A tour of the Optimal Vinyl pressing plant in Germany

“We thought it would slow down, but it keeps growing”: Inside one of Europe’s biggest record pressing plants


Erased Tapes’ Sofia Ilyas went to Optimal vinyl factory in Germany to find out about pressing records in today’s climate.

Words: Sofia Ilyas

Erased Tapes and Optimal have a few parallels. Both were founded by Germans; both started at times when vinyl sales were at a low, with CDs leading the market and downloads on the up; and yet both companies went against the grain, turning their focus and care towards this hard-wearing format.

Earlier this year we made the trip out to an industrial estate in Röbel to witness the setup that presses our records. The plant employs 650 staff spread across a 375,000 square foot building that is surprisingly futurist. From the robotic lawn mower gliding across the green to the space-suited humans toying with machinery and chemicals, our experience at Optimal felt a bit sci-fi.

After the tour, I sat down with Optimal’s sales manager Jule, who joined Optimal when she was just 18 years old, for a chat.


Where does the Optimal story begin? When did you start pressing vinyl?

The company was founded in 1991 by Jörg Hahn and Michael Haentjes. They set up the headquarters between Hamburg and Berlin, an advantageous location for trade but also for access to government funds as it was formerly a GDR area.

When the founders decided to make vinyl, other people were saying ‘that’s not a good idea’. But their idea has always been to make a company that would serve all parts of the media business and that includes vinyl. We started vinyl manufacturing in 1995 but it wasn’t until 2006 that vinyl started picking up again. At that point we took over a plant in London and we had an office there for two to three years.

Unfortunately the plant in London eventually had to close. It was at a time when a lot of other plants also closed down, which is strange as the UK is such a big market for vinyl. Being in London had a very positive impact on Optimal and we learned a lot from UK engineers who’ve been in the business for more than thirty years. We also learned a lot about the UK market and picked up some of the larger independent labels as clients.

It’s easy to have a romantic idea about the process behind making records. But the reality is a working factory, full of chemicals and littered with large chunks of unrecyclable plastic. How do you stay as green as possible?

I always say that vinyl is a non-eco media as the nature of the product is not green. It’s big, there’s a lot of PVC and there is wastage. And because people want ‘clean records’, there are rejects. It’s really not green, but for us at the company we have a lot of rules on how we recycle chemicals. And as for the site itself, we are keen to make it as green as possible. For example, take energy – the heat that we have from our pressing halls is re-used for the underfloor heating in our warehouse and inside the site. We try to be as green and as efficient as possible. That was in the thinking when the building was created.

Roebel, DEU, 19.04.2011: optimal media production GmbH; Glienholzweg 7 in 17207 Roebel, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Das erfolgreiche Unternehmen ist CD-Presswerk und Druckerei; eine Produktion von Vinyl-Tontraegern ist angeschlossen. | Roebel, GER, 19.04.2011: optimal media production GmbH; Glienholzweg 7 17207 Roebel, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Optimal successfully produces CDs, Vinyls and print objects. [ © Stefan Malzkorn, Am Landpflegeheim 40, 22549 H a m b u r g, Tel.: +49-40-345402; www.malzkornfoto.de  malzkorn@malzkornfoto.de , Konto | Banking Link: P o s t b a n k H a m b u r g, Kto-Nr. 114413205 BLZ:20010020 IBAN: DE2620010020114413205 BIC: PBNKDEFF www.freelens.com/clearing, Steuer-Nr:  42/152/02106 Finanzamt Hamburg am Tierpark, KSK-Nr. 39040963M007. Verwendung nur gegen Namensnennung, Honorar und Beleg - Presseveroeffentlichungen in DEU zzgl. 7% Mwst ; bei Verwendung des Fotos ausserhalb journalistischer Zwecke bitte Ruecksprache mit dem Fotografen halten. Soweit nicht ausdruecklich vermerkt werden keine Modellfreigabe-, Eigentums-, Kunst- oder Markenrechte eingeraeumt. Die Nutzungen erfolgt ausschliesslich auf Grundlage meiner unter  www.malzkornfoto.de/webseite_neu/agbs/agb_dt.pdf einsehbaren Allgemeinen Geschaftsbedingungen (AGB) I  publication only with royalty payment, credit line, and print sample. Unless especially stated: no model release, property release or other third party rigths available. No distribution without our written permission.] [#0,26,121#]

We met some of your longest serving team members earlier. Can you tell me a bit more about Thorsten from the quality control team?

Usually Thorsten introduces himself as ‘Number 5′ as he was the fifth employee at Optimal. Over the years he’s become an absolute expert. Whenever there’s an issue with vinyl that no one else can resolve, Thorsten will solve it. With vinyl it’s not always easy to know what the issue is but Thorsten will happily spend days working out which aspect of the pressing process is causing the problem. Like Thorsten says, “with vinyl manufacturing you learn something new every day.”

Have you ever experienced someone sending you an audio file which you’ve thought really shouldn’t be pressed to vinyl?

Sometimes people send us audio files that are a copy of the CD masters, made in a completely different range of highs and dynamics and not optimised for a vinyl cut. Of course we will go back to them and advise accordingly. Our cutting house tries to replicate what the audio sounds like when we get it, but if we get audio material we know won’t work on a record or will be distorted, we go straight back to the client.

Many artists prefer a lacquer cut to Direct Metal Mastering (DMM). Is one process better than the other?

If you ask our engineers, they’ll tell you that it depends. It depends on the content of the music, on highs, dynamics, if you have very quiet sections, the length of the record – lots of factors would lead them to conclude that this piece of audio would sound better as a DMM or a lacquer. There are a lot of people that order the cut and let our engineers decide, or they might enquire beforehand. Some customers have a preference and if that’s the case we do as we’re told!


You mentioned that you can have up to sixty boxes of lacquers delivered to you in one day. Is it hard to maintain quality with demand surging?

In the last three years the biggest challenge we’ve faced is demand outstripping capacity. In 2012 things were on the up and so in 2013 we launched a new pressing hall. But even then, orders still increased over capacity. We thought it would slow down, but it keeps growing.

People are complaining about vinyl delays, but they must understand that a huge and sudden wave of orders have come in, in a way no pressing plant could have foreseen. So after increasing our capacity and deciding to operate 360 days a year, we have also decided to not take on any more new clients as we have to manage the orders from our existing client base.

There are now two peak seasons in the year – August to November (followed by planning for the next year in December). Then from January onwards, it’s all about Record Store Day, which doesn’t leave a lot of time during the year when it isn’t peak season. Planning is a huge thing for us.

The truth is that factories around the world are not able to fulfil the world’s demand, so for example in the US you see lead times of two months and those orders are now coming here.

Are you confident that the growth in demand will continue?

I’m confident demand will stay at this level for some time and will remain strong following the big hype.

Has Optimal considered building its own machinery?

In the short time that figures have gone up, there have been people looking into new machines. But the bottom line is that building new machinery is very, very expensive and it takes a long time. And you can’t predict if that investment will be worth it, as you just can’t predict the future in this market.

Roebel, DEU, 19.04.2011: optimal media production GmbH; Glienholzweg 7 in 17207 Roebel, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Das erfolgreiche Unternehmen ist CD-Presswerk und Druckerei; eine Produktion von Vinyl-Tontraegern ist angeschlossen. | Roebel, GER, 19.04.2011: optimal media production GmbH; Glienholzweg 7 17207 Roebel, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Optimal successfully produces CDs, Vinyls and print objects. [ © Stefan Malzkorn, Am Landpflegeheim 40, 22549 H a m b u r g, Tel.: +49-40-345402; www.malzkornfoto.de  malzkorn@malzkornfoto.de , Konto | Banking Link: P o s t b a n k H a m b u r g, Kto-Nr. 114413205 BLZ:20010020 IBAN: DE2620010020114413205 BIC: PBNKDEFF www.freelens.com/clearing, Steuer-Nr:  42/152/02106 Finanzamt Hamburg am Tierpark, KSK-Nr. 39040963M007. Verwendung nur gegen Namensnennung, Honorar und Beleg - Presseveroeffentlichungen in DEU zzgl. 7% Mwst ; bei Verwendung des Fotos ausserhalb journalistischer Zwecke bitte Ruecksprache mit dem Fotografen halten. Soweit nicht ausdruecklich vermerkt werden keine Modellfreigabe-, Eigentums-, Kunst- oder Markenrechte eingeraeumt. Die Nutzungen erfolgt ausschliesslich auf Grundlage meiner unter  www.malzkornfoto.de/webseite_neu/agbs/agb_dt.pdf einsehbaren Allgemeinen Geschaftsbedingungen (AGB) I  publication only with royalty payment, credit line, and print sample. Unless especially stated: no model release, property release or other third party rigths available. No distribution without our written permission.] [#0,26,121#]

If someone were to invest, is there room to improve the existing machinery? Are any of the guys sitting at Optimal thinking, ‘damn, if only this machine was capable of this’?

That’s probably the main reason people step away from building more machinery. If you build something new now, then I’m sure you can get the number of rejects down, and you can probably reduce the time of how long it takes to make a vinyl by a few seconds but the overall process won’t change.  Existing machinery is old and needs some more down time, so new machinery is more of an advantage in that sense but the process will remain the same.

What does the future hold for Optimal?

I’m confident we’ll be doing well as there’s a core audience that will always want to press on vinyl and there’s also a new and growing audience. We’ll always be into physical products whether that’s vinyl, CDs or books.

Record Store Day (RSD) 2015

Record Store Day


So Record Store Day is nearly upon us, Saturday 18th April. There appear to be over 650 RSD related issues this year. Mainly reissues, most on coloured vinyl.

Our local Tower Records said they won’t be getting the US releases this year and only the UK ones. If this hold true both ways it may be more difficult to get all  the records you want without resorting to ebay.

Anyway first up, a video from Bull Moose Records.




Stuff already up on ebay!

Some of the releases or re-releases we are looking forward to at Vinylfanatics.com are as follows


First commercial vinyl release of the White Stripes’ Get Behind me Satan on double coloured vinyl with Lenticular cover.

The 4AD output by Mark Kozelek’s Red House Painters in a vinyl box set. Copper coloured vinyl.

Goldfrapp are re-releasing their fine debut, Felt Mountain on coloured vinyl, but only in the States.

Placebo are likewise releasing their debut.

Don’t Stand me down by Dexy’s Midnight Runners is being reissued although an original 2nd hand copy might be preferable.

Strange Doors MONO by the Doors.

The latest in a series of picture 7″ discs by David Bowie.

Sly and the Family Stone – live at Fillmore east


Have a great day and let us know what you pick up!! 




Brazilian Bus Magnate wants to buy all the world’s vinyl




The Brazilian Bus Magnate Who’s Buying Up All the World’s Vinyl Records

Zero Freitas, on the records.

Paul Mawhinney, a former music-store owner in Pittsburgh, spent more than 40 years amassing a collection of some three million LPs and 45s, many of them bargain-bin rejects that had been thoroughly forgotten. The world’s indifference, he believed, made even the most neglected records precious: music that hadn’t been transferred to digital files would vanish forever unless someone bought his collection and preserved it.

Mawhinney spent about two decades trying to find someone who agreed. He struck a deal for $28.5 million in the late 1990s with the Internet retailer CDNow, he says, but the sale of his collection fell through when the dot-com bubble started to quiver. He contacted the Library of Congress, but negotiations fizzled. In 2008 he auctioned the collection on eBay for $3,002,150, but the winning bidder turned out to be an unsuspecting Irishman who said his account had been hacked.

Then last year, a friend of Mawhinney’s pointed him toward a classified ad in the back of Billboard magazine:

RECORD COLLECTIONS. We BUY any record collection. Any style of music. We pay HIGHER prices than anyone else.

To help him locate records in his personal collection, Freitas uses objects like “Star Wars” cards (Disney LPs) and a Heineken bottle (soccer LPs).


That fall, eight empty semitrailers, each 53 feet long, arrived outside Mawhinney’s warehouse in Pittsburgh. The convoy left, heavy with vinyl. Mawhinney never met the buyer.

“I don’t know a thing about him — nothing,” Mawhinney told me. “I just know all the records were shipped to Brazil.”

Just weeks before, Murray Gershenz, one of the most celebrated collectors on the West Coast and owner of the Music Man Murray record store in Los Angeles, died at 91. For years, he, too, had been shopping his collection around, hoping it might end up in a museum or a public library. “That hasn’t worked out,” The Los Angeles Times reported in 2010, “so his next stop could be the Dumpster.” But in his final months, Gershenz agreed to sell his entire collection to an anonymous buyer. “A man came in with money, enough money,” his son, Irving, told The New York Times. “And it seemed like he was going to give it a good home.”

Those records, too, were shipped to Brazil. So were the inventories of several iconic music stores, including Colony Records, that glorious mess of LP bins and sheet-music racks that was a Times Square landmark for 64 years. The store closed its doors for good in the fall of 2012, but every single record left in the building — about 200,000 in all — ended up with a single collector, a man driven to get his hands on all the records in the world.

In an office near the back of his 25,000-square-foot warehouse in São Paulo, Zero Freitas, 62, slipped into a chair, grabbed one of the LPs stacked on a table and examined its track list. He wore wire-rimmed glasses, khaki shorts and a Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt; his gray hair was thin on top but curled along his collar in the back. Studying the song list, he appeared vaguely professorial. In truth, Freitas is a wealthy businessman who, since he was a child, has been unable to stop buying records. “I’ve gone to therapy for 40 years to try to explain this to myself,” he said.

His compulsion to buy records, he says, is tied up in childhood memories: a hi-fi stereo his father bought when Freitas was 5 and the 200 albums the seller threw in as part of the deal. Freitas was an adolescent in December 1964 when he bought his first record, a new release: “Roberto Carlos Sings to the Children,” by a singer who would go on to become one of Brazil’s most popular recording stars. By the time he finished high school, Freitas owned roughly 3,000 records.

After studying music composition in college, he took over the family business, a private bus line that serves the São Paulo suburbs. By age 30, he had about 30,000 records. About 10 years later, his bus company expanded, making him rich. Not long after that, he split up with his wife, and the pace of his buying exploded. “Maybe it’s because I was alone,” Freitas said. “I don’t know.” He soon had a collection in the six figures; his best guess at a current total is several million albums.

Recently, Freitas hired a dozen college interns to help him bring some logic to his obsession. In the warehouse office, seven of them were busy at individual workstations; one reached into a crate of LPs marked “PW #1,425” and fished out a record. She removed the disc from its sleeve and cleaned the vinyl with a soft cloth before handing the album to the young man next to her. He ducked into a black-curtained booth and snapped a picture of the cover. Eventually the record made its way through the assembly line of interns, and its information was logged into a computer database. An intern typed the name of the artist (the Animals), the title (“Animalism”), year of release (1966), record label (MGM) and — referencing the tag on the crate the record was pulled from — noted that it once belonged to Paulette Weiss, a New York music critic whose collection of 4,000 albums Freitas recently purchased.

The interns can collectively catalog about 500 records per day — a Sisyphean rate, as it happens, because Freitas has been burying them with new acquisitions. Between June and November of last year, more than a dozen 40-foot-long shipping containers arrived, each holding more than 100,000 newly purchased records. Though the warehouse was originally the home of his second business — a company that provides sound and lighting systems for rock concerts and other big events — these days the sound boards and light booms are far outnumbered by the vinyl.

Many of the records come from a team of international scouts Freitas employs to negotiate his deals. They’re scattered across the globe — New York, Mexico City, South Africa, Nigeria, Cairo. The brassy jazz the interns were listening to on the office turntable was from his man in Havana, who so far has shipped him about 100,000 Cuban albums — close to everything ever recorded there, Freitas estimated. He and the interns joke that the island is rising in the Caribbean because of all the weight Freitas has hauled away.

Allan Bastos, who for years has served as Freitas’s New York buyer, was visiting São Paulo and joined us that afternoon in the warehouse office. Bastos, a Brazilian who studied business at the University of Michigan, used to collect records himself, often posting them for sale on eBay. In 2006, he noticed that a single buyer — Freitas — was snapping up virtually every record he listed. He has been buying records for him ever since, focusing on U.S. collections. He has purchased stockpiles from aging record executives and retired music critics, as well as from the occasional celebrity (he bought the record collection of Bob Hope from his daughter about 10 years after Hope died). This summer Bastos moved to Paris, where he’ll buy European records for Freitas.

Bastos looked over the shoulder of an intern, who was entering the information from another album into the computer.

“This will take years and years,” Bastos said of the cataloging effort. “Probably 20 years, I guess.”

Twenty years — if Freitas stops buying records.

Collecting has always been a solitary pursuit for Freitas, and one he keeps to himself. When he bought the remaining stock of the legendary Modern Sound record store in Rio de Janeiro a couple of years ago, a Brazilian newspaper reported that the buyer was a Japanese collector — an identity Bastos invented to protect Freitas’s anonymity. His collection hasn’t been publicized, even within Brazil. Few of his fellow vinyl enthusiasts are aware of the extent of his holdings, partly because Freitas never listed any of his records for sale.

But in 2012, Bob George, a music archivist in New York, traveled with Bastos to São Paulo to prepare for Brazilian World Music Day, a celebration that George organized, and together they visited Freitas’s home and warehouse; the breadth of the collection astonished George. He was reminded of William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate who lusted after seemingly every piece of art on the world market and then kept expanding his private castle to house all of it.

“What’s the good of having it,” George remembers telling Freitas, “if you can’t do something with it or share it?”

The question nagged at Freitas. For the truly compulsive hobbyist, there comes a time when a collection gathers weight — metaphysical, existential weight. It becomes as much a source of anxiety as of joy. Freitas in recent years had become increasingly attracted to mystic traditions — Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist. In his house, he and his second wife created a meditation room, and they began taking spiritual vacations to India and Egypt. But the teachings he admired didn’t always jibe with his life as a collector — acquiring, possessing, never letting go. Every new record he bought seemed to whisper in his ear: What, ultimately, do you want to do with all this stuff?

He found a possible model in George, who in 1985 converted his private collection of some 47,000 records into a publicly accessible resource called the ARChive of Contemporary Music. That collection has grown to include roughly 2.2 million tapes, records and compact discs. Musicologists, record companies and filmmakers regularly consult the nonprofit archive seeking hard-to-find songs. In 2009 George entered into a partnership with Columbia University, and his archive has attracted support from many musicians, who donate recordings, money or both. The Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards has provided funding for the archive’s collection of early blues recordings. David Bowie, Paul Simon, Nile Rodgers, Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme all sit on its board.

Freitas has recently begun preparing his warehouse for his own venture, which he has dubbed Emporium Musical. Last year, he got federal authorization to import used records — an activity that hadn’t been explicitly allowed by Brazilian trade officials until now. Once the archive is registered as a nonprofit, Freitas will shift his collection over to the Emporium. Eventually he envisions it as a sort of library, with listening stations set up among the thousands of shelves. If he has duplicate copies of records, patrons will be able to check out copies to take home.

Some of those records are highly valuable. In Freitas’s living room, a coffee table was covered with recently acquired rarities. On top of a stack of 45s sat “Barbie,” a 1962 single by Kenny and the Cadets, a short-lived group featuring the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson on lead vocals and, as backup singers, Wilson’s brother Carl and their mother, Audree. In the same stack was another single — “Heartache Souvenirs”/”Chicken Shack,” by William Powell — that has fetched as much as $5,000 on eBay. Nearby sat a Cuban album by Ivette Hernandez, a pianist who left Cuba after Fidel Castro took power; Hernandez’s likeness on the cover was emblazoned with a bold black stamp that read, in Spanish, “Traitor to the Cuban Revolution.”

While Freitas thumbed through those records, Bastos was warning of a future in which some music might disappear unnoticed. Most of the American and British records Freitas has collected have already been digitally preserved. But in countries like Brazil, Cuba and Nigeria, Bastos estimated, up to 80 percent of recorded music from the mid-20th century has never been transferred. In many places, he said, vinyl is it, and it’s increasingly hard to find. Freitas slumped, then covered his face with his hands and emitted a low, rumbling groan. “It’s very important to save this,” he said. “Very important.”

Freitas is negotiating a deal to purchase and digitize thousands of Brazilian 78 r.p.m. recordings, many of which date to the early 1900s, and he expects to digitize some of the rarest records in his collection shortly thereafter. But he said he could more effectively save the music by protecting the existing vinyl originals in a secure, fireproof facility. “Vinyl is very durable,” he said. “If you store them vertically, out of the sun, in a temperature-controlled environment, they can pretty much last forever. They aren’t like compact discs, which are actually very fragile.”

In his quest to save obscure music, Bastos told me, Freitas sometimes buys records he doesn’t realize he already owns. This spring he finally acquiesced to Bastos’s pleas to sell some of his duplicate records, which make up as much as 30 percent of his total collection, online.

“I said, ‘Come on, you have 10 copies of the same album — let’s sell four or five!’ ” Bastos said.

Freitas smiled and shrugged. “Yes, but all of those 10 copies are different,” he countered. Then he chuckled, as if recognizing how illogical his position might sound.

In March, he began boxing up 10,000 copies of Brazilian LPs to send to George in an exchange between the emerging public archive and its inspirational model. It was a modest first step, but significant. Freitas had begun to let go.

Earlier this year, Freitas and Bastos stopped into Eric Discos, a used-record store in São Paulo that Freitas frequents. “I put some things aside for you,” the owner, Eric Crauford, told him. The men walked next door, where Crauford lives. Hundreds of records and dozens of CDs teetered in precarious stacks — jazz, heavy metal, pop, easy listening — all for Freitas.

Sometimes Freitas seems ashamed of his own eclecticism. “A real collector,” he told me, is someone who targets specific records, or sticks to a particular genre. But Freitas hates to filter his purchases. Bastos once stumbled upon an appealing collection that came with 15,000 polka albums. He called Freitas to see if it was a deal breaker. “Zero was asking me about specific polka artists, whether they were in the collection or not,” Bastos remembered. “He has this amazing knowledge of every kind of music.”

That afternoon, Freitas purchased Crauford’s selections without inspecting them, as he always does. He told Crauford he’d send someone later in the week to pick them up and deliver them to his house. Bastos listened to the exchange without comment but noted the destination of the records — Freitas’s residence, not the archive’s warehouse. He was worried that the collector’s compulsions might be getting in the way of the archiving efforts. “Zero isn’t taking too many of the records to his house, is he?” Bastos had asked a woman who helps Freitas manage his cataloging operation.

No, she told him. But almost every time Freitas picked up a record at the archive, he’d tell a whole story about it. Often, she said, he’d become overwhelmed with emotion. “It’s like he almost cries with every record he sees,” she told him.

Freitas’s desire to own all the music in the world is clearly tangled up in something that, even after all these years, remains tender and raw. Maybe it’s the nostalgia triggered by the songs on that first Roberto Carlos album he bought, or perhaps it stretches back to the 200 albums his parents kept when he was small — a microcollection that was damaged in a flood long ago but that, as an adult, he painstakingly recreated, album by album.

After the trip to Eric Discos, I descended into Freitas’s basement, where he keeps a few thousand cherry-picked records, a private stash he doesn’t share with the archive. Aside from a little area reserved for a half-assembled drum kit, a couple of guitars, keyboards and amps, the room was a labyrinth of floor-to-ceiling shelving units filled with records.

He walked deep into an aisle in search of the first LP he ever bought, the 1964 Roberto Carlos record. He pulled it from the shelf, turning it slowly in his hands, staring at the cover as if it were an irreplaceable artifact — as if he did not, in fact, own 1,793 additional copies of albums by Roberto Carlos, the artist who always has, and always will, occupy more space in his collection than anyone else.

Nearby sat a box of records he hadn’t shelved yet. They came from the collection of a man named Paulo Santos, a Brazilian jazz critic and D.J. who lived in Washington during the 1950s and who was friendly with some of the giants of jazz and modern classical music. Freitas thumbed through one album after another — Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Leonard Bernstein, Dave Brubeck. The records were signed, and not with simple autographs; the artists had written affectionate messages to Santos, a man they obviously respected.

“These dedications are so personal,” Freitas said, almost whispering.

He held the Ellington record for an extended moment, reading the inscription, then scanning the liner notes. Behind his glasses, his eyes looked slightly red and watery, as if something was irritating them. Dust, maybe. But the record was perfectly clean.



Wax and Wane: The Tough Realities Behind Vinyl’s Comeback



If we’re talking about vinyl in 2014, we have to talk about Jack White. In April, rock‘n’roll’s self-appointed analog evangelist celebrated Record Store Day by teaming up with United Record Pressing in Nashville to put out the“World’s Fastest Released Record.” At 10 a.m., White and his band recorded a live version of his new album Lazaretto’s title track at his own Third Manstudios, then drove the masters to United, where it went immediately onto a 7” press, before ending up in fans’ hands at the Third Man store. From start to finish, the process took 3 hours, 55 minutes, and 21 seconds.

It was only the beginning of White’s latest streak of vinyl whimsy. In June, he packed the LP version of Lazaretto with all sorts of ear- and eye-candyincluding hidden tracks beneath the label; engineering side A to play from the inside-out; a matte finish on side B; a hand-etched hologram, and more. Fans were excited about the extras, which led to record-breaking sales: Not only did the album reach #1 on the charts, it also set a new high for the most first-week vinyl sales since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking data in 1991. White sold more than 40,000 copies of the Lazaretto LP in its first week.

Which is great news for the vinyl industry. Mostly.

“Every time I see a headline about Jack White’s latest gimmick, it’s kind of maddening,” one indie-label employee who declined to be named tells me. “While he’s making records ‘in one day,’ normal customers can go weeks not knowing the status of their orders.”

More and more people are buying vinyl; sales hit a record 6.1 million units in the U.S. last year. But as demand increases, the number of American pressing plants remains relatively fixed. No one is building new presses because, by all accounts, it would be prohibitively expensive. So the industry is limited to the dozen or so plants currently operating in the States. The biggest is Nashville’s United, which operates 22 presses that pump out 30,000 to 40,000 records a day. California-based Rainbo Records and Erika Records are similarly large outfits, and after that come mid-size operations like Record Technology, Inc., also in California, with nine presses, and Cleveland’s Gotta Groove Records, which turns out between 4,000 and 5,000 records a day on six presses. Boutique manufacturers like Musicol in Columbus, Archer in Detroit, andPalomino in Kentucky operate between one and five presses.

“You used to be able to turn over a record in four weeks,” says John Beeler, project manager at Asthmatic Kitty, the label home of Sufjan Stevens. “But I’m now telling my artists that we need at least three months from the time they turn it in to the time we get it back.” Across the board, lengthy lead times that were once anomalies are now the norm. “They’ve been longer this year than they were even nine months ago,” says Nick Blandford, managing director of the Secretly Label Group, which includes prominent indie imprintsSecretly CanadianJagjaguwar, and Dead Oceans, and artists including Bon Iver and the War on Drugs. “We crossed our fingers and hoped that turn times would improve after Record Store Day in April, but they’re still about the same. We’ve just accepted this as the reality.”

So when it comes to the current state of the vinyl industry’s unlikely resurrection, everyone is happy. And everyone is frustrated.

Vinyl’s sharp rise began in 2008, when sales nearly doubled from the previous year’s 1 million to 1.9 million. The tallies have gone up each year since, and 2013’s 6.1 million is a 33 percent increase over 2012’s 4.6 million. (Those numbers are even larger when you account for releases that fall outside SoundScan’s reach.) The resurgent format’s market share is still far smaller than CDs, digital, and streaming—vinyl accounted for only 2 percent of all album sales last year, compared to 41 percent for digital and 57 percent for CDs—and no one expects it to regain dominance. But it’s more than a trend, and it’s not going away anytime soon. “Four years ago, maybe half our releases would get an LP option,” says James Cartwright, production manager at Merge Records. “Now every release we do has a vinyl format.”

Mounting today’s LPs side-by-side on a giant wall would offer a particularly kaleidoscopic display since a significant chunk of sales now come from colored discs. While some purists claim these sorts of limited-edition releases and Record Store Day exclusives are leading to the cartoonization of a format, it’s apparent after speaking with pressing plants, labels, and record stores that artists like Jack White are giving people what they want. As vinyl sales have climbed, so has the demand for exclusives. Musicol’s two-press operation in Columbus, Ohio, has been pressing vinyl since the 1960s, and though the place used to press about 90 percent black vinyl, color vinyl now accounts for about half of its orders. Meanwhile, Cleveland’s five-year-old Gotta Groove Records presses about 40 percent of its LPs and 45s on colored vinyl.


And White isn’t the only one upping the ante with quirky embellishments. On a recent tour of Gotta Groove’s operation, sparkling specs littered the ground near the 7” machine after a just-completed run of 100 45s were pressed on clear vinyl with glitter. Covering the walls of a listening room were more custom orders that ranged from impressive to confounding. One band pressed coffee grounds into their records. Another incorporated the ashes of a 19th-century Bible. And an upcoming order will include shredded cash. The plant has to draw a line when a client’s order includes bodily fluids. “At least once a month a band wants to press their blood into the record,” says Gotta Groove VP of sales and marketing Matt Earley, who always says no.

Now, you might think adding blood or coffee to vinyl is a sign that the format has officially crossed the line from cultural commodity to tchotchke—and there are certainly bands that would agree. In fact, Beeler at Asthmatic Kitty says some of his label’s artists are beginning to resist colored vinyl and other exclusives. But Asthmatic Kitty and others still do it, because consumers demand it, and those limited-edition releases drive sales. (These sorts of exclusive releases also often bypass distributors and record stores, driving sales directly to a label’s web store.)

“We are doing more multiple-color pressings than ever,” says Matt Lunsford, cofounder of Polyvinyl Records, whose roster currently includes Japandroids and of Montreal. At this point, Polyvinyl presses limited-edition “Early Bird” versions of releases, as well as picture-disc pressings, and a 7” subscription series—which this year sold out before the first month was mailed.


So who’s buying? Anecdotally, it’s a broad range. On a recent visit to Columbus shop Lost Weekend Records, owner Kyle Siegrist had just helped three customers who were purchasing vinyl for themselves and also for their dads for Father’s Day. The cycle seems to have gone something like this: Twenty years ago, diehard vinyl fans were still buying LPs and saying, “The kids don’t get it.” Then, about five years ago, the younger generation started buying vinyl, and their parents were flummoxed. Now, millennials and boomers are all together in the same stores buying LPs.

Marc Weinstein, the 57-year-old co-owner of California’s Amoeba Musicstores, has seen many of his friends dust off their old turntables as vinyl sales at Amoeba have doubled over the last half decade. Simultaneously, young buyers are purchasing new releases alongside a handful of classics. (“College kids still listen to Bob Marley and Pink Floyd, and they probably will forever,” Secretly’s Blandford says.) Demographics can trend even younger than that: Teens are buying vinyl, too. “I coach a high school wrestling team,” says Dayton-based Misra Records manager Leo DeLuca, “and freshmen are buying record players and asking if we press vinyl.”

Vinyl buyers are unique in their purchasing habits. In the first week of June, just before Jack White stormed the charts and skewed the numbers, Sharon Van Etten’s latest Jagjaguwar release Are We There took the #2 spot on the vinyl chart, selling 2,115 LPs of the total 8,930 copies sold that week. Which means vinyl sales accounted for more than 20 percent of the singer/songwriter’s first-week sales, a number that’s consistent with most of Secretly Label Group’s releases.


Contnue reading at…



The coolest record stores in the UK



The coolest record stores in Britain

Spotify and Pandora may be booming, but you can’t beat the atmosphere of an independent music store. Ben Travis picks Britain’s best

Sound It Out, Stockton upon Tees Photo: Tom Butchart

Despite Spotify, Deezer and the like offering free streamed music, vinyl is back in fashion, with sales in 2013 reaching a fifteen-year high. Where better to buy old-style records than one of these community-driven cultural institutions?

1. Rough Trade East – London
Dray Walk, Brick Lane, E1; roughtrade.com

Photo: Kathy deWitt / Alamy
The daddy of UK record shops. London’s Rough Trade East, which opened in 2007, may be the younger brother of Rough Trade West, but is also one of the biggest independents in the country. The store sells predominantly new stock of vinyl and CDs, racked up across a huge 5,000 square-feet, and has a handy cafe at the front. Rough Trade is more than just a shop – it’s also one of the most influential labels in the UK, and has put out influential records by The Smiths, The Fall, The Strokes, Arcade FireBelle & Sebastian and more. Rough Trade East also plays host to in-store gigs, film screenings, and talks on film, music and literature.

2. The Music Exchange – Nottingham
Stoney Street, Hockley; themusicexchange.org.uk

Photo: Mark Richardson / Alamy
The Music Exchange is more than just a music store – it’s also a social enterprise, and works with homelessness charity Framework to offer vulnerable people the opportunity to gain retail experience by volunteering behind the counter. Since opening in 2009, The Music Exchange has evolved from a tiny second-hand music shop in Nottingham’s West End Arcade to a bustling outlet in the trendy area of Hockley. The shop has gone some way to filling the void left when Nottingham’s legendary Selectadisc closed.


3. Probe Records – Liverpool
The Bluecoat, School Lane; probe-records.com

Photo: The Bluecoat

In a city with such a fine musical pedigree as Liverpool, it takes a lot to stand out. Though it’s moved premises through the years, Liverpool’s Probe Records has been going strong since 1971. Pete Burns and Paul Rutherford of Frankie Goes to Hollywood have worked there, and in the wake of punk, Probe became Liverpool’s go-to record shop, attracting clientele from Echo and the Bunnymen and OMD. The shop launched its own record label Probe Plus in 1981, which has released work by cult Merseyside act Half Man Half Biscuit.

4. Sound It Out Records – Teesside
Yarm Street, Stockton-on-Tees; sounditoutrecords.co.uk

Photo: Tom Butchart
The last remaining record shop in the Stockton-on-Tees area is a focal point for the community, welcoming everyone from teenage metal fans to wannabe rappers and stragglers from local pubs through its doors. Filmmaker Jeanie Finlay’s documentary Sound It Out perfectly encapsulates what the store means to locals, while owner Tom Butchart has the last word on the enduring appeal of vinyl: “records hold memories”.



5. Pop Recs Ltd – Sunderland
Fawcett Street; poprecsltd.com

Photo: Paul Alexander Knox
Sunderland band Frankie & The Heartstrings had a novel idea when it came to the release of their second LP, The Days Run Away – they set up a pop-up record shop for two weeks to promote it. Over a year later the shop still stands, and has made more of an impact than the album that inspired it. Pop Recs Ltd has been a major boost for Sunderland, galvanising local music fans, and promoting inclusiveness and enterprise by selling locally produced coffee and hosting art exhibitions. Maxïmo Park and The Ordinary Boys have already played there for free, while Franz Ferdinand did a gig for a fiver (or £2.50 for those receiving benefits).

6. Rise Music – Bristol
Queens Road, Clifton; rise-music.co.uk

Photo: James Hankins

After growing Fopp from a market stall into a chain of over 100 stores over 25 years, Gordon Montgomery founded Rise in Bristol. The store is impressively diverse, selling a carefully curated selection of books and DVDs alongside CDs and LPs. Now with two more stores in Cheltenham and Worcester, this regional chain continues to grow, and has hosted live shows from acts like Peace and Slow Club as well as film nights and DJ sets. The Bristol store includes a Friska cafe, while the shop even has a vintage clothing arm called Rise Revival.

7. Good Vibrations – Belfast
North Street; Good Vibrations Record Shop – Facebook

Good Vibrations, as depicted in the film, with Richard Dormer as Terri Hooley. Photo: Steffan Hill

The film Good Vibrations, named after the legendary Belfast record store of the same name and released last year, was brilliant. It told the story of local music lover Terri Hooley’s attempt to expand his store into a label that would go on to release Teenage Kicks by The Undertones in 1979. But the film’s popularity also sparked the store back into life. Now in its 13th incarnation, and proclaiming itself as “Belfast’s poorest record shop”, shoppers can still bump into Hooley, now 65, working behind the till.


8. Spillers Records – Cardiff
The Morgan Arcade; spillersrecords.co.uk

Photo: Polly Thomas
Lots of record shops claim considerable heritage, but Spillers Records in Cardiff takes longevity to the next level – established 120 years ago, it’s the oldest record shop in the world. Opening in 1894, “H Spiller” originally dealt in phonographs, wax cylinders and shellac discs. As the decades passed, the shop evolved along with the music formats, and it now stocks a selection of CDs and LPs, and hosts in-store gigs.

9. Banquet Records – Kingston upon Thames
Eden Street; banquetrecords.com

Photo: Banquet Records
Some record labels have emerged from record shops. Banquet Records is a shop that emerged from a label that itself emerged from a shop. In 1973, record shop Beggars Banquet opened in Earls Court, with an accompanying label launching in 1977. The label has since grown into the Beggars Group, which owns or distributes some of the most respected independent record labels around, including 4AD (Bon Iver), Matador (Queens of the Stone Age), Rough Trade (Jarvis Cocker) and XL Recordings (Adele). A second store, Banquet Records, opened in 2002, but became independent of the Beggars Banquet shop in 2005. It runs successful club night New Slang and has hosted in-store performances and signings from FoalsLaura Marling and The Vamps.

10. Jumbo Records – Leeds
St Johns Centre; jumborecords.co.uk

Jumbo is appropriately named, given its history of upscaling. The shop took its first proper residence in Leeds’s Queens Arcade in 1972, before moving to the Merrion Centre shopping complex partly due to a lack of space. In the late Eighties even more space was required, prompting a move to the St Johns shopping centre where the shop remains today. In recent years the shop has held gigs from Hot Chip, We Are Scientists and Lily Allen. Last month Jumbo’s founder Hunter Smith and his wife Lornette stepped down from running the store.


Further recommendations:

11. Sister Ray Records – London
Berwick Street, W1; Sister Ray Records – Facebook

An excellent store in central London, just off Oxford Street, Sister Ray was originally an offshoot of the London branch of the sadly defunctSelectadisc. A new vinyl-only branch will launch in Shoreditch’s Ace Hotel on July 29.


12. Piccadilly Records – Manchester
Oldham Street, Northern Quarter; piccadillyrecords.com

Piccadilly Records is one of many record shops in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. The stock is nicely varied across several genres, though their rock / pop / indie selection is particularly strong.


13. Love Music, Glasgow
Dundas Street; lovemusicglasgow.com

Formerly the Glasgow branch of Edinburgh’s Avalanche Records, Love Music specialises in rock but caters for a wide range of tastes. The shop stocks a mix of LPs and CDs, with a particular focus on Scottish artists.


14. RPM Records, Newcastle
Old George Yard; RPM Records – Facebook

Down one of Newcastle’s artsy back alleys is RPM Records, a true treasure trove and stalwart of the local music scene. It holds a great selection of old and new records, has extremely friendly staff and also sells an array of classic record players.


15. BM Soho, London
D’arblay Street; bm-soho.com

If dance music is your thing, you can’t go wrong at BM Soho. Covering every sub-genre you could ever wish for – funky house, liquid drum and bass, dubstep, you name it – it’s the place to go for new 12″s.


16. Groucho’s Record Store, Dundee
Nethergate; grouchos.co.uk

Groucho’s in Dundee has been running for 38 years and is well-loved by the locals – it has been a frequent winner of the city’s Independent Retailer of the Year award. Be careful what you say in the shop though – the hilarious ‘Dinna ask’ page on the website highlights “choice words from people ‘two tracks short of a single'”.

Jack White sets US record for biggest one-week vinyl sales since… forever



Jack WhiteJack White photographed for the Observer New Review at Third Man Records, Nashville USA by Mike McGregor May 2014 Photograph: Mike McGregor for the Observer

Jack White has set a US record for the biggest one-week vinyl sales since the industry started counting accurately. Fans snatched up 40,000 vinyl copies of White’s new solo album, Lazaretto, which was packed with special effects that only work on turntables.

Prior to Lazaretto’s blockbuster week, Nielsen SoundScan’s vinyl record had remained unbroken for almost as long as the organisation has been monitoring sales in 1991. The previous benchmark was Pearl Jam’s LP Vitalogy, released three years after SoundScan’s creation, which moved 34,000 copies in its first seven days. Unlike White’s split song intros and hidden tracks, the grunge band’s only trick was its sale date: Vitalogy’s vinyl edition dropped two weeks before it came out on CD or cassette.

Lazaretto doesn’t have a cassette version. But its CD edition scarcely outsold the vinyl. Overall, including more than 80,000 digital purchases, Lazaretto sold about 138,000 copies – the same figure as White’s solo debut, 2012’s Blunderbuss. Though this number pales next to top-sellers like Taylor Swift, who sold 1.2m albums in one week in 2012, it was enough to make Lazaretto this week’s Billboard No 1 full-length. According to Billboard, White’s vinyl sales alone, split from the rest, would be enough to make it No 4.

“This [object] … is my proudest moment with Third Man Records,” White said on a recent Conan O’Brien appearance. “We got away with a lot of things.” In the UK, Lazaretto debuted at No 4.


A $380 music system for playing vinyl



For the vinyl curious: A complete $380 hi-fi system for LPs & audio files

The Audiophiliac matches the Audio Technica AT LP60 turntable with a pair of Audioengine A2+ speakers — the combination really clicked!

media.jpgThe Audioengine A2 speakers and Audio Technica AT LP60 turntableAudioengine/Audio Technica/Steve Guttenberg/CNET

You’ve probably read plenty about vinyl’s sales surge that’s been going on for years. Then, just a few weeks ago, Jack White’s new “Lazaretto” LP sold 40,000 copies in one week, the most any LP has sold that quickly since 1991! New vinyl is easy to score online, but some yard sales and thrift shops have loads of $1 records. New-to-vinyl converts should ask older friends and relatives if they’re ready to unload their record collections — you might get lucky! Those old, pre-1980s LPs are 100 percent, all-analog pressings, so if you can find ones in decent shape, they’ll probably sound better than digitally remastered LPs.

If you’re ready to take the plunge but don’t have a lot of cash, check out this little turntable based hi-fi. The system can also play digital audio from your computer.

It starts with the Audio Technica AT LP60 turntable ($120), which comes with a premounted phono cartridge so you don’t have to mess around with setting up the tonearm. Just place the platter on the spindle, then thread the rubber belt over the motor pulley, and you’re good to go. Since the AT LP60 also has a built-in phono preamplifier, you’ll hook it up directly to the Audioengine A2+ speakers. All of the wires and cables are included, there’s nothing extra to buy, except records.

Most cheap turntables sound awful, so the AT LP60 is the least expensive turntable I can recommend. Sure, a used Rega, ProJect, or Music Hall turntable will definitely sound better, but unless you know the owner or buy from a hi-fi shop that knows its way around turntables, I don’t recommend buying used turntables. They’re too fragile, and too many things can go wrong that you won’t notice until it’s too late. Vinyl newbies should stick with new turntables.

The Audioengine 2+ speakers are tiny, just 6 inches high by 4 inches wide by 5.25 inches deep. They each sport a 2.75-inch Kevlar woofer and a 0.75-inch silk dome tweeter. The left speaker houses a 15-watt-per-channel stereo amplifier and a digital converter with a USB input, so you can play music and movies with your computer over the A2+s. Little speakers like this don’t make a lot of bass, so place them close to a wall (3 to 12 inches), and the bass will be pleasantly full. I used the original A2 as one of my reference desktop speakers for a couple of years.

Frankly, I was surprised by this system’s sound quality. Its sweet and juicy balance isn’t short on detail, and the stereo imaging is spacious. Well-recorded vocals sound natural, but dynamic oomph isn’t great. Hey, tiny speakers with 2.75-inch woofers aren’t powerhouses, but in terms of musical pleasure, the AT LP60/A2+ clobbers any Bluetooth speaker I’ve heard to date. The advantages of using two A2+ speakers — placed five or six feet apart — over the 25.2-inch wide Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air ($600) speaker are easy to hear. The A2+s produce legitimate, room-filling stereo far better than the Zeppelin Air. Granted the Zeppelin Air is wireless, prettier, and puts out more bass, but I’d much rather listen to the AT LP60/A2+. Those two sell for $230 less than the ‘Zep Air.

Willie Nelson and Leon Russell’s “One for the Road” LP of duets brought a smile to my face. The two men were clearly enjoying singing together, and the all-analog, two-LP set from 1979 perfectly demonstrated the virtues of vinyl. I bought the album a few years ago for $1.99! The White Stripes’ self-titled first LP showed that the wee Audioengine A2+ speakers were ready, willing, and able to rock out.

Downsides? There’s no remote for the speakers, and the A2+s volume control is on the back of the left speaker. I don’t consider that a major drawback; you’ll quickly get into the habit of setting the volume when you change records. When playing audio files, you can adjust the volume with the computer.

Substituting the larger Audioengine A5+ speakers ($399 per pair) for the A2+s will add bass, and they’ll play louder and fill larger rooms better. Upgrading the A2+ or A5+ sound with the addition of a Dayton Sub-800 subwoofer ($89) is worth considering, too — either initially or down the road.

18 signs of Vinyl Addiction



1. Music just sounds sorta weird to you if it’s not preceded by a bit of surface noise.

2. You’re willing to spend hours of your time making sure your collection is perfectly alphabetized.

Lee Meredith / Via Flickr: -leethal-

3. Your record collection is the focus of your home decor.

H. Michael Karshis / Via Flickr: hmk

4. Some of your walls look just like this, or you want them to.

Brian Lamb / Via Flickr: harry

5. Your dream house looks something like this.

Carl Collins / Via Flickr: carlcollins

6. You’re ready to drop whatever you’re doing wherever you are to check out a record store, flea market, or garage sale.

7. You thumb through every single record bin in every shop because you never know what you might find.

8. You look at a photo like this and think “vacation destination.”

Abi Skipp / Via Flickr: 9557815@N05

9. You are constantly worried about being outbid on eBay.

10. This is more beautiful than an actual flower.

Marcin Wichary / Via Flickr: mwichary

11. Looking at a photo like this makes you quietly freak out – THAT’S NOT HOW YOU STORE A RECORD! YOU’RE GOING TO RUIN IT!!!

Steven Snodgrass / Via Flickr: stevensnodgrass

12. You have strong opinions about digital audio.

Acid Pix / Via Flickr: acidpix

13. You also have some very intense feelings about colored vinyl.

Yonolatengo / Via Flickr: yonolatengo

14. You roll your eyes at expensive, inferior new pressings of albums that you can find in used bins all over.

They’re always sourced from digital and sound like garbage!

15. You’re always wondering, “is it time to replace my needle yet?”

Jemimus / Via Flickr: jemimus

16. You hope and pray that every new album you like comes out on vinyl.

Hey Kayne, why isn’t Yeezus on vinyl yet???

17. There’s at least one record that you can never find or can’t afford, and knowing it’s out there and you can’t have it slowly drives you insane.

18. You are ready and willing to argue about the superiority of vinyl over CDs at any given moment.

You are ready and willing to argue about the superiority of vinyl over CDs at any given moment.

Largest vinyl record pressing plant in the US is expanding


America’s largest vinyl record pressing plant in Nashville, Tennessee, will be expanding its operations to include a second warehouse full of record-making machinery. United Record Pressing LLC toldThe Tennessean on Monday that it plans to add 16 presses to its present 30, and it will use the remaining space in the new warehouse as storage to meet a robustly growing demand for its product.

While we’ve been seeing an upward trend in the vinyl record industry for years now, those increases are becoming more noticeable, and this latest news from United Record Pressing reflects that in a tangible way. The company’s new location is a 142,000-square-foot warehouse in Nashville that it bought for $5.5 million.

United Record is attributing the good times to digital music sales. “Our belief is that it’s being driven by the rise in digital,” Jay Millar, the company’s Director of Marketing, told The Tennessean. “People who want something tangible and the best sound quality and experience are going to vinyl as opposed to CDs.”

Millar also told the paper that the company is currently working its 30 presses 24 hours a day, six days a week.

Nielsen’s SoundScan reported that 6.1 million vinyl records were sold in 2013, up from 4.6 in 2012 and under 1 million in 2007. But as The New York Times reported last year, “manufacturers, specialist retailers, and critics argue that SoundScan’s figures represent only a fraction of actual sales” and perhaps only account for as little as 10 to 15 percent of total vinyl sales, because Nielsen tracks records sold, rather than records pressed, and many vinyl manufacturers don’t print bar codes on their record sleeves, so sales from independent shops that don’t report to Nielsen don’t get counted.