In the ’90s, Rainbo Records owner Steve Sheldon wanted to keep his vinyl presses going.
Everyone thought he was crazy; they told him it was a dead format. But Sheldon was adamant.
“I actually said, many times, ‘I think it will be around longer than CDs,’ ” Sheldon says.
Today, his Canoga Park, Calif., operation is massive. There are sound testing rooms, large printers for making labels and rows of workers stuffing sleeves. And then there are the actual presses themselves — 14 of them — giving off smoke and smelling of burnt rubber.
Sheldon describes the process as being somewhat like using a waffle iron. Instead of batter, they start with melted vinyl, squeezing it into a groove using hydraulic pressure.
The entire plant produces 28 records a minute, but Sheldon wishes he could press more. He’s increased his staff and now presses records 24 hours a day, 6 days a week to keep up with demand.
And it’s not just Rainbo Records: Vinyl presses all across the country are feeling the strain as the old format makes a comeback with a new generation.
“Vinyl right now is really the only bright spot in terms of album sales this year,” says Keith Caulfield, who tracks music charts for Billboard Magazine. He says before 2008, vinyl sales were so low they didn’t even publish the numbers.
But in the last six years, vinyl sales have tripled; in the first part of 2014, Billboard counted 6.5 million units sold. Currently vinyl makes up 3.5 percent of overall music sales, according to music tracker Nielsen SoundScan; a decade ago, that figure was 0.2 percent.
Digital downloads and CDs still make up the majority, but sales for those formats are down.
“It’s just really hard to convince people to spend money on buying music — period,” Caulfield says. “You know, it’s hard to get people to even buy a subscription to services like Spotify or Beats Music.”