Before cassette tapes allowed everyone to cheaply immortalize sound, all one had to do to make a record in 1957 was pop into a coin-operated booth. The Voice-O-Graph, created by the International Mutoscope Reel Co. Inc. in the late '40s, etched a tinny sound into cold 6-inch vinyl in real time, allowing customers to record a birthday greeting or tap into their inner Bing Crosby.
This idea intrigued Rob Wallace (left), owner of Rabbitfoot Records, a vinyl-only store that opened last March in Titusville. His goal was to be a hub for collectors and local musicians – the shop holds regular discussion nights and hosts shows – but now Wallace also offers walk-in record cutting, among other services.
For a long time Wallace had wanted to put his own band's songs on vinyl, but he found the minimum ordering requirements at some record presses too high. "I'm just a working-class dude, I don't have a lot of money, I'm not on a label, and I didn't want to have to buy $3,000 worth of vinyl," he says. "Isn't there a place where you can get 50?"
He'd heard of other bands taking the DIY approach and cutting their records with vintage equipment, but the quality of the old gear was usually bad. What the former Navy machinist really wanted to do was try his hand at cutting records himself.
Wallace's research turned up coin-operated recording booths, but he also found a business in Germany that currently manufactures record lathes – the machines that cut records (as opposed to pressing them). Wallace bought one for $5,000 and trained on his lathe in Germany for a week, during which he says he cut about 100 records. Since mid-November, he's been cutting records for local bands and making some "mixtape" albums for walk-in customers.
All this is to say that anyone can get a record made at Rabbitfoot. The retail price for a 12-inch LP is $25 and a 7-inch is $15. Prices go down as the number of records goes up, but Wallace says he caps orders at 50 records because it's labor-intensive to make them: Each one is heated up and cut after the sound is equalized, and he listens to every single track to verify the sound quality and that there are no glitches, like a scrap of vinyl shaving causing a skip. In fact, he hovers over the lathe like an expectant father, eyeing the cutter head as it glides over the hot wax.
Wallace can put digital, reel-to-reel, analog and live recordings on an LP, and the record can be done in about an hour, depending on his workload. Each record is unique – he says he can change lead-in time and space between tracks – but the sound quality matches the original recording that he is working from. Records are available in 1.5-millimeter black and clear vinyl, and each comes with a Rabbitfoot label, but custom labels can be arranged through the store's preferred graphic designer. Wallace shuns colored vinyl because it doesn't come in anti-warp formulations like the black and clear does.
Rabbitfoot is also a newly minted record label with the signing of its first band, Gillian Carter. Through a partnership with Park Ave CDs, Rabbitfoot will distribute its own bands' vinyl (and any bands who get their records cut at Rabbitfoot but aren't on the label) at the Orlando store. (Side note: PACDs is also eager for more local bands to distribute their albums in the newly revamped Florida section of the store.)
While anyone can make a record at Rabbitfoot, Wallace thinks bands will be his main customers. Coming in with cash for just eight LPs is no problem because there's no minimum order requirement. Bands from all over the U.S. have played at Rabbitfoot, and word-of-mouth has lured the Woolly Bushmen, the Living Deads, Skinny Lister and others to his store to get some records cut.
There doesn't seem to be any other business in the U.S. that provides the venue/label/distributor/record-cutting combination. Jack White's Third Man in Nashville and Merge in Durham, N.C., are somewhat similar in their approach, but neither offers all of the symbiotic services that Rabbitfoot does.
And that's just as well. Having a local who promises high-quality records-to-go is a godsend for musicians. "The best recording you give me, I can match it, and even accentuate certain sounds to make it sound even better on vinyl," Wallace says.
Maybe it's the beginning of vinyl for all, again.