Apollo Masters fire
February 13, 2020 5:57 PM   Subscribe

One of the only two vinyl lacquer production companies in the world, the Apollo Masters facility in Banning CA, burned down on February 6th.

Apollo Masters by some estimates provided around 80% of the world's master lacquers used in vinyl production.

From the first link:
Lacquer discs play a crucial role in the production of vinyl records, and are cut by mastering engineers to create master discs, which are then supplied to pressing plants to make the stampers from which records are pressed.

An alternative process known as DMM (Direct Metal Mastering) would sidestep the need for a lacquer, although this process has been described as favouring higher frequencies, and requires a specialised cutting head that is not widely available.
Those looking to produce records in 2020 will need to look to Japanese company MDC or alternative companies that use the DMM method. But this is likely to affect everyone involved in pressing vinyl. However, some are optimistic that this may not be the "vinylgeddon" it appears to be.

Another good roundup of links on the Apollo/Transco fire can be found here.
posted by ghostbikes (6 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
posted by interrupt at 7:13 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]

This is sort of horrifying to me. I continue to purchase vinyl, often rather expensively while supporting artists who rely on kickstarter or other such means to raise the money for their projects. I'm not too worried about whether the rest of NIN's catalog will eventually be released on vinyl, because I know there are the finances available there to do it. But these artists who are scraping by with pledge dollars, who are offering vinyl as a big ticket item to lure supporters to help cover their production costs... I fear this is going to end as a possibility for them and for me.

It's not as horrifying as the giant warehouse fire that destroyed something like 80% of all known recorded master tapes recently, but it's pretty awful nonetheless.

posted by hippybear at 8:21 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]

[Deleted a derail about whether liking vinyl is okay; if you don't care about vinyl, you can skip the thread.]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 7:25 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]

Another issue concerning distribution of physical product is also threatening indie record stores and mail order businesses:

Hypebot: Can Music Stores, Indie Labels Survive The Big Distribution Debacle?

Rolling Stone: ‘The Whole System Collapsed’: Inside the Music Industry’s Ongoing Distribution Crisis

People understandably think of the Internet as the primary threat to vinyl and CD sales, and the musicians those income streams support, but it turns out there are still underlying structural aspects of the music business that make them vulnerable. The precarious and tightly-coupled vinyl manufacturing process is just one of them. It's definitely not good to see multiple issues flaring up at the same time.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 7:49 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]

Brian MacDonald wrote about this as well, referring to it as the "Vinyl Pause" of 2020. I'm hopeful that the industry is able to rebuild, but I really hate it for any musician who was planning on putting out vinyl next year
posted by Maaik at 9:37 AM on February 14

I've been running a vinyl label over the past 10 years. Around 2013/2014 there was a ridiculous bottleneck in vinyl production, as all the majors started jumping into the game with unessential reissues and Record Store Day got into full swing. A lot of us got bumped to the back of the cue. It got to a point where just reissuing a record took about 9 months.

Over the next couple years, there were loads of new vinyl plants opening. As of lately, turn times got back to a workable schedule. GZ in the Czech Republic dialed in their DMM approach, and could have a record ready in two months.

The biggest concern IMO with this fire is the creation of another bottleneck. Even with DMM as an option, those plants are likely to get backed up. And like before, the smaller labels (and I mean small, major "indies" are indie in name only, they are essentially no different from the majors) will get pushed to the back. Combine this slowdown with the fact that most small labels have to put up 50% of pressing costs up front, it can be enough to put someone out of business.

That being said, even as vinyl is our main revenue, the entire industry could use a critical look -- as to what goes into making a record, the environmental effects of production, versus the low impact distribution of digital music.
posted by iamck at 1:19 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]

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