Celebrating 10 Years of Independent Record Pressing For Independent Artists.
On many occasions, we are asked why we want to make vinyl records in the 21st century. We believe that the vinyl record format is the last physical medium, and records embody sound recordings that will live for decades to come. With a few exceptions in the late 1990s, records have been at merch tables of most artists and bands for over 60 years. Given the science behind how a record works (a mechanical operation dragging a stylus through a groove catching information sometimes as small as 0.1 microns and translating it to audio — smaller than the information contained on a CD), it is truly a marvel that the format works at all. But, following a careful and regulated manufacturing process, the record brings a unique listening experience that no other format has done in the history of mankind.
Not all records are created equal. Our mission is to produce the highest quality vinyl records possible from both a sonic and aesthetic perspective at a fair price; and strive to provide industry-best customer service. We love to make and listen to records. No matter the size of the order, we provide personal service and strive for same-day responsiveness to all email and telephone inquiries.
We pride ourselves on being The Artist’s Preferred Pressing Plant. What does this mean? Well, our earned reputation of being one of the highest quality pressing plants in the world has enabled us to work closely with many artists who have direct control over their work, even when labels and management companies are involved. We enjoy working with folks who care as much about putting high quality records into the marketplace as we do, and the folks who care the most about this often are the artists themselves.
A LITTLE HISTORY:
Gotta Groove Records opened up in 2009, and at the time, was one of the first new pressing plants to open in the United States in decades. It all started when Vince Slusarz left behind his long career with Kinetico in search for a new adventure. He acquired all of the machinery from Dynamic Sun Records (also known as Sun Record Pressing), a long-established pressing plant in New Jersey, when its owner had decided to retire. Vince, being a music fan and record head (he once operated a record store out of his college dorm room) had a plan to bring several high-skill manufacturing jobs to the core of the Cleveland city limits via vinyl record manufacturing.
Meanwhile, Matt Earley, who had been wholesaling vinyl records to indie record stores for a bloodline of one-stops (starting with Campus Records, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio, which was acquired by Arrow/ATM Distributing in 2001, merged with Galaxy Distribution in 2007 to form EDGE Entertainment, and ultimately was acquired by Alliance Entertainment in 2010) was looking to launch his own record pressing plant. When calling around to pressing plants in the USA, he connected with the former owner of Dynamic Sun who told him “we just sold everything to somebody in Ohio yesterday!”. Sun’s owner would not reveal the identity of the investor, but after some sleuthing around, Matt was able to connect with Vince. The two met, and over the next year, made the decision to go into business together.
Through the course of GGR’s first five years of operations, it integrated many services connected to record manufacturing in order to be a vertically-integrated one-stop-shop operation offerring lacquers, plating, pressing, label/sleeve/jacket printing, download hosting, pre-order fulfillment shipping, venue shipping, and distribution consultancy. Through the dedication and hard work of our employees (several of whom have been with us since the beginning), we have been fortunate enough to grow GGR into the pressing operation it is today. To date, GGR has worked on over 9,000 individual vinyl releases.
ABOUT THE GOTTA GROOVE OPERATION:
Due to our “one-stop-shop” approach, our unparalleled proprietary quality control procedures, and our independent modus operandi, Gotta Groove Records is The Artist’s Preferred Record Pressing Plant. Click here to see some of the artists for whom we have worked.
Lacquering With Care:
“Lacquering” or “cutting” is the first post-mastering step in the vinyl manufacturing process. This is when your audio first becomes a physical, tangible form — being cut in the form of grooves via a record lathe onto a blank lacquer-coated disc (in the United States, all phonograph master disc cutting is done onto lacquers – vs DMM, which is still in use at some vinyl mastering facilities outside of the U.S.A.)
Whether you are supplying analog tapes or high resolution digital audio files, when you order an in house cut from Gotta Groove Records, you are receiving some of the most experienced and most attentive services available in the vinyl industry. Our mastering team consists of:
Well Made Music – All 12″ Cuts
Clint Holley, the owner of the Well Made Music studios, has been the resident lacquer engineer at Gotta Groove Records since 2009. Since then, he has cut well over 10,000 releases, including artists like St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Willie Nelson, Luna, Dave Alvin, and many others. Applying proven traditional techniques combined with modern technology while using two completely restored Neumann VMS-70 lathes, Clint oversees 90% of the 12″ lacquer work done at Gotta Groove Records. At the Well Made Music Studios, there is a one-of-a-kind floating floor upon which the lathe is set, which removes the ambient noises from cuts and any possibility of vibrations occurring in the cut itself.
Dave Polster is a vinyl mastering engineer at Well Made Music and a recording engineer based in Cleveland, OH. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Audio Production from Ohio University and is an active member of the Audio Engineering Society. He has been recording and mastering music for several years and has been fortunate to work alongside some of the brightest minds in the industry. Dave is a large proponent of vinyl records. He has been collecting vintage LP’s for over a decade. Due in part to his experience in the manufacturing end at Gotta Groove Records along with his experience as a vinyl mastering engineer at Well Made Music, Dave has in-depth, first-hand experience in the vinyl record production process. If you ever see a record with a “dP” inscribed near the matrix number between the run-out grooves, you now know where it came from.
Rare Form Mastering – All 7″ Cuts
Greg Reierson, owner of Rare Form Mastering, oversees 90% of the 7″ lacquer work done at Gotta Groove Records. He has spent the past 33 years working in the audio industry with a primary focus on mastering since 1989. In that time he’s mastered more than 6,000 commercially released albums for a diverse group of local, national and international artists including Prince (R.I.P.), Keb’ Mo’, The Cure, Jonny Lang, Cyril Neville, Rita Coolidge, Bernard Allison, The Marshall Tucker Band, Tommy James, John Kay, Willie Murphy, Cloud Cult, The Honeydogs, Bruce McCabe, Dean Magraw, The Ocean Blue, fDeluxe, The Suburbs, Lorie Line and many others.
In the studio, Greg surrounds himself with a carefully assembled collection of old and new – from his vintage Neumann VMS70 record lathe and assortment of analog tape decks to everything the modern digital world has to offer. Greg has designed, built or modified much of the equipment used at RFM and spends time between sessions working on various electronics projects and satisfying his curiosities about music, sound, audio perception, acoustics and audio technology.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to cutting records. Every audio master we receive is cut during its own unique session, and care is taken to cut the lacquers in a way that is as close as technically possible to the source audio. Other considerations we take into account are potential pressing and plating issues we have found can be minimized with certain cutting techniques, depending upon the program material; as well as potential playback challenges.
Attention mastering engineers — we would love to hear from you! Instead of relying upon our mutual customer to upload audio files when placing their order with us, we would strongly prefer to receive the files directly from you — along with any feedback on specific concerns you encountered with the client during the mastering process. Open-door communication will help all involved to make the best sounding records possible. When customers supply masters to us without direct communication from the mastering engineer who prepared them, the customer entrusts us to make professional judgments in how the audio should be cut. This works well for the vast majority of records that are cut in-house. However, it does always help when a mastering engineer uploads audio files directly to our website and contacts us directly to discuss them – particularly when special considerations need to be taken into account. We cannot stress our open-door policy enough.
Clint Holley & the Well Made Music Studios Lathe (located in 78th Street Studios in Cleveland):
“Record Plating” (which is technically electroforming, not electroplating) is the method used to make the metal parts which ultimately stamp the grooves into pressed records. The 2-step plating method is used by default for most standard weight and 7 inch vinyl orders, as well as 180 gram vinyl orders under 500 units. 3-step plating is the standard for all 180 gram orders of 500 units or more. You can also request 3-step plating for any order. (If none of this makes sense to you, no problem, just give us a shout at (800) 295-0171, or email us at [email protected]).
When you place your order with GGR, all plating costs are included in the order total, and we manage all attributes of the plating process for you. Our in-house plating service is operated by Nipro Optics, and is the most technologically advanced and modern electroforming facility in the entire world. Each metal mother is listened to and recorded in its entirety, to establish a baseline for running test pressings, as well as preventing recurring issues in metal and lacquer processing. A proprietary reverse-osmosis (RO) water system is used, verses the more traditional deionization (DI) water systems in use at other plating facilities.
Additionally, in 2017-2018, we worked with with NiPro Optics to develop the first new form of record plating technology in the past 30 years — GrooveCoated™ stampers. Depending upon the cut, this combination can dramatically increase the lifespan of the stamper, and reduce high frequency loss as pressing cycles continue over the course of manufacturing..
Tom Gross is the owner of NiPro Optics. His original training was at United Records where he stayed in what’s now the “Motown Suite” while training at the electroforming facility down stairs and in the building next door under the watchful eyes of Tom Ingram and Mike Simpkins. After training, Tom when back to Tempe Arizona to setup and start the electroforming department within the new pressing plant called Superior Records. Superior was a new facility with 4 new SMT, 7” double cavity presses and 8 SMT, 12” LP presses and was a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn and be a part of this new operation. Tom produced many of the new Motown metal masters that after approval, replications were sent to other records pressing facilities under the United Records umbrella for mass production.
Within the United States, other reputable record plating facilities include Mastercraft, QRP, RTI, and Welcome To 1979.
Record plating is one of the most problem-susceptible processes in record manufacturing. So, regardless of whether you are having GGR handle your plating, or if you are supplying lacquers to a third party plater, we cannot stress enough the importance that you place your order with GGR prior to having third-party cut lacquers ready to ship; and have your engineer contact us directly before shipping lacquers out. Plating already has enough of its own variables to contend with – making sure that no added complications are caused is of utmost importance.
At GGR, we have experimented with nearly every black vinyl formulation available around the world. From 2013 through 2018, our black was custom manufactured for us by Rimtec, now known as Riken Americas. In late 2017, Riken advised us of the possibility that they may exit the black vinyl market. So, in January 2018, we began to procure different black formulations from around the world, and to run records with them. We even experimented with a non-PVC PET-based plastic at one point. After extensive experimentation and trials, as well as some modification to the existing formulation, GGR decided in late 2018 to make CAF, Srl its official supplier of black vinyl. CAF, based in Italy, is well-established in the European vinyl record manufacturing market, and has been in the business for over 40 years. We are extremely excited about this non-lead based black compound, and based upon our experiments with many other black vinyls, we have found it to be the quietest and most consistent running black vinyl currently available.
We also offer the full line of TPC and Riken color vinyls, as well as Natural (uncolored) vinyl. “Natural” is the natural color of PVC without any colorants added – it appears white, but can show light through if held up to a light source. In theory, it is the “cleanest” formulation of phonographic record PVC available, because it does not have any colorants added. (Contrary to what one may think, actual transparent “clear” vinyl has colorants added to reduce the haziness of appearance — Natural Translucent does not have these colorants, and therefore looks hazy white). This color is extremely quiet, and molds exceptionally well on records with very dynamic program material – similar (though not identical) to black. This color can be considered an “audiophile” sounding PVC, like black. The cost of Natural is more than black, because it costs more from the PVC manufacturer that makes it, and has a longer cycle time than black.
A Modern Vinyl Record Pressing Plant:
GGR has implemented some technology and processes which (quite possibly, although we can’t verify) have never been used on record pressing equipment anywhere in the world.
We use several fully automated Hamilton and SMT presses. In November 2016, we installed a new record pressing machine — a custom-built hybrid automated press (built in the USA by Record Pressing Machines, LLC) — it is the only such machine in use anywhere in the world. Finally, we have one manual (or “semi-automatic”) Finebilt press that we redesigned and rebuilt with 21st century technology added in Cleveland (we call it the Groovebuilt press).
Each vintage pressing machine has been meticulously restored, or rebuilt from scratch. From the addition of all-digital temperature and pressure controls; custom-engineered molds for optimal record weight and sonic characteristics; PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) temperature-controlled pressing automation; and industrial integrated cooler system; to the consultation with NASA engineers on space-age machine improvements, all R&D and investment in our plant helps to further our goal of producing the highest quality vinyl records possible from both a sonic and aesthetic perspective at a fair price.
We increased the size of our factory by approximately 60% at the beginning of 2015. By the end of 2016, our record pressing capacity exceeded 1 million units annually. We continue to reinvest in machinery and infrastructure to expand our capacity and quality control.
We employ a full time mechanic, as well as more quality control workers than any other pressing plant in the U.S. — one quality control employee per every two pressing machines listening to approximately every 25th record off the press during every shift, regardless of order size. Notes are kept and pressing adjustments made, as necessary. This certainly does increase the amount of time necessary to manufacture records, but it has proven effective in shipping the highest quality records that can possibly be manufactured. Many of the issues caught during this extensive listening process would otherwise make it out to the marketplace, if not for our listening practices. Many issues are not visually apparent, and therefore require listening.
Before shipping test pressings to customers, each test is reviewed, sometimes on more than one turntable. Any imperfections are further inspected by our Quality Control Manager. In many cases, we make the decision to not ship test pressings and to further troubleshoot issues before the test pressings get into the customer’s hands. When required, we absorb the additional costs of remaking parts to correct test pressing issues. While this can add weeks to the time it takes to ship test pressings, it also maintains our 99% test pressing approval rating by correcting most issues before they can reach our customers’ turntables.
Every record we press is sleeved by a human being as a final visual quality checkpoint – at the end of a given order, usually at least 3 different sets of eyes and ears have inspected your records.
Sometimes, when required, we approach our materials vendors to alert them of issues in their products. We have received the reply of “no other pressing plants have brought this to our attention” on more than one occasion. This response has always further enforced our notion that GGR’s quality control methodology, while not fast, is unsurpassed in the industry when it comes to making optimal records.
We like to refer to our records as “vinyl perfect” — we are always striving for perfection in an imperfect medium, shipping records that are the best that they can sound/look given each project’s unique characteristics.
Print Services, Download Hosting, and Other Services:
We offer a wide range of print options to complete your vinyl package — from standard direct-to-board jackets (where the printing is done directly on the cardstock) to our proprietary and extremely high-quality Tip-On jackets. We offer printed innersleeves with a special interior coating designed to protect records from scratches over time. We are a “one stop shop” for any sort of custom print option you can think of – from foil stamping and diecutting, to spot gloss treatments, “pop-up” displays and hardbound books. We have worked on a wide array of creative packages over the years.
We also offer a download audio hosting service that enables you to have a unique landing page for every record you release. Whether you want us to host basic 320kbps MP3 versions of your tracks for download, or higher res versions (or bonus material, videos, and art), our platform guarantees 99.8% up-time, and comes with consumer support for download code redemptions. Each code is hosted in perpetuity, but is only redeemable once. The standard download coupon we include has very simple instructions for redeeming the code, as well as a thumbnail of your cover art; for orders that are shrinkwrapped, we include a stock “free download included” sticker on the wrap.
Finally, through our sales consultant CPI Distribution, we can assist you in getting your records distributed to the marketplace.
Efficiency, Conservation, and Offsetting Environmental Impacts
The environment is very important to us at GGR, as it should be to everyone. So, we do take broad measures to run our operation as efficiently as possible, as well as to mitigate our footprint on the earth as much as possible.
Manufacturing is an essential component to the success of our economy. In any manufacturing operation, there is going to be some level of waste/scrap. While we can only speak specifically with regard to our operation at GGR, we believe that the manufacture of vinyl records tends to be on the far lower end of potential pollutants than the vast majority of manufacturing operations. Whenever possible, we make efforts to convince our customers to use polybags instead of shrinkwrap for the outer wrapping of their record (since polybags are reusable, they rarely make it into a landfill when used on vinyl records, vs shrinkwrap). The steam circulation system in our operation is propelled by natural gas instead of electric, which at least in this part of the country, has a far smaller impact on the environment than electricity. Fortunately, the vast majority of the scrap and excess materials involved in making the records we ship (print / packaging / vinyl / metal parts / lacquers) are recycled or reused within our operation. All paper scrap is recycled, and the lion’s share of scrapped records are recycled within our closed-loop system. Additionally, the black vinyl we use, as well as most colors, contains no lead.
Vinyl records are a consumer good that is not generally “disposable” in nature — the majority of record buyers keep their records indefinitely, and those who do not typically will sell/donate them vs throwing them in the trash. By focusing on making high quality records, we feel that we further ensure that our records are collected and owned for lifetimes. An interesting article somewhat related to this subject was published in the Ecologist in 2018.
Finally, we are proud to contribute a portion of our profits to the Carbon Fund, to help offset the impact that any company of our size can have on the environment.
The Bottom Line – Quality and Customer Service
If you don’t see what you are looking for or have a question, get in touch with us at [email protected] or call (800) 295-0171. We invite you to view our company video to learn more about us, and our approach to making records. We want to press your next record.
Gotta Groove Records 2016 Staff