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Vinyl pressings: An old process for the new comeback

Created date

August 21st, 2009

Record press at United Record Pressing (Photo courtesy of United Record Pressing) Those of you out there who love classics will be happy to hear that vinyl records are making a comeback, and one that's surprisingly solid for a culture so deeply immersed in digital. For the last ten years or so, the grooved medium has been working its way back onto store shelves, most recently turning up in national retail chains like Best Buy. I looked into this revival for a story set to appear in a fall issue of The Tribune, interviewing among others Jay Millar, director of marketing for United Record Pressing (URP) in Nashville, Tenn. In operation since 1962, URP is one of the nation's largest pressing plants and holds the distinction of pressing the first Beatles 45 RPM release in America. While just about everyone at some point or another has seen a vinyl record, many aren't too familiar with the process that a plant like URP employs to make one. I asked Millar to describe the various stages of production, and here's what he said. "It all starts with the lacquers. These are big, metal discs coated in lacquer, which is a liquid with the consistency of nail polish. Into that lacquer, you cut grooves which are essentially mimicking the sound waves of the recording. "We get the grooved lacquer and coat it with silver, then electroplate it in nickel solution. Next, we remove the silver/nickel combo thus producing, what is from our perspective, the master record. It's the opposite of the record listeners will purchase in the store. Instead of grooves, it has ridges. An example of a stamper (Photo courtesy of United Record Pressing) Then we produce what we call the mother, which is the opposite of the silver/nickel master and basically a metal version of the final LP. From that we make the stamper, and that's what we use to press the grooves into the records. "Now, the vinyl that we'll use to make the final product comes to us as pellets, and we heat them into something called the biscuit (it looks like a cross between a biscuit and a hockey puck). It's at this point, while it's still a soft blob of vinyl, that we apply the labels. There's no adhesive attaching the labels. "The stampers smash this blob of vinyl with 1,800 pounds of pressure. Then we spin the resulting disc, trim off its edges, and you have yourself a record. Finally, people wearing white gloves very carefully package them for shipment."