Business

Salina’s Acoustic Sounds to rev up vinyl record production

Stan Bishop centers a nickel stamper used to press vinyl records in December. Acoustic Sounds, located in Salina, and its several subsidiaries employ 90 people and now plans to grow more as it adds machinery.
Stan Bishop centers a nickel stamper used to press vinyl records in December. Acoustic Sounds, located in Salina, and its several subsidiaries employ 90 people and now plans to grow more as it adds machinery. The Wichita Eagle file photo

Acoustic Sounds, a Salina company that produces a million vinyl records a year, has purchased rare 13 record presses held in storage in a Chicago warehouse for 20 years.

The vinyl records business is hot, and Acoustic Sounds’ record pressing unit, Quality Record Pressings, just went to a third shift and is still looking at a backlog of three to four months.

The company presses new records, such as the new Madonna album, as well as reissues, such as the Beach Boys.

But the company, like everybody else in the industry, has far more demand than it can supply. The number of record-pressing machines is a key bottleneck because record-pressing machines are complex, expensive — and no longer manufactured. Companies making vinyl records are all using decades-old machines with updated computer controls.

But Acoustic Sounds owner Chad Kassem had heard stories about some record presses that might be available. They had reportedly been used in the mid-1990s for bootleg 78 RPM albums for export to India, before the operation was shut down by law enforcement. Then the machines were bought in 2003 by a man who wanted to start a pressing plant, but couldn’t put the financing together. Over the years, he had turned down a number of offers for the machines.

“Rumors of these presses had been floating around for years,” said David Clouston, communications associate for Acoustic Sounds.

Kassem finally tracked him down and persuaded him to sell. They closed the sale Feb. 23, and a day later the machines were loaded onto trucks.

“Finding these presses is like opening Al Capone’s vault and actually finding something,” Kassem said in a statement, in reference to an old Geraldo Rivera TV special about opening a cellar in Chicago that was rumored to belong to gangster Al Capone. Rivera found nothing.

Clouston said it would take at least a year to repair the presses and reconfigure the plant to add in a new production line. The factory will be able to produce more than 2 million records a year after they are operating, making the company either the second or third largest vinyl record maker in the country. He expects they will hire a significant number of new workers when the time comes.

Clouston said they don’t expect the demand for vinyl to wane between now and then.

“What we hear from our partners at the major labels is that it’s not a fashion statement,” he said. “It’s a niche. They want the music on vinyl, they want the art, they want to own the whole package.”

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