Listening to music on vinyl records has made a huge comeback over the years. Once thought to be a dead format, vinyl is now responsible for a large portion of music sales throughout the world.
But why? Isn’t it more convenient to just stream music? To find out, WMRA's Chris Boros went to Blue Sprocket Sound in Harrisonburg, a vinyl pressing plant and recording studio. He spoke with Blue Sprocket's Chris Jackson and Logan Stoltzfus, two guys who know a thing or two about making records.
WMRA: Vinyl, why do you think it’s made this huge resurgence?
Chris Jackson: How long of an interview time do you have? (All laugh). We have this conversation daily and we’re in it. I think there are a lot of factors that have driven it. On the digital side of things, there’s been a push more toward streaming. There’s a convenience factor to people having their cell phone in their pocket and being able to carry an entire world of songs with them wherever they go. But I think a lot of people still really love connecting with and holding their music. And in a lot of ways I think vinyl is the perfect medium to be able to do that.
Logan Stoltzfus: I think as digital music have gotten more convenient, you’ve seen two divergent paths in that we’ve really nailed down the convenience with streaming so people that are looking for something more tactile are going to the most tactile format, the big jacket, the experience of putting the record on.
CJ: I’ve loved seeing a record on a turntable since I was a kid. And I think that’s really an amazing thing that has been with that medium from the very beginning and all the way through to today.
LS: That’s why it stuck around and we’re seeing a resurgence. There are a lot of formats that have died and are continuing to die, while this one is continuing to come back and become more and more prevalent.
CJ: Vinyl demands an experience. You go over to your shelf, you look at your record collection, you pull it off the shelf, you look at the jacket, you pull the record out, you drop it onto the table. Everything about it requires you to be engaged and twentyish minutes later you’re going to have to flip that record over.
WMRA: It really kind of demands you to sit down and listen.
CJ: It’s a bit of a pain in the butt to skip songs, so you’re also presented with the way the artist intended for you to go through that musical experience. People enjoy slowing down and appreciating music again for what it is.
WMRA: When I look at the (vinyl pressing) machine here, it’s massive to me. What kind of a learning curve was there when you first got it? How long did it take you guys to figure it out and get good at it?
CJ: We don’t like to talk about that some days. (Laughs).
LS: There has been a relatively significant learning curve. When you really break down the process, there’s a whole bunch of little parts to it and all of them are reasonably simple but they all interact with each other and so there’s a whole lot of learning on how to play with the different settings from beginning to the end of the press and learning how they all interact with each other and how each of those pieces builds on the last piece to make a good record. It took us several months at the beginning to really be making anything that we thought was worth putting out the door. And we’re still continuing to improve our process and make better and better records every day.
CJ: Every album we press is different. It has a different amount of music on it. It has different music on it.
WMRA: Does that matter, the actual music itself? If you’re pressing a classical album versus a punk rock record, is it a different process?
CJ: We may apply a different amount of heat or a different amount of cooling just to get a good flat record that’s got the lowest amount of surface noise as possible. Yes, there are slight changes from title to title that will happen and that’s really where so much of that interplay that Logan was talking about that lies.
LS: There’s different grooves on every record that require a slightly different amount of vinyl to fill them to make a record properly, so every record has a slightly different set of parameters that make sure that all of those grooves get filled and you end up with a proper record.
WMRA: How do you know it’s proper? Do you just make one at the beginning and then test it?
CJ: It’s not one, but just about every project will involve a small batch of test presses and we will listen to those. We send that to the client, they also sign off on it that they’ve listened to it and then we’ll go into production after that.
LS: And then once we go into production, we will continue to pull records and listen to them the whole time production is running to ensure that things are still working properly, the sound quality is still up to our standards, we’ll just continue to quality control as we go through every step of the process.
WMRA: There’s some history of vinyl pressing in this region. There was a pretty substantial record plant in Winchester – Capital Records. What do you know about that?
CJ: My understanding is that fifty years ago this October, Capital opened their record pressing plant in Winchester. They pressed a lot of the Beatles Abbey Road there. That plant ran and I believe eventually converted over to mostly cassette before it was completely shut down. We’re pretty happy to be continuing the pressing of vinyl in the Shenandoah Valley. It’s like fifty miles south of where that plant was. That’s pretty cool.
WMRA: If there’s one thing you want people to know about vinyl, about why they should invest in a record collection, what is it?
CJ: I like the permanence of owning records. If my streaming provider of choice rolls up their doors tomorrow, what happens to that music? I don’t own it, I’ve paid for the privilege to enjoy it for a time. Whereas when I buy a record, I am directly purchasing a product that I will have for as long as I take care of it. And I’m also directly purchasing a product which I know is putting money back into the supply chain that created it. And I enjoy holding that at the end of the day.
LS: I think it just provides a deeper connection with the music and the artist. Having that in front of you while you listening to the music just adds another piece of connection with the music and the artist.
The music in this piece comes directly from vinyl records pressed by Blue Sprocket Sound. Bands heard in the interview: