Talking tech since 2003

As readers of this site may or may not know, I play drums in a band here in my adopted home of Minneapolis, Minnesota. While the work involved in playing in a band is fairly obvious—playing shows, recording songs—there’s always a new way to try and get heard, and get our music out to people who might like it. While the digital age has allowed musicians to be heard all over the world, its ubiquity has also made it that much harder to actually get noticed. That’s why I sat up and took notice with this latest innovation in the realm of 3D printing.

Today, a Facebook friend of mine posted a link to this story published in May on an Australian music blog, ToneDeaf, which itself links back to a Wired video from earlier this year featuring Instructables writer, Amanda Ghassaei. What Ghassaei has done is develop a method for converting MP3 files into a vinyl record created with a 3D printer.

Take a look:

Now, yes, the audio quality is terrible. And you can only print on one side of the record. And there’s only room for one song. This is all absolutely and unequivocally true. The bass player in my band summed it up pretty well in an email exchange I had today: “As 3D print resolution gets better, audio quality will improve so someday it might sound as good as MP3!” The joke, of course, is that MP3s are themselves an inferior file format for people who want music that sounds good. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes, this is not a way to make music sound good—at least not right now.

However, it is potentially a very cool innovation that could someday be a standard sight when going to see a band play live. While, yes, right now the sound quality of these records is complete crap, that’s only because 3D printing is still very much in its infancy. As we’re seeing every day, the technology is growing in popularity.

Years ago, cell phones, printers, and even home computers were the kinds of technological investments that only a certain subset of people owned. They were prohibitively expensive and largely unnecessary. By contrast, 3D printers are also pretty expensive, but considering what they actually deliver and how quickly more and more applications are being found for them, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were as standard in a home as televisions, microwaves, and, yes, even computers. That means that the tech will get both better and cheaper, largely thanks to Moore’s Law.

And all of that means that bands should be able to create memorable, exciting, and tactile artifacts to hand out or sell at shows. How great would it be to leave a venue clutching a cheap, one-song record that’s utterly unique? I can easily see a new genre of collectibles starting up for fans of music. As for the musicians, CDs are (literally) a dime a dozen. But being able to send a fully playable record to fans or radio stations? And to produce a record from the comfort of your own home, without having to worry about the high print runs and higher costs associated with getting vinyl records made by someone else—that’d be amazing.

So yes: while the technology for 3D printing a record doesn’t seem to be too incredible just now, the very fact that someone’s out there trying it is exciting in and of itself. The technology will continue to grow and get better, and it’s entirely possible that we’ll be able to turn digital music on its head and bring it back out of the computer. Can you imagine spinning a homemade platter on your record player? That has all the makings of another music revolution.

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