The panel, The Modernization of Vinyl Record Pressing, was held on March 15 at 3:30 p.m. at the Austin Convention Center as part of SXSW. What follows are panelists and a summary. Click on each name for a speaker bio.
Chad Brown | Viryl Technologies
Eric Astor | Furnace Record Pressing
Dustin Blocker | Hand Drawn Pressing/Records
Alexander DesRoches | Viryl Technologies
— Astor told a story about getting presses from Mexico. He was trying to get presses for a long time and found some from someone who was actually working in the roofing industry. He bought them, hired a bunch of guys to get them into a semi-truck. They then “found 2 old dudes who knew how to work on them.” Rebuilt the presses. Furnace is also expanding from 12,000 square ft to 50,000 square ft.
— Chad Brown pressed records from 2003-07 with Acme Vinyl.
— Blocker started manufacturing vinyl about a yer ago (ran label before). He almost located some presses from Africa off eBay. The look for old machines has been very difficult.
— Brown: Quality issues happen with old machines. He’s currently trying to quantify what record quality is. Creating some software that could actually measure this. “We have done that.” MV will be looking further into this.
— Astor: Talks about what could lead to bad quality. Mix could be bad, cut could be bad, plating issues, you could wear down the stamper. “If you actually give a shit, you can press a good record.” Talked about testers who “smoke all day,” and listen for pops to see when a stamper goes bad.
— Blocker: Stamper can degrade. Also started talking about possible damage to center label if done incorrectly.
— Brown: You have to bake the paper labels. Very, very tricky thing to do correctly.
— The whole panel talked about the sharing of ideas. That plants need to share good ideas.
— Astor: Vinyl industry needs to elevate our game. Must realize the consumer will choose free, streaming, if product isn’t taken care of.
— Brown: Plants control every little bit of the process now. “No reason we can’t make good quality records.”
— Blocker: New age sensors available, more safety mechanisms now. Steep learning curve to get into this.
— On Safety: Brown states that everyone who presses records knows someone who’s been gravely injured on a record press.
— What they want out of vinyl pressing: Blocker wants repeatability. This will cut down on loss and time.
— Astor: Consistency.
— Blocker has experience with being a label and working with indie bands. “Our guys are buying 300, 500 records.” Small bands will mostly encounter timeline issues. Sometimes records come damaged, have to get back into the queue. Or if the plant doesn’t answer the phone, won’t return emails. Which did happen to them in the past.
— Brown: Customer service side will be huge part of growing this industry.
— Astor: Bands want set ship dates.
— In 5 Years: Blocker says there’s lots of “choke points” right now. Plating, mastering. More mastering people starting to focus on vinyl.
— Brown: They’re looking to shore up supply chain for everyone. He’s fully invested in Viryl.
— Astor: Really focused on the independent musician. Hand Drawn Pressing doesn’t focus on the “big guys” because they can turn it off quickly. Looking to make records more predictable.
— On Maintenance of Machines: Astor says the hardest part is getting parts. Have to make the parts. “Don’t have a manual for most of these presses.” Or as he stated, “Vinyl ages you.”
— Blocker: We need to keep pushing packaging and don’t go nuts on vinyl colors. Go black for good sound quality and go crazy on packaging instead.
— Astor: Trying to get all trades in house. Plate it, cut it ourselves.
— On Major Labels: Astor commended Warner Brothers, who came to them and is still a good customer. Commends their participation in Record Store Day.
— All agreed that keeping vinyl somewhere in the $20s was crucial, but major labels have to be kept in check. But as one said, “material prices not going down.”
— Brown: Talks about steam to press vinyl. Initially wanted induction instead of steam to heat molds. Steam energy is recoverable though. Brings record cost down. Electric, 30 cents, steam 4 to 7 cents per.
— Crowd Question 1: Any tips on mastering?
17 minutes to 22 minutes for 33 RPM 12″. 24 bit mastering will still sound way better on vinyl, if not going all analog.
— Crowd Question 2: What is the vinyl demographic?
Blocker says some millennials don’t own players, just want download and art. Astor says a good day at Amoeba, they move 2,000 pieces of wax.
— Crowd Question 3: On Demand Pressing
Blocker states that’s mostly for those who want to do playlists, something for a boyfriend or girlfriend. But that the process for anything bigger “died on the vine.” Astor reminds audience they’re actually cutting them in real time, so it would take forever.
— Crowd Question 4: How do you evaluate different plants?
Astor says customer service. If they don’t answer your calls early, it will get worse once delays hit.
Don’t shop on price.
A panelist said that you shouldn’t press records to sound like records (aka, static, the “warm sound”). Press it to sound like the purest form of the music.