In a small building toward the back of a large, industrial property covered in heavy machinery and large trucks, Walter Hill and Jonathan Berlin are quietly pressing hundreds of copies of new vinyl records.
“We really have no background in machinery,” Hill joked. “We just really love music and wanted to figure out how to make that our job and mass produce it. Make it for ourselves and for other people.”
What exactly goes into producing 400 records per day? After receiving an order, the initial process begins with an album’s original, 14-inch copy that’s been cut in real time and is now a metal core disc with a lacquer coating.
The disc is sprayed with silver and dropped into a nickel bath for electroplating. The silver sticks to the disc, hardens and is peeled off. The end product is the inverse of the ridges you’d see on a finished record and will eventually be used as a stamper.
Before it’s spinning on your turntable, the base materials of a record look more like the dyed rocks in an aquarium. Classic black is popular, but a myriad of other colors and patterns are possible – from pantones to marble and splatter.
Pellets are placed in a large machine called the extruder. A long, heated screw turns the pellets over and over, melding them together. Eventually it spits out a soft, solid form that looks like a hockey puck. This is the cake.
“If you’re here by yourself, it can get monotonous. We’re all great friends, so we’re just hanging out and talking, listening to music,” Hill said. “But I’ve been here a couple times all by myself for eight hours straight, and it gets a little crazy.”
Remember the stamper molds cut from the record’s original copy? They’re fitted to another machine and the cake is placed in the center. Steam runs through the machine, heating the mold. After a set time, a ram comes up and both sides of the stamper push down on the cake. Think of it like a waffle maker that also places the center labels. At that moment, the machine switches from steam to cooling water to bring the temperature down and harden the record.
Records are then stacked on a neighboring table where they wait for cooldown and packaging. Harris estimates VRP’s highest volume at 5,000 records, which equates to about 12 days on the press. While projects have included some local bands in Jacksonville, Tampa and a record store in Gainesville that orders projects regularly, VRP has worked with big labels like Capitol and Universal and are now on Capitol’s vendor list. The trick has been growing out of word-of-mouth and making the right contacts. Larger acts have included Spaceface, Penny and Sparrow, John Mark McMillan and Cool Hand Luke.
There wasn’t necessarily a need for more vinyl when Hill and Berllin started their plant. But its existence created another avenue in a pre-existing market and gave the pair an opportunity to work in something they both love. In the age of streaming and multi-screens, there’s still a big push for the tangible. It’s hard to ignore vinyl’s significance in that push.
“I don’t know about you, but the CDs I have, I throw them in my car and someone steps on them,” Hill said. “I think with vinyl, most people have one turntable. It’s in a room at their house and is pretty chill. It’s an event to put music on.”