Music-fueled launch at vinyl record plant
Burlington disc maker welcomes big, small artists to press tunes on latest equipment
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.”
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.