Trendsetters: Kindercore Vinyl
The Beat Goes On
After years of making music, Ryan Lewis and his partners at Kindercore Vinyl are now making records in Athens. Literally.
Records? Those round things? Yes, after decades of low or declining sales, vinyl records are making a comeback. Sales in 2015 topped $416 million, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, and consulting firm Deloitte expects 2017 sales to generate $900 million in revenue.
The problem is there aren’t enough presses operating to meet the demand. Most were mothballed years ago. Many date to the early 1980s, when the last traditional pressing machine was designed. Some companies are buying idled machines from around the globe and using them for replacement parts.
“It would have been pretty daunting to go that way,” Lewis says, “because we would have needed a mechanical engineer on site.”
Instead, backed by a team of Athens investors, Kindercore Vinyl bought three brand-new, fully automated, temperature-controlled, robotic-armed presses from Viryl Technologies in Canada. Each machine costs $200,000 and weighs 15,000 pounds. The trio gives Kindercore Vinyl the capacity to turn out 3,000 records a day.
“People like having a physical form of music to share,” says Lewis. “Musicians want vinyl because it’s the only thing you can’t pirate. Some people think vinyl sounds better. And for a lot of young artists, vinyl’s just cool.”
In the first few weeks of business, the company was already making records for established and emerging artists. Over four days, there were 18 orders from the artists themselves, their managers and/or their record labels, each for 500 to 1,000 records.
The partners at Kindercore Vinyl bring diverse skills and experience to the business. Dan Geller, a biodiesel researcher at the University of Georgia, ran Athens indie label Kindercore Records with Lewis. Cash Carter owned a record store and Bill Fortenberry worked as a recording engineer.
“We’ve seen the business from all angles,” Lewis says. “We know what it is to make music, and we’ve all toured. When we hire more people, we’ll hire musicians.”
Pressing records isn’t as easy as one might think. It involves quality control and engineering, but for Lewis, it’s more of an art than a science.
Even though the machines are automated, someone has to adjust settings so the flattened vinyl doesn’t stick to the pressing plates.
Maintaining a constant ambient temperature – about 80 degrees – is crucial, and humidity can influence how the vinyl pellets behave.
Workers inspect finished records for flaws, playing them on three turntables with three different needles before inserting them into sleeves and covers. The final products are packaged in cardboard boxes specially made by Progress Container in Winder.
“I didn’t realize how much of a factory operation this would be,” says Lewis. “But for me, it’s a dream come true.”