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Resurgance in vinyl manufacturing to be led by Canadian company?

Boss Hog

TRIBE Member
Vinyl revival: Canadian company reinvents the record pressing plant

[Go to the source for some photos]

The hype around the 21st-century vinyl revival is starting to sound like a broken record. Music sales revenues have plummeted for more than a decade, but every year since 2011, stories have cropped up about the 30, 50 or sometimes 80 per cent year-over-year growth in vinyl sales.

The spectacular rebirth of the LP, however, has come with unexpected growing pains. New record-pressing machines haven’t been manufactured for decades, forcing new manufacturers to dredge up and refurbish used, creaky presses. And demand far outweighs the industry’s capacity: only a finite number of old presses remain, forcing delays that can stretch six months or longer as labels wait their turn to press records.

A new Canadian firm is coming to the record’s rescue. Backed by $1-million in funding commitments from a Greater Toronto Area investor, Viryl Technologies has designed a modernized, fully automated record press that will hit factory floors later this year. Viryl’s presses have the potential to flood the marketplace and reduce pesky manufacturing holdups. They might not save the whole music industry, but they will certainly satiate the physical record’s growing audience.

“The idea is to help the industry get rid of its own bottlenecks,” says Chad Brown, Viryl’s chief executive officer, who plans to continually refine the machines to add value beyond just the short term. “We’re in this to stay. We’re not gonna go away after a year.”

His company is not the only one jumping at the chance to make presses. Late last year, Jack White’s Third Man Records announced that it would be opening its own pressing plant in Detroit with brand-new presses from the German company Newbilt Machinery. But company affiliates have said its manual presses are effectively clones of older manual ones.

Viryl, on the other hand, is designing completely modernized, automated and more efficient machines. Its staff nerds out over great engineering as much as music. “We’re going to collect all this dark information that’s never been known in record pressing before,” Mr. Brown says. “Nozzle pressure, temperature, all this data that’s necessary to actually make a perfect record. In the fifties and sixties, they didn’t have this technology.”

Vinyl records are made by steam-heating and squishing pucks of PVC between “negative” metal moulds. Viryl’s presses are designed such that a worker could run two at once – loading materials, entering settings for colour and weight – while the machine takes care of everything from puck-making to cooling.

The company plans to ship its presses worldwide at a price of about $160,000 (U.S.). Mr. Brown says Viryl has nearly a hundred sales leads; he expects that its first sale, to a Toronto operation he won’t yet name, should close within days.

Canadians bought 517,400 vinyl records in 2015 – a 30-per-cent rise over 2014, and nearly 35 times the number they bought a decade earlier, according to data provided by Nielsen Music. Listening to vinyl is no longer an obscure listener’s game, either. Adele’s 25 was the top-selling LP in Canada last year.

Viryl plans to sell its presses well beyond Canada’s borders. In the United States, according to Nielsen, customers bought 11.9 million LPs last year, more than 10 times the number they bought in 2005.

Canada has one major vinyl pressing plant, Canada Boy Vinyl, which opened last September in Calgary. Before that, there was RIP-V, which ran on Montreal’s South Shore from 2009 until last February.

Rather than add more staff or invest more into its ancient presses, RIP-V’s owners decided to shut it down. Building a modernized record press, former president Philippe Dubuc says, “absolutely makes sense. The old machines are overused, and I’m not sure there are any left anywhere on the planet.

“I’m not convinced that they’re going to make a lot of money, but it was bound to happen. If it presses a good record, it’s definitely a great idea.”

For Mr. Brown, 37, starting Viryl has taken his life full-circle. As a fledgling indie-label owner, he bought Markham’s Acme Pressing with an investment group in 2003, and ran it for four years. He shuttered it in 2007, when it was then Canada’s last remaining pressing plant. Three of his distributors had shut down in the same three months, and he was frustrated with steam from the rickety machines constantly burning his hands and face.

He joined a biomedical startup for a few years. When that company was acquired a year ago, he was given the option to move to Wisconsin or take a buyout; he decided on the latter. When friends suggested that he get back into vinyl pressing, he wouldn’t dare touch one of the decades-old machines. “I had gotten rid of all my records and turntables and I wanted nothing to do with it,” he says. “I was done.”

Then a friend suggested that he could be the solution to Acme’s problems: Why couldn’t they make new presses of their own?

It took some convincing, and some interested investors from New York, for Mr. Brown to take the idea seriously. Those investors disappeared, he says, but by then, he and several engineer friends had become convinced that they could make new presses – not just clones of old ones, but truly modern machines.

Mr. Brown and his colleagues got Mr. Zeuner a turntable for Christmas, and he expects that he is days away from a follow-up gift. He gestures to the prototype: “I’ve sworn that the very first record that’s going to play on my turntable will be one that’s made on that thing.”

The team, including chief operating officer Rob Brown and director of hardware engineering Michael Wybenga, worked from home for months while they bootstrapped the company. Mr. Wybenga and his design team spent endless hours watching record-pressing videos to study and improve on the technology.

Everything came together this past December. They not only secured a warehouse in Etobicoke, Ont., to build and tinker, but earned a $1-million investment commitment from manufacturer Alf Zeuner, whose factory in Burlington, Ont., will build the presses.

“I was looking for opportunities with engineers at the helm, and machinery, because that’s what I understand,” says Mr. Zeuner, seated at a table at the Etobicoke workshop. His first half-million in funding started flowing in December. When manufacturing gets into full swing, he says, his factory has the capacity to build two presses a week, destined for plants all over the world.

The Truth

TRIBE Member
A new vinyl pressing plant is opening in Ontario, Canada.

Canada's largest distributor, Isotope Music Inc., has teamed up with GZ, a Czech vinyl manufacturing firm, to create a new pressing plant called Precision Record Pressing Inc. The companies have entered into a joint venture, with vinyl being pressed in the GZ plant in Prague and the new plant in Burlington, Ontario, using GZ's modern manufacturing machines.

The head of Isotope, Gerry McGhee, spoke to FYI Music News about his plans for the plant. While the majority of the plant's capacity will service major labels, McGhee stated: "We are more than happy to look at 200-300 unit runs. We're very aware of the independent market and the way they've been treated. Right now where we are really pushing is delivery times. With pressing in Prague we are filling orders in 8-10 weeks." Isotope has also purchased two plants in the US, which, when you consider the total vinyl output, will make them the second largest plant in North America. The official opening date for the Burlington plant is Friday, September 16th.

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The Truth

TRIBE Member
Burlington record plant presses on with vinyl preparations
By Raju Mudhar Tech Reporter
Wed., Jan. 11, 2017

Precision Record Pressing could grow to be the second biggest record manufacturing plant in North America


Gerry McGhee, vice-president of Precision Pressing, says that at full capacity, his new Burlington plant could make 330,000 records a month

Waxing on about the vinyl resurgence may be old news to some, but for Gerry McGhee, capitalizing on the trend has meant a troublesome, years-long quest to open a new vinyl pressing plant in Ontario.

From searching the world for record-making machines to construction delays and cutting through bureaucratic red tape, it has been three long years, but McGhee can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Or will be able to after this weekend.

“We actually had to approach our neighbours and ask them to shut down for 12 hours just to get the power lines in,” said McGhee, vice-president, Precision Record Pressing. “That’s happening this weekend, and we’ll finally be up and running soon after.”

Originally planned to open last June, the five new machines, which cost approximately $200,000 apiece, are in place at the 20,000-square-foot facility in Burlington, and the current 40-person staff are being trained in advance of production starting up in the next few weeks.

At full capacity, McGhee says that Precision will be able to produce 330,000 records a month, running three shifts 24-7 and employing 200 people.

Precision’s plans to start up come in the wake of the closing of a Calgary-based record-pressing plant last week. McGhee isn’t sure exactly what happened with CBV, but remains confident in Precision’s prospects.

A lifelong music fan, McGhee was struck by the idea of opening a pressing plant when the vinyl resurgence hit full swing about a half a decade ago.

As president of Isotope Records, a distribution company that works with all the major music labels, McGhee realized there was an opportunity, as the record stores who were his clients were often disappointed that their vinyl orders weren’t being filled because Canadians orders were a lower priority at U.S pressing plants.

As well, his partners at the major labels were excited at the prospect of a Canadian manufacturer who would help fill the growing demand.

The first problem was trying to find the machines that could fit the bill.

“Most of these machines are left over from the ‘50s and ‘60s and ‘70s, and the problem is that basically as the whole format had disappeared, the technology hadn’t been kept up, and the machines started to break down,” said McGhee. “Then it became almost impossible to get replacement parts.”

He said that after several dead ends he was ready to throw in the towel. But his last stop was Prague-based GZ Media, a packaged goods manufacturer who has a long history in manufacturing records and CDs.

“I heard they had new machines, and I approached them and asked if they would be willing to sell them to me. They said no,” said McGhee, with a laugh. “Then I asked if they had any interest in a joint venture in Canada, and that was something they were interested in.”

McGhee’s Isotope Media and GZ Media are equal partners in Precision, and the first step was to build the machines. But he says the partnership has already paid dividends. GZ’s institutional knowledge has helped in countless ways, such as training the staff.

Precision has been taking orders since last January, pressing the records in Prague and assembling the finished orders in Burlington. Recent discs include the Gord Downie solo record, as well as the most recent Metric, Great Lakes Swimmers and Sam Roberts albums.

Vinyl’s resurgence may have started off as a bit of joke — a nostalgia trip for aging boomers — but as its grown it’s also been embraced by younger listeners.

In 2015, the Recording Industry Association of America reported that U.S. sales of vinyl records were up 32 per cent to $416 million (U.S.), which was a 28-year high, last bested in 1988. A recent BuzzAngle market report on music consumption in Canada had vinyl accounting for 5 per cent of physical media sales, but it was up 58 per cent in 2016, while CDs were down 15 per cent.

Despite those sales figures, one of the few Canadian record-pressing plants — Calgary-based Canada Boy Vinyl (CBV) ceased operating last week, with reports of unpaid bills. That record pressing plant opened in 2015 with the same goal of capitalizing on the growing interest in LPs.

“This New Year brings bad news. It is with great sadness that I must report that we do not expect CBV to be able to continue operations,” said an automated email response from Dean Reid, the founder and chief operating officer of Canada Boy Vinyl, according to the Canadian Press.

According to an email from Patrick Jakubec, former president of CBV, there is still a market for his company’s product.

“I believe under new prudent management and further investment this company is savable and very viable,” wrote Jakubec. “With respect to the Burlington plant, I have no doubt they will be very successful backed by the experience of their GZ partners from the Czech Republic.

“For other players entering vinyl production, there is a steep learning curve to making good records. We’ve managed to work through that pain and now it’s a matter of finding some additional capital and getting back to business.”

For Precision to get to full capacity, McGhee acknowledges that they need the support from the major labels, but he also really wants Canada’s thriving independent music community to come to them too.

“We want to be very independent-friendly. We don’t shy away from the 100-unit orders. We want you to be able to come here — we want to give you a good price and give you a really good product.”

One benefit of local production is that he promises an eight to 10 week turnaround, whereas many musicians had to wait up to six months from international plants in the past.

But McGhee also says that the smaller runs will open up things for plenty of the older Canadian music catalogue that has not been put out for years.

McGhee mentioned a Max Webster box set, but also releases from Rush, The Guess Who and The Stampeders.

“All those Canadians bands where there’s a big dusty catalogue,” said McGhee, but the vinyl wouldn’t be pressed because the demand wasn’t great enough south of the border.

“The minimum run they would need if they were doing it in the States is obviously a lot of units, but with us, since we like the small orders, (we) can press up 200 of The Guess Who,” he said.

As a bit of symbolic gesture, he also mentions the first record that’s going to be pressed at Precision.

“The first album that we want to press at the brand-new Canadian plant with our Canadian machines is Man Machine Poem by the Tragically Hip.”

Burlington record plant presses on with vinyl preparations | Toronto Star

The Truth

TRIBE Member
Microforum is bringing modernized vinyl production to Toronto
The music duplication company expands into record-making thanks to new locally made presses by Viryl. That's right: new and local presses.
JANUARY 10, 2017 12:15 PM

Microforum president Frank Stipo apologizes for the lack of heat as he guides us on a tour of his west-end plant.


The gas has been cut off so Enbridge employees can work on upgrading the site’s connections for the massive boiler that will provide the steam for his new vinyl presses. It’s the last major hurdle before Microforum begins pressing records – and it can’t come soon enough for Stipo.

“We’ll be the only plant in Canada, because Precision in Burlington still isn’t up and running yet,” Stipo explains excitedly.

The vinyl revival has been in full swing for years, but while media reports can make it seem like a new plant is opening every few months, most of those new operators are using antique presses that have turned out to be extremely difficult to maintain and keep running.

That’s a big part of the reason competitors like Calgary’s Canada Boy Vinyl have recently shut down, despite the high demand for vinyl from both the independent and major labels.

“Everyone is dealing with 50-year-old equipment, and if the original guys who were running it aren’t around, they can not run,” Stipo says. “Nobody knows what button to push or what screw to tighten when something needs to be adjusted. Even some plants in the U.S. that have 10 or 20 [individual machines] – realistically they can only use half of them, if they’re lucky, because the rest are just for spare parts.”

Microforum is breaking into the market by taking a different approach. The Toronto company started out making floppy discs in the 90s, eventually moving on to CDs and DVDs as well as a variety of printing services. Adding vinyl to the mix will make it one of the few one-stop shops in the world, able to handle everything from pressing the vinyl to printing album jackets.

What really sets Microforum apart, though, is that it’s one of the first companies using modern computerized presses, designed and built by Viryl Technologies, a 10-minute drive away from the plant.

Viryl might be a brand-new company, but owner Chad Brown isn’t a rookie when it comes to pressing records. He spent years working with the medium during the era when vinyl was predominantly supported by the dance music scene. He cut his teeth struggling with vintage presses, and always wanted to update and automate the process. When vinyl started making its comeback, he saw an opportunity to make that dream a reality.

“I pressed records for about seven years at Acme Vinyl, and I always fantasized about rebuilding the machines, but we never had enough money to do it,” Brown recalls. “That was the era when everyone wanted vinyl but no one wanted to pay for it.

“We’re the only ones in the world building computerized automated presses. There’s been no money put into this technology for 35 years. When you talk to people at old pressing plants, lots of them have lost hands and fingers. Having safety guards was important to us. At Acme, I got burned many times and have the scars to prove it.”

Not only are Viryl’s presses significantly safer, but they’re faster and can achieve a higher level of quality consistency, too, thanks to digital temperature controls and sensors that transmit readings back to Viryl’s headquarters for -analysis.

That data flashes by on monitors hanging from the ceiling of the shop, where they’ve been running a prototype press through its paces to help Microforum complete its first batch of orders, which were delayed while they waited on their upgraded gas connections.

For the first time in years, Toronto musicians won’t have to wait months (or years) for their records to be shipped from distant pressing plants. And for the first time ever, those records will be manufactured with modern state-of-the-art equipment designed and manufactured locally.

Over the next year, Microforum will add a total of six presses, letting the company take on large runs for the major labels and batches as small as 100 copies, opening up the medium to boutique labels that have been pushed out of the market by vinyl’s mainstream resurgence.

Microforum is bringing modernized vinyl production to Toronto

The Truth

TRIBE Member
Jack White to open vinyl pressing plant in Detroit

White’s Third Man Records are making the first ever climate-controlled pressing plant environment.


Third Man Records

Jack White’s Third Man Records is set to open a brand new vinyl pressing plant in Detroit.

Located in Motor City’s Cass Corridor neighbourhood, the facility will open on February 25. It’s the same place where The White Stripes played their first ever show, as well as being the location of White’s high school.

Third Man’s new venture promises to boast “environmentally efficient pressing machinery within a purpose-built manufacturing infrastructure,” the first of its kind. Pressing facilities will use “recycled water from the record curing process in the air conditioning system,” and each station is “outfitted with a digital touch screen control for temperature, hydraulic compression, and extruder speed.”

At its full capacity, the facility will be able to press 5,000 records per 8 hour shift. It’s set to bring the area 50 living wage job opportunities. It won’t solely devote itself to pressing Third Man releases — instead, it aims to be an outlet for “small imprints, “bedroom” labels, and independent artists without the ability to press small runs of records in reasonable amounts of time.”

To celebrate the plant’s opening, an accompanying Third Man Records store in Cass Corridor will host live performances as well as selling the factory’s newly-pressed records. These include The White Stripes’ self-titled debut and their ‘De Stijl’ LP, both pressed on red vinyl. “A few additional surprises” are also promised for next month.

Jack White to open vinyl pressing plant in Detroit - NME
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