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Seven-inch Single Turns 50!

Published: Wed April 01, 2009  News Feed

The first seven-inch was released by RCA in the US on 31 March 1949. But, even in the era of iTunes, 7" singles are still relevant...

7" Singles

EMI's Abbey Road studios in London, where many iconic UK singles were recorded and mastered, can trace its history back even further, to 1931.

The 7" single is arguably the most important music release format in history - it's the 7" who started the musical revolution that changed the face of pop music: from Elvis Presley to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, it was through the sales of 7"-singles that they first reached stardom!

The Beatles' Love Me Do

The 7" started it ALL...

Now, in the 21st Century, the 7" is enjoying a revival. Despite the popularity of MP3 downloads, all major acts still release their singles in the 7" format,  and having a 7" release is usually the first important step for an indie band.

Let's face it...7" singles are COOL again! If you're not into it yet, get yourself a cheap turntable and give 7" singles the attention they deserve!

How The 7"-single is made:

This is how all vinyl records start. Whether the finished product is a seven-inch single or a 12-inch LP, the music has to be engraved onto a 14-inch blank disc (or "lacquer") by a cutting lathe.

As the music plays in the mastering room, the cutting needle traces a spiral groove, heading towards the centre of the acetate disc. Two separate discs are needed for the A-side and B-side.

It is also possible to use copper discs in a process known as Direct Metal Mastering. DMM was developed  the early 1980s and was the last big advance in vinyl record production before the CD took over.

The finished lacquers go to the factory, where stampers are created by a process known as electroplating. Most of the UK's seven-inch singles are manufactured at EMI's former factory at Hayes in west London, now run by the Portalspace company.

The vinyl granules are heated and turned into a "puck", which is placed between two labels and squashed flat between the two stampers in a huge machine. Pressure of more than 2,000 lb per square inch is needed to turn the puck on the left into the record on the right.

The record that first emerges from the mould is not perfectly round and needs to be cut down to size. As it moves along the production line, it is trimmed of extraneous vinyl by an automatic cutter.

 

In the early days of vinyl production, all records had to be put into their sleeves by hand. But nowadays, that part of the process is automated as well.

7" sales peaked in the UK in 1979 (89 million sold) but by 2001, annual singles sales dipped below 180,000. Now, however, they are back above one million a year.

Photos and words: Robert Plummer [BBC News} 

 

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