Inside the large record press in the center of the room, a mechanical arm grabs vinyl records, rotating around and dropping them on two spindles. Each time, it switches which one it places them on. Here, the vinyls cure for up to 10 hours before being packaged and shipped out.
Chris Jackson and Logan Stoltzfus, the owner and plant manager of Blue Sprocket Pressing, respectively, start each day at 9 a.m. by turning on the infrastructure. This includes the boiler, which allows steam to fill the pipes for heating the molds which press the grooves into the vinyl, and the chiller, which provides cold water to cool them down.
Then, Jackson, Stoltzfus and their team begin prepping stampers — metal pieces that stamp the form of the vinyl into the plastic — and make sure the vinyl labels are dry so they don’t stick to the press. Each step is set up to allow an easy transition from one job to the next. By the end of the first hour, their first project is already on the press.
“I’m a very hands-on owner,” Jackson said. “One day I’ll be helping reply to emails or reaching out to people I know in the business and just facilitating relationships, the next day I’ll have a pipe wrench, tightening a loose connection on a pipe somewhere. I love doing all of it. It exercises every last bit of my brain.”
Jackson began his work in Harrisonburg with recording studio Blue Sprocket Sound in 2013. After a period of working out of makeshift spaces and traveling to use professional studios, they decided to build the studio they use today.
After being established at Blue Sprocket Sound for around four years, Jackson began to notice a problem when it came to clients getting their albums pressed to vinyl: They were placing the orders only to receive them at least six months later and were often unsatisfied with the result. This sparked Jackson’s idea to open a vinyl manufacturing business so he could press his clients’ albums to vinyl himself.
“That process took a lot of research and a lot of time,” Jackson said. “[We were] reaching out to people we had worked with in the past and also clients, getting their experiences and trying to take this holistic view of what’s out there now. What holes are there are in the market, build a business plan, try to track down equipment and design a facility.”
Blue Sprocket Pressing, located next to Backcountry Restaurant and Lounge on South Main Street, uses ground PVC — polyvinyl chloride — plastic to make their vinyl. It gets shipments in different colors ranging from black, the most popular, to any other color a client may want. Some of the PVC is never-before-used plastic, but they also use recycled plastic.
Some clients request the new plastic, but the company also offers a cheaper option that uses a combination of different colors and the recycled plastic. This is a way to cater to all kinds of clients while lowering their carbon footprint.
Stoltzfus, who’s also a co-owner of the business with Jackson, developed a love for music at a young age. His dad had a couple boxes of records he’d listen to, and he was drawn to them quickly.
“Vinyl kind of demands that you engage with it and that you pay attention to what’s happening,” Stoltzfus said. “There’s also something about the collectability of it that really appealed to me. It makes it a really fun collector’s item to dig through record stores to see what you can find.”
Jackson enjoys the entire experience he’s able to have with vinyl, from the 12-by-12-inch album artwork and liners to the music the band produced. This is something he loves to share with his kids.
“My 1-year-old daughter just thinks it’s cool that there’s this thing spinning on a platter,” Jackson said. “But my son, he’s got some of his favorite Disney soundtracks on vinyl. And I’ll be like, ‘Hey, can we go listen to the Moana record?’ And we’ll go over there and he pulls that record out, we brush it off and he loves watching the needle drop.”
Taven Wilson, the press operator, worked in record stores for the majority of his adult life until he began his job at Blue Sprocket Pressing.
“As someone who has been involved in making music on the creative end, it makes it easier to be committed and diligent about it,” Wilson said. “Because you know how much work goes into the whole process from beginning to end. Having first-hand knowledge on that helps us to stay focused on putting out the best product.”
Being involved in every part of the process for these bands and musicians is something everyone at Blue Sprocket Pressing takes pride in. From recording an artist’s music to putting it on vinyl, the team is able to make clients’ idea a reality.
“I love music and love being a part of helping people realize their dream of having their songs come to life,” Jackson said. “That started with the whole recording process: the tracking, the mixing, the mastering, and now, this is just a step farther, which is taking that music and helping people get it onto this magical format that is vinyl.
Contact Tristan Lorei at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.