Pressing a vinyl record hasn’t changed in decades: heat up a glob of polyvinyl chloride and squish it between two plates. But like the US space program that lost the ability to make big moonshot rockets after the Apollo program was cancelled, the music industry is suffering from a deficit of record pressing plants. When vinyl looked close to extinction, most of the vinyl factories were shut down and their equipment sold off. No one bothered building any new pressing equipment because there just wasn’t a market anymore.
Now, though, things are different. Demand for vinyl continues to increase every year, creating a backlog of orders at the still-operating plants. Want your album on vinyl? Better get your order in 6-9 months early.
Clearly, we need some new vinyl pressing plants to come online, much like the one in Burlington, Ontario, that just came on stream. This is where a new generation of pressing equipment comes into play. From The Vinyl Factory:
As we’re continually reminded, vinyl isn’t going anywhere. But as major label interest in the format continues to grow, so too do lead times at pressing plants and increased uncertainty for independent labels and artists.
A key issue is that to open a new plant or to expand capacity in an existing one, manufacturers must hunt for old presses. With an extremely limited stock out there, ‘digging’ in dirty warehouses is no longer just the pursuit of record collectors. But even if can get your hands on a press, because the technologies underpinning the process have barely evolved, vinyl records are subject to hard limits on supply. Whether it’s galvanics, stampers or actually pressing the record, this highly labour intensive operation faces bottlenecks at nearly every stage. Even if a plant works round the clock for months, rarely can keep it up with demand.
But in the past six months, two companies Germany’s Newbilt and Toronto-based Viryl Technologies have introduced the first new record-pressing machines in decades. Whilst Newbilt’s machine is simply an update of existing technology, Viryl’s Warm Tone claims to be the world’s first fully automated, computerised pressing machine. The press can monitor everything from nozzle pressure to temperature to the purity of vinyl, which could help factories on their quest to producing that perfect record. And where an old press can knock out a record every forty seconds, a Warm Tone can apparently do so in just twenty-five.
With the Warm Tone set to debut at Hand Drawn Pressing in Texas this Fall, we caught up with Viryl’s Alex DesRoches to quiz him about what these new machines mean for the record industry.