Re-Tales #23: An urgent matter

Like many fans of music on vinyl, I’ve gotten used to waiting for pre-ordered records. Record-breaking works have been oversubscribed for a number of years; There just aren’t enough presses to keep up with demand. As vinyl declined in the 1980s – replaced first by cassettes and then by CDs – old presses were abandoned, rusted and fell into disrepair before the vinyl revival, leaving the industry with limited capacity. Then, in February 2020, a fire destroyed the Apollo/Transco factory, one of only two main suppliers of the paints used to make most of the new plates. The impact of the lacquer shortage may have been overstated, but it was another factor that record manufacturing companies had to contend with (footnote 1).

The long wait for vinyl pressing capacity seems to be over. In response to the huge demand, new vinyl presses are coming on stream across the US as new businesses are formed and established plants are expanded.

Tennessee is becoming a center for vinyl pressing in the United States. Memphis Record Pressing was formed in 2014; Last year the company pressed more than 7 million LPs. Since June 2016, MRP has maintained a strategic partnership with GZ Media in the Czech Republic, reputedly the world’s largest record pressing company. This agreement gave MRP access to vinyl stamping, “along with engineering and technical supplies to include new vinyl pressing equipment,” wrote Brandon Seavers, MRP’s CEO/co-founder, in an emailed response to questions.

MRP invests $30 million in its stamping and packaging facilities. The expansion includes the construction of a 33,000 ft2 Building adjacent to its current facility which will house 36 new presses. MRP expects to double its workforce and run its presses 24/7, resulting in a capacity of approximately 125,000 records per day. MRP expects the facility to be operational by the end of September, about a month after this magazine hits the road. The company’s packaging operations will also expand and move to a renovated 100,000 foot building2 warehouse.

MRP isn’t Tennessee’s only new record-breaking action. GZ Media recently opened a US headquarters in Music City for its Nashville Record Pressing subsidiary. NRP has not responded to any questions, but reports say their LP pressing and packaging operations should begin as I write this in early June.

Also in Nashville, United Record Pressing (formerly Southern Plastics), another major supplier, is set to add 48 more presses stereophile could not confirm this.

Finally, Nashville is home to a boutique pressing plant, VinyLab. VinyLab, which handles short runs of vinyl starting at 250 copies, is gearing up to open B Sides at VinyLab, a bar/restaurant/music venue adjacent to the factory, with skyline views and record presses in action – a trend that will also be evident at watch Jack White’s Third Man Records in Detroit.

In Denver, Colorado, Vinyl Me Please is taking a similar operations-on-view approach to their upcoming 14,000 feet2 Record press called Vinyl Media Pressing – another VMP. The new plant is under construction and is scheduled to open in January. (Until now, GZ Media has pressed most of VMP’s releases; a smaller number has been pressed at RTI.) VMP, which focuses primarily on audiophile recordings, has hired Gary Salstrom as general manager; Salstrom previously worked for Quality Record Pressing’s highly regarded facility, Analogue Productions in Salina, Kansas. Like Analogue Productions, the new VMP is “aiming for higher quality, lower volume printing,” Salstrom told me over the phone. “We serve a smaller group of people to guarantee turnaround times.”

The building that will house VMP’s pressing plant was a winery in the 1920s. Soon it will house not only the pressing plant, but also a listening room with a record wall and several turntable stations where visitors can enjoy music. In front of it, a sales room will sell records, drinks and snacks. Another room will house a high-end critical listening system. “We want to make it very visitor-friendly,” Salstrom said. Views of the pressing and electroplating areas are part of the plan.

VMP will primarily be pressing from paints, but Salstrom can make DMM in a pinch. “When I was at Wakefield Manufacturing in Phoenix, I was one of the first people in the US to be trained in DMM plating,” he said. “Since most audiophiles don’t like the sound created by DMM editing, we probably won’t see many projects on DMM.”

In the meantime, the new VMP system itself can do something about the paint shortage. “We’re just starting out with plating and pressing and considering mastering varnishes and maybe printing labels and stuff later,” he said. “One bite at a time.”

In Minneapolis, Minnesota, optical media maker ADS Group (under its name “CopyCats Media Division”) is building a new, “modern” five-press press facility to begin operations; a 65,000 feet2 Space leaves room for expansion.

Another newcomer: Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (MoFi) – or rather Jim Davis, its owner. In response to a request from stereophileMoFi Vice President of Sales and Marketing Jonathan Derda released a statement via email: “Jim Davis, the owner of Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (MoFi) and Music Direct, will be opening a new record pressing facility, which is expected to be operational next year will go.” Details to follow.

There is a risk that all this capacity will flood the market, which could make records cheaper, but could also lead to cost reductions and therefore a loss of quality in an industry that currently offers perhaps the best quality ever. For now, however, everyone is happy and excited about the future. “There are so few pressing plants that there are enough shops for everyone,” Michael Fremer added to the widespread sentiment in an interview. “The pressure was just crazy to get things done. Everyone is happy, everyone shares information. I never expected something like this to happen. It’s incredible.”

Footnote 1: Wondering why so many recent records seem to be “Direct Metal Mastered”? The DMM process was once fairly rare, and many audiophiles once dismissed DMM recordings, finding them angular and harsh despite their apparent technical superiority. Today, however, there seem to be more DMM records. Why? Because the DMM process does not use paint, these are painted aluminum discs. Copper plates are used instead. Most of the DMM records we see are cut by GZ Media in the Czech Republic, although Germany’s Optimal and Record Industry in the Netherlands have also cut DMM. “Paint supply continues to be an issue for the industry,” MRP’s Seavers told Stereophile. See Michael Fremer’s report here.

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