That time I visited Europe's largest record factory
Those of a certain age will remember the ‘magic door’ segment on the 1980s RTE kids show Bosco. The feature mostly contained scenes of a factory, perhaps a fizzy drink bottling plant or something similar. The most engaging ones offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the manufacturing of something you loved as a child. I had similar feelings on Friday last when I visited Record Industry: Europe’s largest vinyl pressing plant. Without understating it, I had died and gone to heaven.
I was filming a piece for the TV3 series The Gadget Buzz and we trekked over to Haarlem, about twenty minutes drive north of Amsterdam. Record Industry is located in a non-descript industrial area, near an IKEA and hemmed in by various primary Dutch road routes.
The factory was opened in 1958 and was eventually run by Columbia Records, from the late 60s up to the late 90s. Sony, owners of Columbia, sold the plant in 1998. Vinyl sales were falling through the floor and it was felt the CD was the future of music production. The factory was bought by Ton Vermeulen and he and his wife have run operations since.
The resurgence in vinyl popularity over the past two or three years has been well documented, but perhaps the best reflection is that Record Industry has literally seen their business double over the past twelve months. Naturally, they’ve had to increase their workforce considerably. It is a remarkable and wonderful story. They press around 50,000 records a day. It is astonishing. There are reissues, new releases, soundtracks, classical compilations, folk, country, hip hop, metal and every imaginable genre and artist. Millions and millions and millions of records have come out of this place. If you own any vinyl discs, they have most likely come from Record Industry. Check out the pictures below.
This is the main piece of machinery in the cutting room, where the record gets born. The audio, sent to the factory from the record label, gets etched onto a copper master plate. While we were there, the engineer was cutting a reissue of a Heart album.
A short clip of the pressed record getting put into its sleeve. This part of the factory is tremendously loud, incredibly hot and very industrial. Think of the opening eight seconds of Everything Counts by Depeche Mode. It was hypnotic seeing all the pressing machines churning out record after record, and having them placed snugly, but robotically, in their sleeves.
There I am, standing next to the pressing machines, with the extremely helpful and kind Anouk Rijnders. She is the sales manager with Record Industry and also looks after marketing and communications. I’m holding a small black object, very similar to an ice hockey puck. This unassuming piece of plastic is made up of tiny melted PVC pellets and it, believe it or not, becomes the record. The puck gets squashed, flattened and imprinted with songs. There is a brutality to the process, contrasting greatly with the loving care most record enthusiasts apply to the finished product.
Everywhere I looked I could see familiar band names and iconic album sleeves. Record Industry manufactures every single aspect of the vinyl record, including publishing and printing inner and outer sleeves.
Corridors are adorned with album covers, but these iconic sleeves are merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of the quantity and quality of artists who have had their vinyl production catered for at the Haarlem plant.
A small catalogue room houses record after record after record. You would encounter the likes of Miike Snow next to Michael Jackson, or the soundtrack for Kung Fu Panda 3 next to a recording of Shostakovich. You’ll find the Beatles and Jamiroquai and Carole King and Cream and Brian Wilson and Radiohead, and so many more. It was mind boggling.
Big thanks to Anouk and all the staff at Record Industry, they were very accommodating. Make sure to watch the Gadget Buzz on TV3, Friday nights at 8.30pm.