Updated: Aug 15, 2019
The vinyl record. With a long history dating all the way back to the late 1800's, and so many incredible masterpieces stamped unto its unique face to deliver its unique sound, it has been at the forefront of some of the most important moments in music history. But as with everything in life, it would eventually have competition as people sought to evolve musical playback formats, and so with the advent of the Compact Disc in the 80's, vinyl would see its final days...or would it?
As the 1990's rolled in, a whole new culture began to spread like a wildfire, with the disc jockey at the forefront, utilizing vinyl records as its one and only medium of choice. While sales during the old days of the historic Rave scene did not amount to enough for the vinyl record to be considered by most to be in relevance still, the reality is that in the underground, vinyl thrived and became big business for many young entrepreneurs who would go on to found many iconic record labels still around to this day, not to mention distribution companies and even pressing plants that helped carry the medium all the way up until the economic collapse of 2008 in United States.
One of these entities, was Canadian pressing plant Acme, responsible for the manufacturing of early Electro works on labels such as Monotone Recordings, or Fundamental Bass Intelligence for example. Headed by Chad Brown, the company would inevitably fold like many others due to the strain of the economic crisis in the US, and the nearly simultaneous rise of the digital download as the preferred medium of not just listeners, but DJ's across the globe.
For many however, there was a huge sense of dissatisfaction with this new trend, with many arguments from quality of sound lost, to the simple act of actually "owning" a tangible piece of music, and not just downloading bytes to a folder on a computer. And so for some time, once again deep in the underground circles of dedicated audiophiles and music lovers alike, the selling, trading, and purchasing of vinyl records would continue, and even though the reality of pressing vinyl was virtually impossible for most labels, some plants did remain, scattered across the globe, though with aging technology that brought about a whole host of issues in maintaining them. Some thought to change that however: Enter Viryl Technologies.
Founded in 2015 by former Acme owner Chad Brown, along with James Hashmi, and Rob Brown, Viryl Technologies sought to revolutionize the modern vinyl record industry; at this point slowly seeing enough growth to catch everyone's attention, by manufacturing and servicing fully and semi-automated record presses, and serving as a consulting firm for start-up and established pressing plants around the world.
Making a name for itself after introducing its award-winning "Warmtone" record press; a revised 21st century approach to the aging presses of yesteryear, the Warmtone did not necessarily reinvent pressing vinyl records, it merely updated the machinery used to make it happen, which up until this point was a nightmare in itself to keep up with. The lack of available parts, not to mention the expensive overall costs of upkeep for these machines presented a huge challenge not just for established plants, but primarily to new ones starting up. Simply finding a working press was a challenge in itself!
By providing not just the manufacturing of the presses, but also consulting, Viryl gave hope to the growing vinyl industry that it could actually catch up to modern times and allow for these companies to operate with less of a headache, and perhaps in the future with a more environmentally friendly approach even. This is where the revolutionary "steamless" option from Viryl for its presses comes in, and why it promises to completely change the way vinyl is pressed!
Up until now, traditional pressing units, including Viryl's Warmtone, have utilized a system of steam boilers to heat up the "biscuit" of vinyl that the mold and stamper will then form into the actual disc. This also uses fossil fuels to run, and obviously these boilers use water to create heat, which also presents a significant environmental issue with wastewater that is filled with anti-corrosive chemicals used to prevent rusting. Viryl's new steamless option however, is electrical, which does away with needing boilers, and thus of course no water nor the chemicals used in it. A pressing plant can then find ways of obtaining its electricity from renewable sources, so this is certainly a step in the right direction!
Viryl has been doing quite well selling these units so far, which are essentially retrofitted Warmtone presses, but others have been coming up with different ways to be at least a little more environmentally friendly without spending the $200,000 a pop per steamless press from Viryl. For example, a pressing plant ran by recording artist Jack White (The White Stripes) called Third Man, utilizes a "closed-loop" water system for its boilers, which essentially recycles the wastewater used in the process. Record Technology Inc. in Caramillo, California, gets its energy from natural gas sources thanks to Southern California's smog checks, and so on.
But while many moves are being taken to be more earth-friendly, and to facilitate growth in the vinyl market, whether it be new record presses, growing labels, and even the return of brick and mortar stores, the reality is that work still needs to be done as there are inevitable concerns environmentally speaking, with everything from the fact that records are still made with PVC plastic, to the solvent based inks used in the printing process, etc; all of which are made from petroleum and other Volatile Organic Compounds.
As pressing plants try and do their part, responsibility also falls on their customers, the record label, with some such as London-based Ninja Tune that have sought means such as offsetting their carbon emissions and cutting back on single-use plastics such as shrinkwrap. But by and large, the truth is that the industry as a whole still needs to find more ways to replace the majority of the means used for marketing and manufacturing records with options like Hemp plastics instead of PVC for example, and soy based inks for printing. Recycled cardboard and paper options have been around for quite some time, and was an option used extensibly in the beginning by labels such as American imprint Fundamental Bass Intelligence, yet most labels still seem to stick to traditional packaging methods like shrink-wrapping and such.
Seems hard to argue that for a musical medium that has been around for well over a century, that it's gonna go anywhere but straight to people's turntables as time goes on. People have long predicted vinyl's demise and that newer approaches would render it completely obsolete, and yet, time and time again, that glorious vinyl disc rises back to the top unscathed. With many new options becoming available every day, and an industry clearly working hard to catch up to the times, we can only hope and expect that enough will continue to be done to make the entire process of record manufacturing and marketing completely environmentally friendly. It's safe to say that our planet deserves it...and vinyl? Of course it deserves it. The music deserves it, we deserve it!