Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

Furnace Record Pressing's facility in Northern Virginia will create 40 jobs.

The alchemy of manifesting sound into a vinyl record and then back again into sound is a magic that originates from Thomas Edison’s invention of the phonograph in 1877, but passed into obscurity in the 1990s with the rise of the CD. However, the world is reawakening to the power of vinyl, and U.S. vinyl record pressers, like Furnace Record Pressing in Alexandria, Va., are growing to meet the demand.

For 12 consecutive years, more and more music lovers have turned to vinyl with 14.32 million records sold in the United States in 2017. Furnace, founded by Eric Astor in 1996, aims to meet some of that demand with the opening of its new record pressing facility just outside D.C.

In this 50,000 square-foot plant, Furnace’s 10 refurbished Toolex Alpha record presses, discovered in a shed in Mexico City, and two new Viryl record presses will have an annual production capacity of 9 million records, employing 40 additional workers at the facility.

Renowned for the quality of the records the company currently produces through plants in Germany and the Netherlands, Furnace’s vinyl record production merges the automated with the artisanal — a level of quality that requires an expertise and dedication from its employees.

I think the most difficult part is to find people that are passionate about making things and also passionate about music because, while you don’t need to be a huge music lover to do this job, this isn’t a widget manufacturing plant. Everything that we make has to be listened to, has to be critiqued. Every record is looked at. Furnace Record Pressing founder Eric Astor

“We need one operator for every two to three presses. You just can’t get around that. Everything’s got to be hands-on. They have to inspect all the records as they’re coming off. They have to put them on a turn[table] and listen to them every 50 records or so,” Astor said. “I think the most difficult part is to find people that are passionate about making things and also passionate about music because, while you don’t need to be a huge music lover to do this job, this isn’t a widget manufacturing plant. Everything that we make has to be listened to, has to be critiqued. Every record is looked at.”

Finding a workforce ready to meet these expectations has been challenging for Astor.

“Most of the folks that had pressed records and know this stuff, they’re retired and a lot of them — the old timers that are around — some of them are hardcore and some of them are like, ‘I’m so glad vinyl died because it’s a pain in the butt.’ We’re taking and finding people that know it, and then we’re learning it ourselves, just trying to find the best and brightest,” Astor said.

This commitment to quality has earned Furnace the loyalty of major and independent record labels alike.

“Eric’s a perfectionist, and so is everyone that works there. They don’t want their name on something that isn’t the highest quality. They want to press the highest quality records," said Dischord Records label manager Brian Lowit. "You can find plants all day long that will press okay-quality records, but record collectors too will now get really picky about where a record is pressed.”   

As consumer demand for records has increased by approximately 10 percent or more every year since 2005, record pressers have been overburdened with projects, meaning many independent or unsigned artists have been forced to wait up to nine months for their vinyl records to be pressed.

Furnace’s expansion will help alleviate this backlog for smaller record labels while also meeting the needs of major labels like Warner Music Group, for whom Furnace routinely presses records by Fleetwood Mac and Red Hot Chili Peppers every couple of weeks.  

“It certainly gives us another outlet for another high-quality record pressing in the United States … Having Furnace here in the States to do prepping, essentially expands the ability of the high-quality plant to put out more records,” Billy Fields, vice president of sales and account management for Warner Music Group, said.

Though Furnace currently has 12 presses in its facility, Astor has installed utilities within the space to accommodate up to 24, which may soon be needed if vinyl record sales continue to grow at their current rate.

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