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The Message: Run-Off Grooves and Pop Music Consciousness


In the manufacture of phonograph records, there are a number of blank or “musicless” grooves at the end of each record. These are put there for several reasons, among them the inability of the operator of the recording machine to raise the recording stylus from the “master-wax” immediately after the last note is recorded ; for during recording, the movement of the master-wax under the needle is at great speed, nearly 4 ft. per second, or more than a full revolution. Then, too, the operator is required to wait until all the echoes and other sounds die out before raising the stylus from the wax ; hence, we find several of these blank grooves at the end.

So begins the abstract for a “Sound Record,” US Patent 1,625,705, issued April 19, 1927. The patent goes on to detail run-off grooves in records. It’s a riveting read.

If you’re one of those people who loves run-off grooves (and really, who doesn’t), you’ve doubtlessly noticed the often goofy messages that sometimes run along these grooves.  These are usually put there by the cutting engineer, the same person who put the matrix numbers on.  If you’re like me (and really, who isn’t), you’ve probably wondered “where can I go to find more data about this peculiar phenomenon?  They’re so cool!”

Well, today, my good nerd, is your lucky day. I was sitting at my computer and I happened to notice a pair of folk peering through the glass, gazing upon the stacks. After a brief introduction, I learned these folks, Micha and Felicia (in town from Amsterdam, I think), run a site called Vinyl Remarks dedicated to cataloging the messages found in run-off grooves (they call them “run-out” grooves; a European convention?  I understand “lead-out” groove is also acceptable).  Here’s what the “About” page says about their project:

Vinyl Remarks is a collection of texts found on records between the run-out groove and the label (the so called ‘dead wax’), in most cases the only text to be found is the catalogue nr. and sometimes the person that mastered the record also leaves their name or that of the mastering plant, for example the infamous ‘porky prime cut’ or all the folks at the exchange.

On a small number of records, especially those on smaller independant labels, you can find some real text. Witty, sweet or even bitter comments. Messages that can shed some light on the music or just plain cryptic ramblings. These texts give another way to see records, a secret way of communication between the producers and the consumers of vinyl. It makes music physical in a time where it becomes increasingly loosened from any physical format.

Of course the messages we find are always limited by our own collections so Vinyl Remarks is set up in such a way to give you the opportunity to contribute. This also means we are very interested in your comments, on the site but also on the individual remarks, let us know, you can do this very easily through the contact form on the page and the comment fields on every entry.

Although their database is still on the smallish side, it has a good web interface and is pretty easy to use. Which is good, because there is a way for you, John Q. Public, to contribute!  All you’ll need is a record with a run-off groove message. Go to the site, log in, put the appropriate title, artist, label, format, catalog number, release date and message information into the required fields and submit. It’s that simple!

I’m not really sure what run-off groove messages will tell us about pop music and its consciousness, but it certainly has a long history.  Besides, it’s a fun idea, and maybe someday someone will show in great detail just how blind we were not to have collected these messages earlier. When you come across a record with a run-out groove message, why don’t you help them out by adding to their database?  I know I will!



  1. Will

    I would say that they would work. Years ago I read about slipping your vinyl into an oven for a few seconds to flatten it out. I think I would trust a precision instrument a lot more but then again I don’t have the $1500 to blow in order to try it.