News

Vinyl Records Still Being Made in Nashville Factory - 2003-01-16

With the advent of the compact music disk in the 1980s, the vinyl record went in to rapid decline and all but disappeared here in the United States. An entire generation of Americans has never enjoyed the experience of slipping an LP out of its sleeve, centering the record on the spindle, and carefully dropping the needle on a favorite cut. But LPs and 45s entirely disappeared just yet.

Vinyl records are still being pressed and are even enjoying something of a renaissance.

There's really not much to see when you visit a plant where compact disks are manufactured. Computer-controlled robots burn hundreds of disks per minute in almost total silence, isolated behind glass in sterile clean-rooms. Visiting a vinyl record plant is a very different experience.

At United Record Pressing in Nashville, the entire building vibrates in time to the thump and hiss of giant presses, you have to shout to be heard and the smell of burning plastic permeates everything.

Company President Chris Ashworth noted on a tour of the plant floor that there a quite a few employees who have been at the plant making records for at least 30 years. All that experience is essential because producing a quality vinyl record is a complex, exacting task.

"The first thing that happens is the extruder's got to go ahead and heat up the vinyl, and it comes out of the extruder and looks like a hockey-puck of vinyl," he said. "Then it's put on a spindle, with a label on the top and a label on the bottom; in other words, the 'A' side on the top and the 'B' side on the bottom. Then the press comes together. You then go into 'high-squeeze' with more steam, and then you go into cold water, you allow the vinyl to chill out and the record then slides out of the press. It's then trimmed, making it perfectly round… and it does that about every 34 seconds."

In the late 1970s Nashville companies produced nearly a million vinyl records each week. Today, United is the last of Music City's pressing plants but by far the most famous. United had a hand in the early success of Motown Records in the late 1950s, waiving up front fees when legendary Producer Berry Gordy couldn't afford the cost of pressing his first singles. Directly over the plant is a second floor party room where visiting artists and executives would celebrate the pressing of a new record.

"The last party that was here was Wayne Newton's 16th birthday party! He had a new record coming out, and he flew on into town, and the record was being pressed downstairs, and they were having a wild and crazy party up here for the release of that record," Mr. Ashworth said.

United Record Pressing was a gamble for Mr. Ashworth. He purchased the business just five years ago when the vinyl record seemed all but extinct. "I did do some homework. I went to a local bookstore here. They had every music magazine you could imagine. And I spent the whole day thumbing through the magazines trying to figure out what was going on with vinyl records," he said.

Mr. Ashworth's research convinced him that demand for vinyl should remain stable in several markets for years to come. Jukeboxes spinning seven-inch singles are still widely used. Record reissues remain surprisingly popular, with commemorative Elvis sets one of United's biggest sellers.

Many audiophiles remain fiercely loyal to vinyl records, believing they have a much warmer sound than digital recordings. Recording engineer Spencer Secoy has a personal collection of more than 700 vinyl records, ranging from early country music to psychedelic rock.

"The warmth, I think comes from the physical nature of a record. You have a physical groove, you have a stylus, or needle as some people call it, that passes through the groove, and I think just through the mechanics itself leads itself to the warmness," he said. "It's not that you can't make digital warm, it just takes a little more effort on the recording engineer's part."

But there's more than sentimentality at work here. Pop, rap, techno and independent labels all promote their new releases by pressing them to vinyl and shipping them to nightclub DJ's worldwide...fueling a steady growth in the market.

"Certain DJs who are a little more high-profile will have access to songs before they are out there for mass consumption," said DJ Clark Warner, who works dance clubs throughout North America and Europe. "So it's like a test-bed. It's a piece of vinyl that you can turn around quickly. This is something that United does for us all the time."

Mr. Warner said most DJs are technology sponges, always into the latest equipment or medium, but they can't seem to resist old-fashioned vinyl. "I think it's the hands-on tactile-ness of the record. People still want to touch and work and mold sound, either by a knob or by guitar strings or a piano key. And this is where a vinyl record comes into electronic music and definitely DJ culture or club culture," he said.

And the wider music buying public seems to be following that lead. Mr. Ashworth has seen his United Pressing's business double in the last five years and he recently noticed vinyl records on sale at a Nashville record store for the first time in decades. But while Mr. Ashworth is pleased that his investment gamble paid off, he seems more intent on preserving a small slice of music history while also simply having a good time.

"I was with a friend of mine who I've known for about 20 years who's from Dallas yesterday," he noted. "And he said, 'What are you doing today, Chris?' And I said, 'I'm making vinyl records.' And he said, 'Ah, you've got you a fun business!' And I said, 'Yeah, I've got a fun business!' And he said, 'That's a good thing to do right now.'"

Photos by M. Osborne

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs