The market for vinyl records is growing by leaps and bounds — 35% per year for the last five years, despite a continued decline in total recorded music sales revenue. Due to vinyl’s niche status and strong growth, production capacity has lagged behind, leading musicians and labels to turn to pressing plants as far away as Eastern Europe to get their records pressed. And even with months-long waiting times, artists sometimes receive vinyl test pressings, only to discover they are not up to snuff.
Enter – or, more accurately, re-enter – Disc Makers, the pioneers of vinyl record production for indie artists, the trusted one-stop manufacturing shop for any format in which a musician wants to release their music. Returning to equipment the company sold off two decades ago, Disc Makers is now offering high-quality 7 and 12 inch vinyl records in a rainbow of colors, two different weights, and a variety of record jacket packaging. “It’s not back to the future from our perspective; it’s forward to the past,” remarks Disc Makers CEO Tony van Veen.
Back in the 1970s and early ‘80s, when musicians wanted to put out their own vinyl record, they had to order the various components (such as lacquer masters, stampers, labels, and record jackets) from as many as seven different manufacturers and get them all shipped to the pressing plant. Disc Makers, which expanded from a traditional record label into manufacturing for other labels and artists, was the original pressing plant to solve this problem. They bundled all the parts together and put a reasonable price on the package, making it easy for artists to get their music on vinyl. This was an approach the company later repeated for new products such as cassettes, CDs, and DVDs.
“We’ve always been good at taking a complicated process and making it easy,” explains Jim Foley, production and logistics manager. Disc Makers is the secret power behind hundreds of classic record titles from the last six decades. It all began in the 1950s, when founder Ivin Ballen built his own plant to manufacture shellac 78s of the groundbreaking R & B artists he heard around him in Philadelphia. Initially, he used his plant’s downtime to press records for other labels and independent artists. This continued into the days of hip hop (Salt n Pepa, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince) and post-punk/hardcore (Butthole Surfers, Big Black). Henry Rollins used to pull up to the Disc Makers warehouse in his tour van to pick up his albums.
Then, with the rise of the cassette and subsequently the CD, hard-to-make and harder-to-ship vinyl records languished. Volumes declined to levels where it was no longer possible to run a factory. Disc Makers sold its Hamilton presses. Yet vinyl’s demise proved temporary, as collectors and passionate music fans continued to search out and buy both vintage and new records. This wave grew, and more and more Disc Makers customers began inquiring about vinyl record pressing.
“Vinyl got back onto our radar, as a new generation of enthusiasts got into it,” van Veen says. “The market at first was small and hyper niche-y. Every year for the past five years, literally every year, we asked ourselves if it made sense to get back into vinyl. Finally last year, my team convinced me. We’re a full service provider of products to artists. It became an ever bigger hole in our range of services.”
To fill this hole, Disc Makers has turned to the same trusty machines it used in its record-pressing glory days.
Lovingly restored and retooled to improve the vinyl pressing process and reduce manufacturing flaws, the equipment is only part of the company’s revived vinyl record offerings. Alongside cool options that let artists realize their vision—gatefold jacket packaging for 7 inches, 180 gram album weight, or random color effects that render a record with a wild swirl of color—Disc Makers also offers post-production vinyl mastering, to optimize the audio to suit the new format. With production runs as small as 200 units, artists can dip their toes into vinyl records without breaking the bank.
Many of the key players on Disc Makers’ manufacturing team are the same as during vinyl’s heydays. “Our managers have been here for decades and know how all this works,” notes Foley. “The guy who manages our CD plant is the guy who managed our record plant. We were the ones who invented this business of offering vinyl “With our expertise and our ability to offer this to hundreds of thousands of performing artists, Disc Makers will raise the overall visibility of vinyl,” reflects van Veen. “Artists will be able to easily get the vinyl product they want, when they
want it, which will increase demand from artists and, in turn, from fans. And that promises to move the needle for the whole industry.”
For a full overview of Disc Makers vinyl record offerings, go to http://www.discmakers.com/products/vinyl.asp.