In a small out-of-the-way warehouse in East Brunswick, Victoria, Zenith Records is keeping Australian vinyl alive.
Zenith’s pressing plant does not look like much from the outside, you could easily walk past factory number five without even knowing.
But the cliche – ‘never judge a book by its cover’ – has rarely been more applicable.
Inside, a noisy production line is staffed by sound engineers, pressers and cutters busily at work creating the latest vinyl release.
The place is full of large metal machinery that does all sorts of remarkable things, a Willy Wonka chocolate factory for engineers.
Three Alpha Toolex record presses stamp out 600 twelve-inch or 800 seven-inch records on a good day.
On this day however only one press is operating, making the work slow going.
Connor Dalton who has worked as a sound engineer with Zenith for four years says this is a regular occurrence that goes hand in hand with using old machinery.
“The machines always break, every day,” he says.
“Hang out for half an hour and you will probably see two machines break.
“I can’t think of any other business that relies on antiques.
“No new vinyl gear has been made since 1980 so everything is at least 30 years old or older.”
Dalton says that while vinyl has seen an increase in sales in recent years, the pressing industry will never see a return to the glory days.
“It’s never going to be what it once was,” he says.
“There’s not enough money in it.
“Vinyl is up and selling more but it’s still not enough compared to CDs and DVDs.
“There’s almost not enough gear to support demand.
“At some point if it keeps going up and up, someone will have to make new gear but it’s going to be expensive.”
Paul Rigby who has been the co-owner of Zenith Records for 18 months says that vinyl manufacturing in Australia needs more experienced hands.
“It’s a difficult industry to master because we just don’t have access to the experience because it’s all gone,” he says.
“When we first put this equipment together in the early 90s there were a few guys that were floating around that had some experience but now they’re past retirement age.
“It’s all just word of mouth and a couple of online communities of people involved with plating, cutting and pressing.”
Even though Zenith “had to learn a hell of a lot of things on the fly”, Rigby says the company’s vinyl is just as good or even better quality than that overseas.
He says due to the heavy costs of vinyl pressing, that to remain competitive Zenith will have to reduce the time it takes to stamp out a record.
“We’re really behind the pump, cash wise,” he says.
“We’ve had to put our prices up to cover costs.
“At the moment it can sometimes take up to six to eight weeks [to finish a record].
“But if we can start getting our turn around to three to four weeks we won’t have to worry”.
KEEPING IT LOCAL
Australian Artists such as Paul Kelly, Kylie Minogue, Kasey Chambers, Wolfmother, UMI, Stevie Wright and the Easybeats have all had their albums pressed at Zenith.
Having a pressing plant in Australia means Australian artists and record labels can easily co-ordinate the production of an EP or LP rather than having to source it overseas.
Turnaround times are much shorter and there is no international shipping fee to worry about.
Perth band Methyl Ethel whose debut album ‘Oh Inhuman Spectacle?’ is out through Remote Control Records this Saturday, had the vinyl LP version pressed at Zenith to accompany its digital release.
The bass player for Methyl Ethel, Thom Stewart, says the band is releasing the album on vinyl not because it has a superior sound quality but because it gives the listener a more personal and nostalgic experience.
“It’s not that vinyl is better quality, so to speak, but it’s fashionable,” Stewart says.
“The process is a lot more intimate.
“I like it because you can’t skip over songs easily and you kind of have to listen to an album in its entirety.
“It’s nice to listen to the crackle.
“None of us have bought CDs in a while, they’re not obsolete but [vinyl] is definitely a medium that has come back in a big way.”
Stewart says he loves the fact there is still a pressing plant in Australia.
“I think it’s awesome,” he says.
“There’s obviously a big shortage of them but it’s cool to know that even with the massive demand for re-pressing old stuff you can still get your own music put onto an LP.”