As vinyl sales began to reverse in the last decade, Doug Chappellvice president of sales and technical services at press manufacturer Viryl Technologies, says everyone was “concerned that the house of cards [was] will implode on itself at some point.” As such, no one wanted to invest in new equipment.
Now that modest growth has turned into a boom, with sales up over 60% between 2020 and 2021 and another 22% by mid-2022, grossing $570 million, according to the RIAA, and vinyl plants running at full capacity across the country. And with appetite for vinyl far outstripping the infrastructure’s capacity to deliver, the lack of investment is now coming back to bite the industry.
Alec Hanley Bemismanaging partner at the Brassland record company, the indie label he co-founded The national‘s Dessner brothers, says factories are so busy that they have quoted him lead times of nine to 18 months to print a record. Switching from the label’s normal press partners to other press facilities could speed up the schedule to between four and six months, but at twice the cost and more logistical hassle.
Scarcity creates business opportunities, and nearly a dozen new and expanded press facilities come to the rescue for brands like Brassland. Among them, in Minnesota, ADS Group-owned Copycats Media is opening one of two new plants in Minneapolis with five record presses in a 65,000-square-foot building, along with the smaller, indie-focused Outta Wax plant nearby. Subscription club Vinyl Me, Please is opening its own 14,000-square-foot factory in Denver, where an eco-friendly facility called The House Plant is also currently underway. Memphis Record Pressing, where managing director Brandon Seavers says they’ve “literally been out of space for about four years,” is investing $28.8 million to expand its production to 125,000 plates a day. And in Nashville, Nashville Record Pressing recently opened with a $13.3 million investment from parent company, Czech Republic-based GZ Media, Europe’s largest vinyl record producer; while United Record Pressing is currently expanding with another 48 pressings that will bring the manufacturer’s tally to just under 100.
New facilities are also underway or recently opened in Detroit (2424 Vinyl LLC); Oxnard, California (Fidelity Record Pressing); Charlotte, North Carolina (Green Vinyl Records); and Middleton, Wisconsin (Waxxy Poodle). However, in order to increase national capacity and expand existing bottlenecks, these pressing facilities must open first.
For decades every vinyl record press used was vintage. In the early 2000s, repair parts were not available and all known presses were either in use or had been bought up to store the press factory’s large quantities of parts against breakdowns. Between 2014 and 2016, four companies across the globe—Viryl Technologies in Canada, GZ Media in the Czech Republic, Pheenix Alpha in Sweden, and Newbilt Machinery in Germany—all debuted prototypes of new modernized presses, some of which had to be reverse-engineered. from existing presses.
These new presses have allowed new presses to open, but as new factory owners are now learning, there are other parts of the vinyl production process that are still in short supply and harder to replicate. Lacquer discs, for example, are currently manufactured by only one company worldwide, and lathes – which cut the opening grooves of the music into the lacquers – are still vintage technology, in limited supply with no working reproductions on the market. “It’s not as simple as, ‘Hey yeah, let’s make this machine’ and off we go; there’s an art to it,” says Chappell at Viryl. “It’s time and money and as busy as the industry is , are all still very price conscious.”
Global supply chain problems only make matters worse. For both Copycats and Vinyl Me, Please, port unloading delays and supply chain disruptions have delayed both companies’ presses – despite ordering them nearly a year ahead of schedule. Press manufacturers, meanwhile, are waiting for things like $12 circuit breakers to complete 99% complete machines, Chappell says, and are scrambling to find alternative suppliers for standard parts.
These supply problems promises to continue to plague plants long after launch. Paper shortages, reportedly caused by paper plants switching to cardboard during the pandemic, are affecting center labels, sleeves, jackets and other packaging, according to Memphis-based Seavers. Nickel shortages due to the war in Ukraine – which has knocked Russia, one of the best suppliers of high-quality nickel, out of the market – are affecting the electroplating of record stamps. And global oil and petrochemical prices drive up the price of PVC pellets that are melted and pressed into vinyl discs.
Labor costs have also increased. “[Vinyl is] not the kind where you just throw someone at it and ask them to push a few buttons,” says Vinyl Me, Please plant manager Gary Salstrom, citing an example where Vinyl Me, Please received a systematically botched batch of records from a partner. press plant due to operator error. “You have temperatures that are critical depending on the cut of the groove drop geometry and the type of vinyl that was used, and this was a perfect example of throwing someone into the game that really wasn’t ready.”
This longer training period makes onboarding new employees a longer process than in many other manufacturing industries. Executives also stressed that they want to create an environment that is more lucrative than similar positions at other manufacturing or packaging companies, and Copycats, Vinyl Me, Please and Memphis all said they have raised wages in response to inflation and the current labor. market. “I wouldn’t say anything related to vinyl making is easy,” Seavers says. “Making a good record is actually a little bit magical. You have to go out and find the few good magicians.”
All of this adds up to rapidly changing costs for plants, labels and consumers. Combined with long and unpredictable delivery times, it is almost impossible for smaller labels to coordinate releases. “Every vinyl record probably has three or four supplier sources,” says Bemis of Brassland. “Anything that goes wrong, it creates this cascading kind of problem.”
However, Bemis is optimistic that things will improve in the next year: “By 2023,” he says, “there may be enough facilities that have the capacity to simplify this.”