before cutting the record. Compression can also be a determining factor in how well a mix translates to vinyl. The more heavily compressed a piece of music is the less volume and impact it will have once cut to vinyl. The more dynamics in the mix the better, generally speaking.
GM: In terms of new pressings by established artists, from a purely sonic perspective, pick a few of your favorites and why?
Matt Kronish and Donald Fisher: We have all really been enjoying the new Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats LP because it’s just great music. As well as “The Hateful Eight” soundtrack which happened to be packaged by our friends over at Stoughton Printing company. Also, we’re digging the Father John Misty record. They cut it at 45rpm on 12-inch vinyls. The fidelity and replay value are really good!
For more information, go to www.realtimevinyl.com.