Vinyl Factory Tour: Part 4
by B. Rica on July 07 '06
(Read part three)
Finally... Welcome to the place “where the magic happens”! After the past mastering and plating processes, the finished stampers are sent to this room where all the record presses are. This, folks, is the place where ALL of the Classic Records reissues and Analogue Productions Originals (APO) LPs are made. Many indie labels such as Sub Pop and Emperor Norton, and special requests from majors like Warner Brothers and EMI/Capitol also get pressed here.
For someone who has grown infatuated with the mysteries of analog reproduction throughout his entire life, getting to see in the flesh how a record actually gets made is nothing short of a lifetime milestone. In fact, I felt this was going to be the one and only chance I’d ever get to witness this fascinating process firsthand, so I just had to be there. And for the rest of you, well, here are the pictures!
Pressing records is definitely not a walk in the park. Nor a quiet operation either - at RTI, eight SMT (Southern Machine & Tool) presses live a second life churning LPs almost round the clock. And boy are those presses noisy -- hard to believe beautiful music can come out of these things. At the time we were there, the presses were filled with colored vinyl releases of the Flaming Lips’s latest album, Sub Pop band Low and others I couldn’t recognize by their labels. All of them in standard pressings - no 180- or 200-grammers like the Classic reissues.
Left, a big canister holds what I presume is the vinyl compound fed to the presses through a complex network of tubes above the entire operation.
Those presses can operate at blazing fast speeds in some actions, making quite a challenge to get pics of the whole process. This is a snapshot taken the precise moment the press builds a “biscuit” (the red blob at bottom) and puts on the labels seconds before being pressed under several hundred pounds of pressure and at high temperatures for about 20-30 seconds.
Once cooled down, the record gets transferred to another set of platters, where the excess vinyl from the pressing (called the “flash” is trimmed twice, the first run removing the bulk of the excess and a second run to fine-tune the border. The “flash” gets collected in a large bin underneath the press and gets recycled to produce more records.
After pressing, a set of mechanical arms collect the records on these large spindles (and you were afraid of having a record changer drop them like that!). The whole pressing process is much like a choreographed dance - makes you wonder about the complexity of the machinery it takes to produce an LP. However, on occasion a record fails to get into the spindle and then - BAM! Right on the floor... and into the trash; Once a record gets dirty, it cannot be recycled. The guys at RTI are pretty serious about this. Now that I see this picture, I notice the pile at left is of some Three Blind Mice (TBM) reissue. TBM is one of the most respected jazz labels in Japan, highly praised by their outstanding sound. If only one of them would have dropped when I was there...
Lots of vinyl “pancakes” collected from the presses await to be taken to the packaging room where they will be put in sleeves and some will be shrinkwrapped.