Although a large amount of attention over the past few years (and especially the last two months) has been focused on the bevy of digital streaming music services including Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal, another kind of listening experience revolution has been quietly brewing as well – yet it’s been in front of us for decades.
Since 2007, vinyl record sales in the US alone have grown significantly from less than a million to over 9 million in 2014. Needless to say, people have caught on to the fact that music doesn’t always sound as good through a pair of Apple Earbuds as it does an analog record player – regardless if the player came from the clearance shelf at Urban Outfitters or from a true audiophile boutique showroom.
But despite the surge of popularity in vinyl records (AKA ‘The Vinyl Revival’), the amount of records that can be purchased will always come back to how many vinyl records are actually capable of being produced in the first place, and many of the original vinyl pressing plants have since been shut down.
Among other pressing plants that have grown out of this new surge of interest is Oregon’s Cascade Record Pressing, which just opened its doors for business on May 28th. The company offers an end-to-end solution for bands who are looking to put their final cuts onto vinyl including lacquer cuts, plating, printed materials, pressing, assembly and shipping of the final product.
The company is also the first large production automated record pressing plant in the Pacific Northwest. It’s only predecessor was the turn of the century small batch hand press vinyl plant; Morrison Records of Seattle WA.
In an excellent article from the Portland Mercury’s Ned Lannamann, we get a behind-the-scenes look at just what went in to launching the Cascade Record Pressing plant where sacks of PVC pellets are melted and transformed into “flat, shiny 12-inch records, packed with grooves of sound.”
While Lannamann spends a good amount of time talking about the current state of vinyl and what it means for music, he also covers everything from the juicy vinyl manufacturing details to how the company even came to be after three friends acquired and rehabilitated the six vintage record presses that have since become the backbone of the new company.
Here’s some of our favorite highlights:
On vinyl’s comeback:
“There are many reasons for vinyl’s comeback, the most frequently cited of which is Record Store Day, a (now) semi-annual celebration of record retailers that’s created a boom of vinyl reissues and catalog items. But there’s a bit more than that to the resurgence: Like many things in the history of the music business, the current trend of vinyl sales is an equal and opposite reaction to the ever-shrinking physical size of the average consumer’s music collection. A music collection of 12-inch LPs that would have once taken up an entire wall can now fit invisibly on one’s phone; a hard drive can now contain more music than the biggest record store in town.”
The differences between vinyl and digital:
“But the biggest downside to digital music—from CDs to MP3s to streaming media—is that it doesn’t sound as good. Yes, this is a matter of opinion and endless controversy, but a clean, well-mastered, well-pressed vinyl record played on a good turntable through high-end speakers can sound three-dimensional, almost alive. As the needle (actually a microscopic and very sophisticated microphone) drags across a record’s infinitesimal grooves, incredible things begin to happen. The drums punch, the vocals breathe, the bass covers you like a blanket. It makes you start using vague, bullshitty descriptors like “warmth” and “presence.” The best analogy I can come up with is that listening to a good clean record is like looking at a painting in a museum versus referring to a reproduction—no matter how high quality—in a book.”
Sourcing the antique presses:
“The guys actually tracked down Dave Miller, who’d originally constructed these particular presses with his father. “He’s intimately familiar with them,” says Rainey. “He knows these machines to the point where, if one of them’s not running right, in theory we can call him, tell him which number it is, then we’ll hold the phone to the machine and he’ll tell us what’s going on.”
The vinyl record manufacturing process:
“Witnessing process at Cascade is pretty exciting, as the raw materials are transformed into a finished platter that can go on a turntable. As the machine hums along noisily, tiny PVC pellets are warmed into what’s called a biscuit, a hockey puck-like chunk of vinyl that’s then pressed by 150 tons of compression molding. The paper labels are not affixed by adhesive, but are cured overnight in an oven so that all moisture is removed, then actually embedded into the vinyl by the sheer weight of the press. The stampers—metal plates that contain reverse images of the disc—are pushed into either side of the hot biscuit, ingraining the grooves into the vinyl, which is then trimmed of excess material to form a perfectly round disc. Cascade estimates that each machine, once it’s properly aligned and fitted with the correct stampers, can make a new record roughly every 30 seconds.”
Read the article in-full by heading over to The Portland Mercury.