The Vinyl Expert: Q&A with Vince Slusarz – Owner of Gotta Groove Records, the newest vinyl record plant in the US, adds his perspective to the trendspotting series – “The Resurgence of Vinyl”. To read the entire series, click here.
theOCMD: You’re the newest vinyl record plant in the country. Congratulations! What made you get into the business and invest in a new plant? What opportunity did you see that wasn’t being met?
Vince: I always wanted to start my own business, and I had a desire to do something in manufacturing (my previous employer was a manufacturing operation). I’ve been a consumer of vinyl for my whole life. Admittedly, I had stopped buying new vinyl for a number of years, but invested in a new turntable about four years ago, and started to get into playing the vinyl from my library. While a fan of vinyl, I had no idea how it was made. I researched the manufacturing process and, in doing so, also found data indicating vinyl sales have been steadily increasing since 2006, so much so that customers were complaining about the lead times to have a record made.
So, demand was up, and capacity was fixed- new vinyl pressing equipment was last made in the 1970’s. I began to look for some used equipment, but had no luck. I was about to give up on it when a couple of local people in the music industry told me they thought the idea of a plant was a good one. I made one last effort by sending an email to four existing plants asking if they knew of any used equipment for sale. Two did not respond; one said “no”, but the other- Dynamic Sun out of East Newark, New Jersey, told me that they had recently decided to put their assets up for sale. I visited them and closed the deal last March.
From what I understand you are now one of four plants in the US producing vinyl. Who did you turn to in order to learn about the process? It sounds daunting and complicated.
Vince: Actually, there are 15 plants left here producing vinyl. With six presses, we are around the seventh biggest plant.
Regarding the process, we have brought in the former plant manager from Dynamic on two different occasions, and another consultant for a week. But, we are learning much about the process on our own. My operations manager used to work with me at my previous employer, and he is wonderful with the machines.
the OCMD: I’ve been asking everyone if they think vinyl is a trend or here to stay. I’m guessing you’re placing your bets that vinyl is here to stay. What was your ‘ a ha moment’ in that conclusion. Were there trends, statistics or insights you uncovered to lead you to that?
Vince: As mentioned, RIAA stats since 2006 for vinyl sales have steadily risen. 09 was the biggest year for vinyl sales since 1991. The RIAA stats are misleading, however- they really only capture about 10-15% of the overall market.
I do believe vinyl is here to stay- after all, it has outlasted every other physical format. It will never be what it was in the 60s and 70’s, but it will remain an important niche market.
My “aha” moment was realizing that my college age daughter had stopped buying Cd’s in favor of downloads- however, when she bought something physical, it was vinyl That’s when I knew that this growth I had been reading about wasn’t due to just old farts like me.
theOCMD: To what do you attribute the resurgence of vinyl in the industry?
Vince: The attraction of Cd’s (and before that, cassettes, and before that 8 tracks) was the portability factor- you could play your music in the car, while working out, etc. Downloads and mp3 players have rendered that kind of physical portability obsolete. But, many people still want to have a tactile representation of their music. Vinyl is a much better physical experience- the artwork, label art, liner notes you can actually read, the heft of a record- all make more of an expression.
Then, there is the sound of vinyl. While certainly subjective, I know that I prefer the sound of vinyl better than digital- it’s deeper and warmer- 3D, if you will.
Finally, and maybe as important, vinyl requires some attention on the part of the listener. You can’t put it on shuffle play and walk away. It demands listening, and when done with friends, it is a communal activity. Our lives are constantly interrupted by technology. Taking the time to listen to a record is a way to decompress, and I believe this is also an attraction to the format.
theOCMD: What kind of growth do you expect to see for vinyl in the coming years?
Vince: I believe it will continue to grow for at least the next 5-7 years. We are only beginning to see younger individuals becoming aware of the format. Best Buy is now handling vinyl, and turntables are being mass-produced with USB ports; these companies would not be entering the market if they thought it had peaked.
theOCMD: Let’s talk analog vs. digital. Advocates of vinyl say that analog sounds much better than digital. Everyone seems to understand that there are various qualities to the digital format and it’s easy for a consumer to figure out what they’re getting with digital. However, I’ve also heard there are various qualities to vinyl as well. And that there is a lot of poorly produced vinyl out there. Is this true? What processes do you have in place from a manufacturing perspective to ensure quality sound? And how can consumers know they’re getting a quality vinyl record?
Vince: There are only a few suppliers of the vinyl compound needed to make records, and while they behave differently in ways such as melt temperature and flow, they are all capable of producing a quality record. That said, the entire process can have an impact on the sound. Cutting the master recording to the black lacquer- the first step in making a record- is extremely important. An audio recording should ideally be mastered for vinyl; using the same mastering as done for digital sometimes can present problems. While vinyl is a wonderful medium, there are some physical limitations that affect how “loud” a recording can be made- which is the tendency of most digital recordings.
We do a comprehensive quality check on every 25th record that comes off the press. I had the good fortune to visit eight of the competitive plants, and they all have similar quality checks in place. As for how a consumer knows if they are buying a quality record, you can’t really tell until you open it up and play it. As my friend Tom at the Brooklyn Phono pressing plant says, one key is the sound of silence- that is, listen to the lead-in’s to the tracks, the spots on the record that are supposed to be dead quiet. Often, the recording itself may cover up some noise.