Web Exclusive: Disc Makers, for the Record

CEO Tony Van Veen Talks About the Return to Vinyl
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This week, Disc Makers delighted indie musicians everywhere with the news that the company is offering vinyl pressing services again, for the first time in 15 years. I sat down with CEO Tony Van Veen to get the full story.

Vinyl has seen a resurgence over the past five years. What was the determining factor that led you to get back into the game now?
We’ve been watching the vinyl growth very carefully to determine if it was for real or just a passing fad. After five years in a row of 30 to 35% annual market growth, vinyl has finally gotten to be big enough to be interesting as more than just a micro niche product. And it has shown staying power. Disc Makers getting back into the vinyl business has been met with great enthusiasm, by artists as well as by our own staff.

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What did it take to get the equipment back up and running?
The equipment includes the same presses that our records were being pressed on in the late ’90s when we stopped offering vinyl. We’re partnered with a company that has restored the presses, which is not a simple process, since it’s virtually impossible to get parts for record presses that were originally built almost 50 years ago. It takes a combination of engineering skills and MacGyver ingenuity.

Do you have your own vinyl mastering engineer?
We do. Our vinyl mastering engineer still works here in our SoundLab mastering studios. Problem is, we sold our cutting lathe a few years ago after it had been collecting dust for over a decade. So as of this writing we are using a 3rd party mastering facility to cut our lacquers.

What’s the most important thing for artists to know if they are considering releasing on vinyl?
It’s not a CD, it’s not a download, it’s not digital. You can’t compress and limit the crap out of your music to have it sound as loud as possible, and still have it work on record. It likely needs to be mastered separately for your vinyl project. Your music will sound different on vinyl than in digital form, and benefits from more dynamic range. Also, the amount of time per side becomes a limiting factor. A 65-minute CD can’t be squeezed into one vinyl LP. But it feels oh so good to slide that 12-inch platter out of the protective paper sleeve and drop it onto a turntable.

Disc Makers is a pioneer in vinyl pressing, going back to 1946. How has the landscape changed the most since the early days?
In the early days of the record industry, there was an abundance of demand, and the supply was strictly controlled and filtered by a relatively few labels. We heard what they wanted us to hear. Today, those filters and barriers are completely gone. I’m proud that Disc Makers has played a leading role in smashing those barriers by pioneering the sale of complete record packages directly to artists in the 1980s. Artists today realize that it’s very difficult to get signed, and that it’s even harder to get heard on the radio. That’s why every artist today makes their own CDs, and distributes their own music digitally. That was not possible 30 years ago.

Where do you see the future of the CD as a delivery format?
It continues to be an essential tool for independent artists. Today, with downloads and streaming, CDs are no longer the primary delivery format for music. The role of the CD has changed, from primarily a carrier medium, to more of a souvenir. Today’s independent artists make a disproportionate part of their music revenues from performing live, and from selling CDs and merch at their gigs. The CD, when autographed by the artists, becomes a souvenir. My kids (who are in college) never bought a CD in their lives until they started going to concerts by indie artists. Then all of a sudden they started buying CDs. Sure, it’s possible to release a project digitally. But there is still a segment of the market that likes the physical product, and any artist without discs is leaving money on the table.

Sarah Jones is the editor of Electronic Musician.