Independent Record Pressing, a brand-new (that’s a relative designation, considering no one makes the machines anymore) vinyl manufacturing facility which opened up shop in New Jersey last year, is making strides to distinguish itself as the record plant that can deliver.
As label executives, Epitaph’s Dave Hanson and its co-owner the Secretly Group, with lead participating principal Darius Van Arman, himself the co-owner of the stalwart Secretly Group, “understand street date, and will go the extra mile to make it.”
The plant has handled a few curveballs along the way, like packaging or mastering issues that looked like they may waylay a planned street date, but after a bit of juggling, they kept the dates, Hansen says.
Since the plant is new and demand for vinyl manufacturing continues to rise, it wasn’t out of the question to burn out. But the company was initially selective, not taking too many jobs to start with, beginning with a client list of about a dozen indie labels, including (naturally) Epitaph and Secretly.
In March 2015, IRP loaded the vinyl presses they bought from a company in Canada onto trucks and delivered them to a building in Bordertown, NJ. The building was nothing more than a box; no bathrooms, no plumbing. Van Arman and Hansen and the company then spent the next six months building out the operation and setting up the plant. “When we first turned the machines on in August, the initial output looked more like bowls than records, says Hansen. “But by December,” IRP GM Sean Rutkowski adds, “we felt comfortable with how we were doing.”
Things haven’t been all smooth sailing. “Last Fall, we were missing almost every street date,” Hansen acknowledges about Epitaph only, but doesn’t mention how many when through IRP, which at that point was only pressing catalog. “It sucked but we worked through it, including working through the weekends and slowly we started turning it around.”
There are a lot more variables than just turning on the machines. “There is the ambient temperature in the plant, the outside temperature, the quality of the material, and making the stampers. If something is wrong — it is a stamper or compound issue?” Rutkowski asks rhetorically. “It is an interesting process in trying to understand where there is a problem and then figure out the source, and then how to fix it.”
Fortunately IRP has Dave Miller, the plant manager who has been working with these particular vinyl pressers for about 40 years. “He was/is employee number one to us,” says Rutkowski.
Currently, IRP’s 25 employees are pressing about 4,000 records a day — 400,000 in total at May’s end, since they opened doors.
With things humming, IRP is gearing up to expand by adding a second shift to the warehouse. “We have six machines — we just got the last online last week — all running 12 hours a day, and with the second shift, we will have overlap and maybe run the machines 16 hours a day. “We are trying to let the machines rest a bit.”
But Hansen and Van Arman say Epitaph and Secretly Group don’t want to put themselves at the head of the line. “We want IRP to be a level playing field — that all indie labels can come to us,” Van Arman says. “We don’t think its a good for our labels to use IRP exclusively.”
With other vinyl plants bringing or trying to bring additional pressing machines online, will supply soon outpace demand? That issue as of yet doesn’t appear to be a near-term problem. While album sales are down 13.3 percent this year, vinyl album sales are up 11.4 percent, with 5.6 million sold so far in the U.S.
Rutkowski says he believes digital is boosting the demand for vinyl. He notes that for a lot of the artists who have a much higher percentage of sales in digital also have a high percentage of vinyl sales. It remains to be seen as streaming takes over the market place, what will happen. But Rutkowski is optimistic about the continued popularity of vinyl.
“The digital era is the best thing that ever happened to vinyl,” Rutkowski states. “Digital is the ultimate convenience, you can listen to any music you want whenever you want. Vinyl, on the other hand, is the ultimate inconvenience, but it forces the fans to pay attention. It’s much more expensive, and if they are willing to spend the money for a record or even a deluxe set with plenty of value, that is probably the number-one consumer for any artist.”
All photos courtesy of Independent Record Pressing.