POZ Perspective: Why Your Vinyl Is Not At Your Doorstep (Part II)
Founder of Quality Record Pressings Chad Kassem swears by a motto.
“A late record is late once,” he says. “A bad album is bad forever.”
Most vinyl collectors are quick to guess that when delays come up, it’s because something’s gone haywire at the pressing plant. But more often then not, says Quality Record Pressings’ customer service manager Nate Lennox, delays can be viewed as positive in the eyes of manufacturers.
“It’s quality control in action,” Lennox says. “Manufacturing flaws are honestly the least common reason delays happen.”
Eager to discuss what he considers “the most rewarding musical format,” Lennox runs through the most common reasons for delays. Most prevalent ones happen behind the scenes instead of on the assembly line. The approval process — when bands, record companies and pressing plants weigh in on test pressings — can take several intricate recuts for improvements. Very few records make it through on the first cut. Most require new lacquers to adjust everything from sound quality to harsh high ends.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Travel time can tack a few months onto a project: even rush delivering test presses takes time, since vinyl masters can’t be sent digitally. Legality issues also force album release dates to drag their heels.
“Everything has to be cleared by everyone,” Lennox says. “Artists and management need to have their ducks in a row for royalties and the rest of the intense legal process.”
Lennox calculates that 8 to 10 percent of all vinyl comes in defective. In a perfect world, he says, record labels would order more product than necessary to account for miscues. Quality Record Pressings operates out of Salina, Kansas — two hours away from the nearest mom ‘n’ pop record store. Advance copies of albums, Lennox admits, are things of myth. When he preorders an album, his daily ritual starts with waiting at the loading dock for records to come in, not unlike vinyl collectors religiously checking mailboxes.
“People think that just because I work at a plant means I get albums early,” Lennox says, “But I’m waiting along with everyone else for the same album. We just try to be very forthcoming when talking about delays.”
It’s that honest and open attitude that Bridge Nine label owner Chris Wrenn appreciates about pressing plants. Depending on what else is being pressed, Wrenn says the label experiences delays pretty regularly.
So Wrenn battles delays —some inevitable, some not— the same way several labels do: planning, and lots of it. Bridge Nine organizes and submits its releases early, since plants can get backed up rapidly.
“Because we do have such a history with so many plants, we do try to grease the wheels and call in favors when we can,” he says. “But it’s not always going to work out.”
A keen eye for detail and meticulous planning months ahead of production can be saving graces for record labels. But Jenna Miles, co-owner of Shop Radio Cast, developed her own method for working with pressing plants that cuts down on delays — to an extent.
“Do not preorder until after test pressings are approved and you have paid the plant the deposit,” Miles says. “Following this, the plant gives you an estimated shipping date, usually 2-4 weeks.”
Miles stands by her method, even when records that are far past the test pressing stage and have their deposits paid get pushed back. She confirmed that records with a 2-4 week timeframe often go well into 8 weeks.
“Even though I think a lot of the delays have to do with poor planning on the labels’ end,” she says, “I do find that some plants are not helpful in communicating and helping properly plan release dates.”
Seth Decoteau, co-owner of Topshelf Records, and Fred Feldman, owner of Triple Crown Records, also stress labels doing due diligence to make sure parts and masters are ready for pressing plants as early as possible, since that aspect of pressing is well in the label’s control.
But delays are ultimately an inescapable fate in the vinyl pressing industry, and with a small staff, Decoteau often finds himself putting out fires through customer service tactics.
“We’re as honest with people as possible. When we apologize, we make it as personal as we can,” he says. “We’re not happy about it either. We’re not people on the other side of the equation saying, “hey, that sucks, but whatever.’”
Chris Hansen almost wants to say that the reward of putting out vinyl isn’t worth the hassle of delays. Almost. He thinks vinyl, and the problems that come with it, is one of the biggest headaches anyone can deal with.
For No Sleep Records, vinyl is a product that comes out of love. Because the cost per record is steep, making money is one of the reasons why Hansen still presses albums.
Those headaches — the delays, the pressing plant frustrations, the domino effect that causes a million little issues when albums aren’t on time — help make vinyl the beloved format it has become.
“The final outcome, once it arrives, is always worth it,” Hansen confides. “All of the headaches are like they never happened.”
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