The explosive resurgence of vinyl has taken an unexpected casualty: Canada's only vinyl record-pressing plant.
RIP-V, a six-press plant in Saint-Lambert, Que., on Montreal's south shore, has sold its equipment to a group of music-industry veterans planning to open their own shop in New Jersey.
The sale highlights the growing pains that have come with the revival of the antiquated format. New record presses haven't been manufactured in decades, forcing the handful of remaining plants across North America to rely on fragile, aging machines to handle endless demand, bottlenecking production. At the same time, vinyl still only represents 2 per cent of total music sales, staving off the interest and investment needed to make new presses.
RIP-V began pressing records in 2009. Growth has been phenomenal; the company pressed about 85 per cent more records in the first 10 months of this year than it did in the same period in 2013. But its owners faced a tough decision as volume rose. "We either had to crank up production and double it with the machines we had, or let someone else do it," says president and co-owner Philippe Dubuc.
The company was making money, but, he says, but scaling up production would require more energy and time – as well as more staff capable of using and repairing the ancient presses – than the owners believed was worthwhile.
Music fans have developed an insatiable thirst for vinyl in the past decade. Americans bought 7.9 million records in the first 49 weeks of 2014, according to Nielsen Music – 49 per cent more than in the same period last year. Canadians are snapping up vinyl at an even greater rate, buying 68 per cent more this year than last.
Mr. Dubuc had spent 14 years as an investment banker with National Bank Financial when, in 2007, he lost his job amid the asset-backed commercial paper crisis. Vinyl sales had by then begun to heat up, and, together with Iain Walker and Renée Papillon, who own a south shore music distribution warehouse, Mr. Dubuc decided to open the plant.
They bought 15 record presses from a New Jersey company, but operated only six. Earlier this year, RIP-V's owners decided to sell the nine presses they had in storage. Plants in New York and Portland, Ore. scooped them up, but prospective buyers kept calling, prompting Mr. Dubuc to consider selling his working presses, too.
It had become a cutthroat industry by then. "Some labels pay for a year's production in advance just to get access to the press," he tells The Globe and Mail. "It's panic mode. At one point, my biggest client asked me, 'If I sent you twice as much volume, would you take it? He ended the e-mail with 'Be honest.' And I said, 'Honestly, right now, I can't.'"
RIP-V presses 2,000 records a day. While it could have scaled up to 3,000, Mr. Dubuc says that with that volume, the time required to maintain the aging machines would have become unmanageable. The record-pressing industry is facing additional squeeze as the ongoing labour dispute in U.S. West Coast ports has tightened the North American supply of PVC, vinyl's crucial central ingredient.
In October, Mr. Dubuc finalized the sale and stopped taking orders. He'll keep pressing albums until Jan. 15. He would not identify the buyers, but says they are "people in the industry who need a lot of vinyl."
Mr. Dubuc would not disclose the terms of the sale, but says that it was worth much more than the $100,000 RIP-V first invested in the presses.
The new owners will set up shop somewhere near Newark, where the machines' story will come full circle: The buyer has hired the general manager of the original New Jersey plant RIP-V bought the presses from.
"He's the one that helped us set up and showed me how to press records, which, for me, is really important," Mr. Dubuc says. Teaching someone how to operate – and maintain – presses can be very time-intensive. "If I had sold to someone in Montreal, I would have had to stay on for quite a while – and I wouldn't have wanted to work for someone else."
Editor's Note: The original online version of this story, which appeared Dec. 14, indicated that RIP-V presses 2,000 records a week. In fact, it presses 2,000 records a day.