Petra-Fi Records' Small World

Calling all local musicians: Petra-Fi Records' small-run vinyl pressing might just be the ticket

So your band has been busy writing songs, playing shows, saving the money from those gigs and then spending most of it recording the tunes at a proper studio -- and now you’re faced with the tough decision of how exactly to release it to the eagerly awaiting masses. Despite what some might think, it’s far from an easy choice to make.

No one wants clunky CDs anymore and you’re making fractions of pennies from streaming services for plays. What else is there? For the truly inspired, you’re faced with either making cassettes (just stop) -- or the prospect of forking over thousands of dollars to a record pressing plant to put that beautiful music on vinyl, basically the music industry’s last-man-standing.

But what if you don’t have the funds or a fanbase large enough to justify the cost/number of records you’re required to purchase through a major pressing plant? Luckily, that’s where the fine folks at Petra-Fi Records come in.

A relatively new business venture (officially opened just last month) by the musically inclined brothers Adam and Jordan Chini, the Valley Center-based shop operates a record lathe that is capable of producing small-run, individually made batches of vinyl. Naturally the cost per copy goes up since you’re not ordering huge quantities, but if you’ve only got funds to purchase 10 7-inch records (instead of 100 or 1,000), it might just be the best route to go.

I spoke with co-owner/operator Adam via email to find out just how the idea for the North County business became a reality, what goes into the process, and the results local musicians can expect when placing an order.

Dustin Lothspeich: How did the idea for Petra-Fi Records come about?

Adam Chini: Petra-Fi Records came about in the early New Year hours of January 1, 2016. I always seem to get inspired around the new year, and vinyl record pressing came to mind. It only took me a few minutes of internet browsing to realize the high costs associated with owning and operating actual vinyl pressing machines, and I threw that idea out the window very fast. Without becoming completely discouraged, I stepped back and began digging a little deeper into a more realistic approach, which would still suit my vision, yet still be effective within the music industry. I came across some obscure 1940s mono cut record lathes, and I was very intrigued by the process and overall approach of record lathe cutters.

DL: Where/how did you end up getting the lathe? Was it expensive?

AC: I purchased our Presto 6N Record Lathe off a very reputable and generous fellow by the name of Mike Dixon, who owns and operates several unique businesses, including his lathe-cut company “PIAPTK.” He’s very into what he does, and he’s done projects for the Flaming Lips, Ariel Pink, and Dr. Dog just to name a few. I really look up to him in many ways, and he’s been nothing but a tremendous help, and great mentor thus far. He’s also been brutally honest with me when I’ve asked him questions when running into a wall with the lathe ... The record lathe I purchased is not cheap, but let’s just say its way less money than owning and operating a vinyl pressing machine and factory. I wouldn’t want it any other way at this point in time. I have some costs associated with my operation, but what business doesn’t?

DL: Some people like myself don’t know exactly what "lathe-cut” means, so how would you explain the process?

AC: A lathe-cut record is made one at a time, in real time, as opposed to “mass produced” vinyl records being done at some pressing plant. If the music is four minutes long, it takes four minutes to cut -- plus the prepping of each disc, and playback afterward. Lathe-cut records are done on inexpensive polycarbonate plastic which usually starts out on a 4-by-8-inch sheet, and CNC’d into 7-inch shaped circular records. Before the cutting process starts, I always do several test cuts and EQ the track in order to get the best fidelity possible. From there, I process and prep the tracks for production. I peel the adhesive off the plastic circle, polish it, bring the cutter head over to the record, engage the lathe, and press the space bar on the computer to begin the music. It sounds easy, but trust me, it’s not. I’ve had a love/hate relationship over the lathe since I purchased it, but we’ve been on very good terms as of lately. It still amazes me when I hear the music come off the stylus, as it’s embossing these shallow grooves onto the plastic. Once the track is finished, I take it off the lathe platter, throw it on a standard turntable, and give it a quick listen before moving on to the next record. If a band wants 20 records done (A&B sides), you’re really cutting 40 records. Lathe-cuts are tedious, but the outcome is a great feeling when you get a text or phone call from the band saying “how clean and awesome” their music sounds, or how they’ve already sold their lathe-cut records out.

DL: I’m sure all your projects are priced individually, but if a band wanted to get a record made by Petra-Fi -- is there a ballpark figure that could give people an idea of how much they can expect to pay?

AC: Right now, my most popular requests are 10 7-inch lathe-cut records with A&B sides, center colored labels, and plain black or white sleeves. You figure $10 a record, plus sleeves and colored labels. You’re looking at about $150 out the door. I’ve had several clients come back for three more runs of the same exact release and project just because they’ve sold out every time they put out the first batch of 10. I find the record lathe to be suited for independent bands looking to get a few records done for an affordable price. They are great for merchandise, Kickstarter projects, promo pieces, and you don’t have to end up spending thousands of dollars for vinyl records that might end up in one of your band members closets if you split up (which I’ve experienced). The best way to describe a lathe-cut record is a warm analog sound which has a little higher fidelity than a tape cassette. Every client so far has sold each lathe-cut record for $20-plus, once they know the tedious process and craft behind this black art. It gives them a little more confidence in selling them for a little more money once they realize how each record is made.

DL: Give me the bottom line: Why place an order with Petra-Fi?

AC: Well for one, my turn-around time is only a week or two at most. I’m always willing to answer any questions someone might have before starting on their project, and we take pride in each record we cut. You can order however many records you want, since there is no minimum order, unlike other pressing plants where you have to press a minimum of 300 copies. Not only do we emboss the music on the records, but we do center labels, suit you up with a nice record sleeve, and offer cover art as well if you’re looking to get a complete project through us. Let’s just say we are a lot more accommodating then backed-up vinyl pressing plants which will only continue to get even more backed up ever since the uptick in “vinyl record popularity” ... We consider each record we cut a handmade piece of artwork. It’s amazing what a 77-year-old historic lathe can do for someone.

Visit Petra-Fi Records on Facebook and/or Instagram for orders, info, etc. Tell 'em Dustin sent you.

Dustin Lothspeich books The Merrow, plays in Diamond Lakes, and runs the music equipment-worshipping blog Gear and Loathing in San Diego. Follow his updates on Twitter or contact him directly.

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