Daugherty Passion Project: Record Cutting at Home

Aaron Robertson is a man of many passions including music, electronics design, and of course as a Daugherty consultant, software engineering.

When it comes to music, he believes there is no better experience than dropping the needle onto a vinyl record and sitting back to enjoy the beautiful analog melodies. It’s like a ritual of sorts.

“I’ve always liked records since I was a kid, and I always thought it’d be cool to make my own. Being in bands over the years, I found that getting them pressed was very expensive… and you usually couldn’t sell that many.”

After some digging online over 15 years ago, Aaron found a few small communities of people making their own records at home with old equipment from the ‘40s and ‘50s. With his background as an electronics technician and software engineer, he wondered if he could create his own record-cutting machine using more modern, off-the-shelf components.

His first purchase was a broken record-cutting lathe he found on eBay. After updating it with a few new components, he had his first glimmer of hope that this may actually work, cutting a single groove into a plastic blank, that when played back had actual sound.

“Once I was able to cut one groove that had sound in it, I was completely hooked.”

From there he kept iterating and iterating with the machine over the years, even making his own parts, which required him to purchase a mini-mill and learn metalworking.

Melding all his passions together, he built the machine, ran the electronics, programmed the motion control, and processed the music to be cut on the records. He attributes much of his success to the small online community he first found 15 years ago.

“There’s a small group of people on the internet who are extremely passionate about this, you can bounce ideas off them, and they can answer a lot of your questions. Sometimes the things that seem the simplest, can be the hardest and most time-consuming to figure out correctly.”

Aaron’s current iteration is “pretty stable,” he says, and it sounds pretty good. But he knows his work will never be complete. Every piece of music he cuts onto a plastic blank presents a new and unique challenge.

“When I get done cutting something, the satisfaction has been the same since I cut my first full record. It still amazes me that it works, because it’s just some stuff that I put together and it’s translating sound into something else that shouldn’t work, but does.”