Flexi vs. Plexi: Are Lathe Cut Records The Next Big Thing?

Clear 7" square lathe cut disc
Your band has painstakingly written and recorded a bunch of future-mega-hits and now the question being bandied about the rehearsal space is "Do we need physical product?"

While anyone who has ever excitedly posted tracks to Soundcloud, Bandcamp, or their website and been completely underwhelmed by the lack of traffic driven to your future-mega-hits over the weeks and months to follow, the answer to that question is a resounding YES.

5-inch plexiglass lathe cut picture disc
See, while streams are free, there is something to be said for the experience of holding actual product in one's hand that adds perceived value to your future-mega-hits that no amount of Soundcloud spam can ever equal.

But what format do you select?

CD's are, well, CD's: compact, affordable, and, last but not least, accessible to all, which is more than can be said for cassettes and vinyl.

Even so, cassette duplication is incredibly affordable and there is much that can be done to create unique and enticing packaging to set your release apart from the multitude of other artists also rediscovering the format.


Heck, even vinyl is relatively affordable as long as you are realistic about your sales expectations, but the downside, of course, is that pretty much everybody is hopping on the vinyl bandwagon these days. Hence, if you're trying to differentiate yourself, vinyl itself may no longer pack the necessary punch.

So, what else is there?

Traditional black flexi-disc
\Well, for starters, you might consider going the flexi-disc route. For those of us "of a certain age", flexi-discs were quite common in the '80s, many appearing in music magazines and the like where a thicker conventional vinyl single would be inconvenient or be subject to damage.

Unlike vinyl, which offers higher fidelity, but is expensive and often brings with it an excessive turnaround time of up to three months or more, at Pirates Press, 1000 two-sided flexis can be had for $1,250 (about the same price as 1000 conventional CD's in digipak) and, while turnaround time varies based on workload, it is but a fraction of the turnaround time for vinyl pressing.

The downside, of course, is that flexi-discs on their own may not have the literal or perceived value of regular vinyl, but this is where your own creativity comes in handy. Those who can successfully come up with a unique way of packaging their flexi-disc may wind up gaining media or radio attention that they may have otherwise not received.

Another option that could potentially solve the "perceived value" conundrum: Short-run lathe cut records.

Wait, what's that, you ask?

Imagine, if you will, foregoing the traditional vinyl route and going with plexiglass, or, "polycarbonate" as the more science-y folks like to call it, instead?

Black round 7" plexiglass lathe cut
As it turns out, Tucson, Arizona isn't just home to bands like Calexico, Giant Sand, Green On Red, the Supersuckers and Naked Prey, its also the unofficial lathe-cutting capitol of the freakin' universe due to the existence of a small, yet determined community of lathe cutters, many of whom are musicians themselves.

This includes Locked Groove Records, Disk Craft Lathes, and Precarian Cuts.

Unlike Denver, CO's Meep Records, which seems to specialize more in one-off lathe cutting projects at a steeper price per unit, the Tucson cutters specialize in runs of increments of 25, which means you can still order 200, if so inclined, but that your turnaround time will be longer, as each disc is mastered for maximum fidelity and then cut in real time, one-by-one.

The sizes available are 4", 5", 6", 7", 8", 10", and 12". You can choose between square or round cut records and three colors of plexiglass; clear, black and white. They even offer pictures discs!



Pricing for a run of 25 7" square (because, hey, if your gonna be different, you may as well be different!) records will run approximately $210 (we chose white plexi and full color center labels).

That's less than $10 per unit, which, considering the labor and expertise involved, is pretty damn affordable. Keep in mind that these are intended to be treated as works of art and should be marketed to your audience as such because, hey, you're music is art. That you're delivering a limited-edition collector's item to your die-hard fan base or trying to get the attention of your favorite writer at Brooklyn Vegan should be worth much more than the ten bucks it cost to press the final product.

The downside: The fidelity of plexiglass is about 75% of that achieved with traditional vinyl. Also, it's mono, so your traditional stereo panning must be placed dead center instead.

Again, this is a limited-edition work of art, not necessarily intended for the audiophiles in your fan club.

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility

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