Over the last few months, I've had a not-great experience with a press-plant that will remain nameless until I have my final product -- which I have, reluctantly, already paid for out of necessity.
This place was recommended to me by a colleague in Boston who does a lotta punk rock 7" releases...which is precisely what I'm doing. Not a "hifi" record, not a "lofi" record. Live off the floor, 9 minutes of music printed to stereo in under 4 hours for a 45RPM disc. 3:54 on side A, 4:35 on side B.
I formally and officially submitted my order with a very-reachable target date two days before recording the music, sent payment and 24-bit master WAV's for sides A and B of a 7" the day after the album was recorded. The records are largely pre-sold and the rest are to come on tour with me in January to help pay for gas money and food.
One month after submission of WAVs, after lots of nudging on my part, they send an MP3 "proof" of the cut -- one minute per side. It sounds a little better than what I sent down, if a touch noisier. HOWEVER, Side B is 6dB down from Side A. I alert them to this, they respond that it's because of Lines-Per-Inch and they can bring down A to match B. Fine. I approve.
One month after receiving these MP3's, I nudge them to ask where exactly my test presses are.
To paraphrase, the response I got was: "We got the stampers back a week ago but haven't cut the test yet. You're not going to have your records for your tour. This is bad news for you. Tests, maybe. Records, no."
I gently remind them that my target date was very much inside of the time they recommend when ordering, and tell them that if these records don't come on tour with me, they're going to sit in my house forever. I tell them that they should have been more transparent about production and delivery dates WAY earlier than seventeen days before I leave for tour.
Miraculously, the test presses show up two days ago. Noisy as all hell. Tons of surface noise. Crackling and popping and hiss that's very much audible through my LOUD music. Nothing like the "proof" that was sent to me initially. 100% noisier. There's also a visible "dent" on side B of every test (which means it's on the master) which equates to a near-complete drop of the left channel for a quarter of a second in the middle of a song.
By now, the only way I can get these records as they are before tour is to ship them directly to the venue of my first show and pack them in the club. This involves express/air shipping which is not inexpensive.
What do I do? I fuckin' approve it. What else can I do? I can't leave the people who paid for these in OCTOBER hanging, and I can't NOT have them with me on tour. I refuse to be a traveling T-Shirt store that plays music for 30 minutes a night. I need to sell music.
What exactly was sent to me when I heard these MP3 proofs? Why is the test press significantly noisier? Why do dogs bark?
Also, please come see me on tour. If you buy a record, it ain't my fault that it's noisy.