Nathan Sawford cuts vinyl records straight out of his Brunswick studio. Seriously, this is a man who knows how to actually put music onto a record, when most of us have forgotten how to use our CD players. Nathan describes the intricate process of lathe cutting simply as an ‘engraving process’ – essentially, he engraves musical tracks onto a record. He started his lathe record cutting business, Small Run, in 2013 – a small time operation with big time ambition.
Nathan cuts each record personally, allowing those who use his services to create one-off records in editions of up to 50. Working alongside Nathan is his partner and collaborator, Holly Canham, a graphic designer and art director. Together the pair do everything in the business, with Nathan on the cutting, and Holly on all things visual / branding.
Outside of making records, Nathan also often works with other local makers on various vinyl-related projects. He has collaborated with local accessories label Witu to create a neoprene vinyl carry-all bag, and with local carpenter Andrew Rebis to produce a Victorian Ash record stand.
We recently caught up with Nathan to chat about the lathe cutting process, and his plans for his vinyl empire.
Hi Nathan! Tell us a little bit about yourself – what path led you to starting Small Run?
I’m originally from Hobart, Tasmania, and moved to Melbourne around 10 years ago now. I moved to Melbourne as I’d been playing in various bands and had always loved the amazing Melbourne music scene. In Melbourne, I studied Audio Engineering at the SAE Institute and more recently have completed a Bachelor degree in Fine Art (majoring in Sound and Sculpture) at RMIT.
Music has always been a major part of my life and working for myself had also always appealed to me. After many years playing, writing, recording and listening to music, I was inspired to start a business where I would be able to combine all of these passions together.
Working with my partner, business partner and in-house designer, Holly Canham, we started Small Run in February 2013. We collaborate on all things from designing the logo and website, to helping with emails and the day to day.
We’ve all used and played vinyl records before, but not many of us know the technical process involved in cutting vinyl, which is a service you offer at Small Run. Can you tell us a little about this?
At Small Run I create lathe cut vinyl records in small runs, from 1-50 individual records. Lathe cutting is when sound/audio is ‘cut’ directly into blank vinyl records to create each one individually. The benefit of this being that I can create one-off records. At Small Run I offer a range of vinyl in 7” (single track on each side) up to 12” (which is album length).
Basically you can think of what I do as engraving. On the machine there is a diamond stylus that acts like a knife. The stylus is attached to two small speakers located directly above a blank vinyl record. The blank record is placed onto a spinning turntable. The cutting stylus is lowered onto the blank record. As the speakers play, the cutting stylus moves in motion with the audio, physically cutting (engraving) the sound waves onto the record, which creates the groove you see on a vinyl record.
With lathe cut records, this process all happens in real time (so if a track is 5 minutes long, it will take 5 minutes to cut the groove), this is why lathe cutting is perfect for small runs or one-off records.
How did you originally get into cutting vinyl?
A little while back a friend showed me an individual record he had created with a service overseas. I loved the idea, and after months of research on machinery and the process, then lots of planning and securing the funding, I decided to start my own business. I travelled to a rural German town near the border of Austria to meet with and learn from a revered vinyl guru who taught me all about the process of lathe cut vinyl!
After coming back to Melbourne and establishing Small Run, it has been quite a long and challenging process, learning the finer points of the craft, and working out the best techniques to create quality sounding records, I’m always learning something new every day.
What’s next for Small Run Vinyl?
To keep getting the word out there and continue doing what I am doing. I have a couple of other ideas for new projects that will be happening in the near future, but I don’t want to give to much away at this point. You’ll have to stay tuned, literally!
For more information on Small Run, visit their website here.