Vinyl is back. But until now, record-making has been stuck in the ’80s. – Popular Science

Just over two years ago, Rob Brown was transfixed by an eBay auction. He and colleagues Chad Brown (no relation) and James Hashmi were bidding on a record pressing machine. It was the only one the new entrepreneurs could find, and it was in the middle of nowhere—in Russia. No one knew if it worked, or could even be refurbished back into working order. Yet, the bidding was feverish: Brown’s team walked away, but the press ultimately sold for some $60,000.

So went the shopping experience of anyone looking to open up a pressing plant amid the vinyl resurgence of the last decade. No company had made a new record press since the ‘80s, and used ones were nearly impossible to find. Longstanding plants, like United Record Pressing in Nashville (the largest facility in the U.S.), would absorb equipment from shuttering competitors. And upstarts would have to either wait out the second-hand market or build their own from scratch.

But Brown, Brown, and Hashmi wanted to get their hands on a press for a different reason. They wanted it as reference, a benchmark against which to measure the singular goal of their Toronto company, Viryl Technologies: to build the first new fully automated record pressing machines in over 30 years. Thanks to carefully orchestrated automation and cloud-based monitoring software, their WarmTone presses were going to be easier to use and simpler to service—and therefore more-efficient—than their hulking hydraulic predecessors.

Record Scratch

Even in the best circumstances, making a record is a laborious process. There are machines to cut studio recordings into a master version of the audio, then another set to create a metal negative plate of the master for the giant waffle iron that is a record press. The biggest piece of the puzzle, literally and figuratively, is the pressing machine itself, which stamps out copy after copy after copy.

The number of workers trained to use and repair the machines dwindled when record sales bottomed out and plants began shutting down in the early ‘90s. Facilities that did retain skilled pressmen held onto personnel (and their expertise) with a firm grip. “There’s just not a lot of people doing it,” says Jonathan Berlin, owner and partner at Vinyl Record Pressing in Atlantic Beach, Fla. “The people that are doing it want to be the only ones doing it.”

Workers learn the ins and outs of their machinery, its quirks, and its red flags. And, because most plants contain a mashup of presses—recycled, revamped, and reengineered with modern components—there’s little, if anything, in the way of manuals or guides. “Because the industry had died off, and the companies that produced the presses were all long gone, there really is no level of service left,” says Rob Brown, Viryl’s chief operations officer. Breakdowns are common, and fixes tricky.

This largely bespoke approach has contributed to a problem: For years, vinyl production has been at or over capacity. According to U.K. research firm Deloitte, total record sales in 2017 will hit 40 million worldwide. And Nielsen’s 2016 Year-End Music Report showed the eleventh straight year of consistent upswing. That’s a lot of discs for the few dozen up-and-running plants and couple hundred or so working presses worldwide.

It’s so many records, in fact, that about two years ago United stopped taking on new clients for about a year to clear up its backlog and shorten turnaround times. For smaller shops and upstarts, backups are harder to manage—and sometimes exacerbated by the run-up to major selling seasons.

Source- Corinne Iozzio Popular Science


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