Reflections: are pressing plant delays as bad as everyone thinks?


 “If it’s taking you longer than 10 weeks to press vinyl, you’re doing it wrong and you should probably look elsewhere” – Spencer Broughton

Like an angry muscle car eating up the road and kicking up dust into the face of anyone who tries to pursue it, Record Store Day 2017 came and went in the usual whirlwind we’ve become used to. As dependable as the day itself are the annual criticisms that the celebration damages the community of independent labels whose doggedness during vinyl’s less prosperous times helped the format survive. Is Record Store Day quite the nemesis its critics make out though? Spencer Broughton, co-founder of Prime Direct, one of the UK’s leading vinyl distribution companies, sees the notion as “piffle”; that the whole perception of pressing plant delays is founded on falsehoods, incompetency and inefficiency outside of the pressing process itself. In a candid interview we pick apart some of his arguments and find out what can be done to help independent labels take back control.

So, straight to the point…are pressing plant delays a myth?

The established pressing plants Prime use are absolutely fine and nothing has changed on turnaround time or quality control-wise for years. I have to question the pressing plants that are having problems. Are they actually professionals, or are they simply people who are having a go at being the technician you need to be to run a pressing plant? Some other pressing plants could be having some delays but I see what they are blaming it on is false. It could be that the pressing plants in question aren’t up to the standards they need to be to be able to deliver a vinyl run as it should be, and in an acceptable timeframe. The vinyl scene has obviously boomed in the last few years so turnaround time typically crept from 6 weeks to 8 weeks but this is all perfectly acceptable and the delays I’ve heard bounded around are horror stories from people that don’t have systems and working practices in place.

Prime warehouse shipping day

That’s all well and good, but why should people reading this take your word for it, and not see it as another opinion fanning the flames around an issue hugely important for independent labels?

We tell our labels to typically plan for 6-8 weeks for vinyl turnaround, with TP’s due back after 4-5 weeks. Landing stock can sometimes slip back to 10 weeks during busy spells but considering any PR company worth its salt asks for 10 weeks, (Dispersion, Shine PR and many of the others ask for an “ideal” 10 weeks to get the most out of a full PR campaign), so easily workable as it’s fits perfectly with pressing lead times. If you’re talking albums, then most PR companies need even longer than 10 weeks for optimum PR results.

Can you pull out some specific examples from your work in distribution and releasing records yourself that support what you’re saying?

Alongside our usual 6-8 week, we also have times when it’s 4 weeks to turnaround a release. I landed a new title Black Booby – Dickies Dubs in under 4 weeks only last month, right in the heart of this RSD “mess”, and this month I landed the new WOLF 8 Years EP in 20 days! So this proves it can be done, it’s not uncommon to do this…if you ask nicely that is. 🙂

What’s given birth to this misconception around pressing plant delays?

There has been a lot written online regarding the delays in pressings, which add fuel to the fire. Only last week I read an article where a well-known artist mentioned about how difficult it was to start a label now due the quality control and long delays at the pressing plants. In the article he evens states that he had nine test pressings before he was happy with the first release. This sounds horrible, I really feel for the guy. Many years ago I got to 3 TPs and that was the last time I used that pressing plant in question.

Would you go as far as saying it’s a conspiracy cooked up to benefit certain parties?

Not necessarily cooked up, but certain parties by using delays at plants to cover up their own shortcomings. If you are pressing via people who don’t have much experience in their roles or are new to the industry then there’s the potential for things to go wrong.

Prime warehouse

Record Store Day has been built up as the big nemesis of independent labels, with majors clogging up the press plants with big reissues. Is there any truth to this?

I’ve heard that Record Store Day is the main culprit…this is piffle, an easy target that’s simply not true. RSD had 563 pressed titles (covering all genres) spread over a year at pretty much every pressing plant on the planet…that wouldn’t touch the sides at the better, more established pressing plants as the turnaround time would have hardly moved; possibly a week, 2 weeks, maybe but this slight change in pressing time has been the case for decades. It’s quite typical for this to happen at busy times of the years. There are many high quality pressing plants around the globe but also suspect there are a few that aren’t so hot. People pressing a lot of records all the time will know who sits in what camp so will plan accordingly, the smaller, one-off labels maybe won’t know this.

One thing that’s paramount to a successful pressing operator, is the technical staff on hand. Pressing vinyl is industrial manufacturing at its hardest and experienced staff can’t be understated. It’s not a case of turning the presses on and vinyl coming out of the other end, you need the talented, experienced technical staff to handle the many processes and alchemy involved in producing the perfect slab of vinyl, from mastering and cutting services, to artwork printing, to processing & galvanics before you even get to pressing the vinyl. It’s taken companies like Prime and many of its peers and competitors decades to set up systems for pressing and get the right people in the right places to make pressing vinyl as simple as can be. Like I said earlier, if it’s taking you longer than 10 weeks to press vinyl, you’re doing it wrong and you should probably look elsewhere.

So if pressing plant delays don’t exist, what’s holding up the process of pressing records?

Unless you are one of the bigger labels, you are going to be using a pressing plant less than 6-8 titles a year. Compare that to the work they do for brokers or distributors who work with 25-100+ titles every week, and is easy to see where plants are giving their priorities and capacity to. For a one man band, they can find themselves continually getting bumped off the schedule and for those bigger customers, so it makes sense they actually press via a broker or distribution company in order to achieve faster turnaround time. I have heard a few labels have been given the run-around in cases like this but , again, this has been the way for years, certainly since the 90s. It’s a hard truth but most industries would have the same mind-set when dealing with learned, bulk customers. Our pressing plants treat us well, and in turn we treat our labels well. It’s a tried and tested production line and there are many like us if you look around.

It can’t be all doom and gloom though. What are some ways independent labels can reduce turnarounds on their records?

My advice to Independent labels would be to ask whoever they are pressing with to give them rigid turnaround times. If it’s under 10 weeks, do it. If it’s above that or they can’t commit, then look elsewhere. It’s also better if you can use someone that can look after all parts of production, from mastering all the way through to shipping finished copies back and all the many, many processes in-between. If not you’re raising the risks of something going missing or going wrong. For this wonderfully creative and artistic vinyl music scene to thrive as it should, it needs to be supported by the methodical, logistical side too.

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