Vinyl disruptor: the Melbourne musician shaking up the vinyl trade
There’s a lot of work that goes into spinning the perfect record – from the process of making the disc itself to recording music on it – but making vinyls is a prohibitively costly process for many up and coming artists.
Enter Brendan West, a Melbourne musician looking to disrupt the vinyl trade with his new creations: small runs of lathe-cut vinyl. The difference? This is a process that doesn’t require the same overheads as traditional pressed vinyl. Now operating as Cut & Groove Records out of Laneway Studios in Abbotsford, James Pilbrow caught up with Brendan to talk about the future of vinyl.
How did you end up actually getting it off the ground?
I play in two bands, Tooth & Tusk and The Cherry Dolls, and a few years ago I wanted to put my own music on vinyl. After dong some research I basically found out that I could do it myself. So, I looked into things a little bit more, and found out where I could get the equipment I needed from. I actually had to fly over to Germany to do that, and learn how to use all the equipment. Then I had it shipped back to Melbourne and started cutting my own stuff on vinyl, then started cutting other people’s work too.
You’re one of two producers of vinyl records in Melbourne – Zenith in Brunswick is the other one – but your setup is quite different to the traditional vinyl manufacturing process, isn’t it?
Yes, Zenith is a pressing plant. They will start off with a negative mould of the vinyl, then they’ll press each individual record. It’s quite a quick process. With my technique – the lathe technique – I start of with blank discs and the audio. I cut the audio into those blank discs one record at a time, and that’s done in real time. So it’s quite a time-consuming process, and this is why I can only do small-scale runs of vinyl, whereas Zenith can do more commercial scale runs.
So has your business helped smaller local artists release vinyls earlier on in their musical careers?
Yeah, absolutely. Music is always a costly process, especially when you want to put something on a physical medium. Most of my customers are young bands and young independent labels. Most are getting orders of 50 records or less just to sell at their shows, and it saves them having to spend thousands of dollars on getting 200 copies done when, realistically, they might not be able be able to sell all of those. I found this happened with my own bands in the past, even when we did CDs you’d get a few hundred made and more than half of them would just end up sitting in a box in your bedroom. I’m sure lots of musicians in Melbourne that have experienced that.
Although we can only cater to smaller orders, the turnaround time is significantly less than what you would get from a commercial pressing plant. We can have most orders out within two weeks, as opposed to three to six months. We have a lot of bands come to us that might have a launch night booked in a few weeks time and need to get vinyl done within that timeframe. This would never have been possible in the past – we can punch out orders in a couple of days if we have to.
Also I think people are attracted to our low-key DIY approach to making the vinyl. A lot of the time these days, bands have recorded tracks in their bedrooms and cutting the vinyl by hand creates a more personal connection between the bands, the product and ultimately the people who are buying the records from them.
Is there any difference in the sound quality using the lathe technique?
No, not at all. The audio is going direct to the vinyl. The difference is in a pressing plant they’re cutting a master disc and then the negative plates for the pressing are cast from that. With my technique, I’m cutting directly to disc every time so I’m eliminating a few steps. I can monitor every disc as I do it, so if there’s any funny noises or anything else weird going on, I’m able to quickly fix that before I start cutting the next disc. I think the quality is absolutely fantastic, and from all reports, other people think so as well.
So what’s in store for Cut & Groove in 2017?
Just to keep expanding. Most of my customers seem to find out about us through word of mouth, so I’m going to keep putting the word out there, keep cutting vinyl and keep making bands happy. We’re trying to get into mastering music as well, because a lot of the time I get audio that hasn’t been mastered specifically for vinyl, and that means the audio might not turn out as well as it could. We’re looking into what we can do to offer customers that service as well.
You can find out more about Cut & Groove Records at their website, or if you’re a budding musician looking to get into vinyl, you can contact Brendan at firstname.lastname@example.org
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.