Mu­sic-fu­eled launch at vinyl record plant

Burling­ton disc maker wel­comes big, small artists to press tunes on lat­est equip­ment

The Hamilton Spectator - - BUSINESS - GRA­HAM ROCK­ING­HAM grock­ing­ham@thes­pec.com 905-526-3331 | @Rock­atTheSpec

Burling­ton can now call it­self the vinyl record cap­i­tal of Canada.

At its new 20,000-square-foot plant, Pre­ci­sion Record Press­ing held an open­ing cel­e­bra­tion Thurs­day for more than 100 in­vited mu­sic in­dus­try guests, in­clud­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives from all the ma­jor Cana­dian record la­bels.

The $5 mil­lion plant, lo­cated in an in­dus­trial park off Har­vester Road, boasts five new dou­ble record presses — freshly man­u­fac­tured in the Czech Repub­lic — that can turn out 3.6 mil­lion vinyl records in a year.

“There’s no­body else (in Canada) that can do our vol­ume,” Pre­ci­sion vice-pres­i­dent Gerry McGhee said in an in­ter­view. “Our Phase 2 ex­pan­sion will bring pro­duc­tion up to six mil­lion and that will make us the sec­ond largest in North Amer­ica, next to Union (Record Press­ing) in Nashville.”

The com­pany em­ploys about 40 staff and many of them were at work press­ing record­ings by poprock­ers Hed­ley and pack­ag­ing oth­ers by singer-song­writer Feist.

McGhee says there are plans to soon add a sec­ond shift and then a third (ide­ally, by year’s end) that would boost the staff num­ber to more than 100.

McGhee spent the af­ter­noon giv­ing tours of the sparkling-clean plant, while other guests chowed down on bar­be­cued ribs un­der a tent in the rear park­ing lot and mu­si­cians, such as up-and-com­ing Warner Canada record­ing artist Scott Hel­man, strummed gui­tars and sang.

Hel­man, a 21-year-old pop singer and song­writer from Toronto, was raised on mu­sic from down­loads and In­ter­net streams. Like many other young mu­sic lovers, how­ever, he has made the switch to vinyl. He says it’s all about en­gag­ing the lis­tener.

“I think cer­tain records sound dif­fer­ent and bet­ter on vinyl, but the thing about it for me is that you have to pay at­ten­tion to the record that you are choos­ing,” Hel­man said. “It’s not so fickle as just typ­ing in the name of an artist.”

It’s this un­ex­plain­able retro-love for vinyl that sent McGhee on a four-year, world­wide search for press­ing ma­chines.

McGhee is also pres­i­dent of Burling­ton-based mu­sic Iso­tope Records, a dis­tri­bu­tion com­pany that works with all of the ma­jor la­bels. It was there that he be­came aware of the new in­ter­est in vinyl.

Vinyl is still a rel­a­tive niche mar­ket, ac­count­ing for only about five per cent of phys­i­cal al­bum sales, but mar­ket re­search has shown that por­tion in­creased by al­most 58 per cent last year alone.

Vinyl press­ing tech­nol­ogy, how­ever, had largely disappeared fol­low­ing the switch to CDs in the 1980s, and the few re­main­ing presses had trou­ble keep­ing up with the resur­gent de­mand for LPs.

McGhee’s search brought him to Prague in the Czech Repub­lic, where he dis­cov­ered GZ Me­dia, one of the largest mak­ers of vinyl records in the world. The com­pany was also one of the few mak­ing new au­to­mated presses.

McGhee, for­mer lead singer for the ’80s metal band Brighton Rock, of­fered to buy some presses, but the Czech com­pany re­fused. In­stead, Iso­tope en­tered into a 50-50 part­ner­ship with GZ to es­tab­lish the Pre­ci­sion Press­ing plant in Burling­ton.

The hope is to grab a large chunk of the grow­ing North Amer­i­can mar­ket.

The plan seems to be work­ing. The plant be­gan pro­duc­tion in Jan­uary. The first record off the line was a white lim­ited edi­tion ver­sion of “Man Ma­chine Poem,” by The Trag­i­cally Hip.

“Since then, we’ve done about 60,000 Hip records,” McGhee says. “And we just got an or­der from the United States for 134,000 units of one ti­tle, La­mar Ken­dricks’ new al­bum.”

McGhee says the av­er­age or­der for a record is 500 to 2,000 for most ti­tles, but the com­pany will ac­cept smaller runs for as low as 100.

“We also want to sup­port in­de­pen­dent la­bels and in­de­pen­dent bands,” McGhee says. “Most plants will shy away from any­thing un­der 300. We wel­come that busi­ness.”

PHO­TOS BY GARY YOKOYAMA, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Pre­ci­sion Record Press­ing, which opened in Jan­uary, is hop­ing to grab a large chunk of the grow­ing mar­ket for vinyl records fu­elled by fans and bands.

Vice-pres­i­dent Gerry McGhee says their av­er­age press run is 500 to 2,000 records, but they’ll do runs for as few as 100.

Press op­er­a­tors Chico Ta­milia, left, and Ivy Lovell check a record made from vinyl pucks. The com­pany says it can turn out 3.6 mil­lion discs in a year.

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