Detroit — The production capacity for vinyl records is increasing in large measure for the first time in about 30 years as a German start-up company and U.S. mold maker and parts supplier get back into the groove of building new presses.
Put the needle down on some Motown or better yet The White Stripes, because eight of the first vinyl presses from the companies are heading to Detroit, where they will contribute to the rebound of a beloved format of the music industry, in a beleaguered hub of the manufacturing industry.
The presses will be installed at Third Man Records — not far from where Grammy award-winning co-founder Jack White played his first gigs with The White Stripes. The retail part of the vinyl record business, which opened Nov. 27, shares space with a 10,000-square-foot production plant that should be pressing discs in spring 2016.
Through a shop window, visitors will be able to watch an extruder spit out a hockey puck-like glob of melted vinyl onto a mold. A machine operator then will place the metal plate in the press, which will squeeze the resin into the shape of a record. The plan is to have a press operation that is a showcase, Ben Blackwell, also a Third Man co-founder, said in a telephone interview.
“That's one of the real unheralded, intrinsically beautiful parts of this — widening the exposure to the vinyl culture,” Blackwell said. “Because I run a record label and I go to these plants, I can see that, but the general public for the most part does not, outside of a couple places that give small tours. I think watching a record being pressed is very, very hypnotizing.”
The process won't change with the presses rolling off the assembly line of Newbilt Machinery GmbH & Co. KG in Alsdorf, Germany. Newbilt cloned the design of existing rugged workhorses still out there in operation, but incorporated modern features like an electronic control system and a hydraulic power supply to squeeze the molds made by business partner, Record Products of America (RPA) in Hamden, Conn.
“We haven't invented anything new. We're just making old manual pressing machines with new parts,” RPA technical sales manger Dan Hemperly said in a telephone interview. “It's a very simple, basic system and nothing needs to be qualified as to whether or not it will work. Of course it will work. It's working everywhere right now.”
The presses just aren't working in the numbers they did before compact discs came onto the music scene in the 1980s. That lack of press capacity is creating a bottleneck with troubling lead times of 4-6 months for domestic and overseas recording artists riding the vinyl resurgence. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) announced in September that vinyl record shipments increased 52 percent to $222 million for the first half of 2015.
“While that's still only 7 percent of the overall market by value, it's remarkable that a legacy format continues to contribute more to industry revenues than the ad-supported on-demand category, which includes some of the most widely used new services such as YouTube and Vevo,” Joshua Friedlander, senior vice president of RIAA's strategic data analysis, said in a news release.