As the drummer for the Burlington band Waylon Speed, Justin Crowther has been making music for years. Now he’s planning to make music it in a different way: He’ll press vinyl records.
In a small commercial space on Pine Street in Burlington, Crowther has assembled an assortment of old equipment, including a pair of vinyl presses.
“They don’t make them anymore,” he explains. “They haven’t made a press since, I think, the early 1970s. You get what you can get and rebuild them. We found these in Germany.”
Crowther spent a year searching for the equipment. It was either mothballed or used for a purpose other than pressing records.
He recruited his brother and a few other mechanically-inclined friends to help him get the machinery in working order.
Crowther’s business, called the Burlington Record Plant, will start turning out its first vinyl records in about a month.
The process starts with a metal disc, called a stamper, which contains the recording. Like a record in reverse; the stamper has ridges which create the grooves in the vinyl. There’s a stamper for each side of the record.
The stampers are loaded into the press and a poly-vinyl chloride biscuit about the size and shape of a hockey puck is inserted, along with the record’s labels.
Steam heat softens the vinyl, which is then pressed against the stampers. Then it's cooled to make the finished product. The process takes about 25 seconds. Getting the temperatures and other variables right is a bit of a science and an art.
The machines are hand-operated, and if all goes smoothly, each of Crowther’s two presses can turn out 700 records a day.
Crowther says he’s studied the market, and even though vinyl accounts for just a small percentage of overall music sales, he believes there’s a place for his operation.
He says he plans to focus on "the more boutique kind of stuff where we’re doing heavier weights and picture discs and colored splattered discs and things like that to carve our own niche out in a niche market.”
Crowther says now that major labels and artists are embracing vinyl, there’s a bottleneck because there aren’t that many pressing plants. That’s making it more difficult for the musicians who helped sparked the renewed interest in vinyl in the first place.
“I feel like some of those independent artists, because the bigger names are coming in, are having trouble pressing records. That’s another M.O. of the company, catering to that,” he says.
The mention of vinyl records might induce a nostalgic lower back spasm in people of a certain age who remember hauling around their album collections in heavy milk crates. But Crowther had a different physical reaction when the idea for the pressing plant came to him one day as he was going through a friend’s vinyl records.
“I kind of got chills all over my body and I thought, ‘We’re going to make this happen,’” he recalls.
A portion of the supply of vinyl used to make records at the Burlington Record Plant will come from old albums. Crowther is working with ReSOURCE in Burlington to collect LPs, grind them up and press the vinyl into new albums.
Crowther is financing the business with a loan from the Vermont Economic Development Authority, in addition to bank financing and his own money.
He plans to keep drumming for Waylon Speed, whose vinyl releases will now be pressed in Burlington.