He may not be a household name, but Will Socolov has left an indelible mark on the story of music in New York City. In the early 1980s he worked with Arthur Russell to co-found and the run the influential house, disco and hip hop label Sleeping Bag Records. Versed in the mechanics of pressing records since his early twenties, Socolov oversaw the manufacture of tens of thousands of Sleeping Bag records, many of which found their spiritual home on the dance floor of the Paradise Garage. With business boooming, he began pressing jobs for other labels on the side, and it wasn’t long before it became clear where his path would lead.
Moving away from dance music and towards indie rock, Socolov ran the influential independent pressing plant EKS Manufacturing for over ten years, building up a portfolio of the most respected independent labels in the country. Sacred Bones, Captured Tracks, DFA and Daptone all swear by his service, and all were supportive when EKS was forced to close due to surging rents in Brooklyn.
As Socolov says, with Brooklyn becoming hipper, EKS became a victim of its own success. Now, aged fifty nine, Socolov is about to open his third pressing plant. Fully recovered from a debilitating heart attack and with a new factory building he’s proud to call his own, Socolov sought the support of his label clients to launch an unprecedented crowd-funding campaign to finance the final, major additions to the factory set up.
Back in his favourite borough, Brooklyn Vinyl Works is bringing record manufacturing back to New York City. Along with the rapid expansion of major player United Record Pressing and the opening of a brace of new plants across North America, BVW is emblematic of an industry scrabbling to alleviate soaring demand. With old presses being snapped up across the country, and the world, resources are at an all time low. Strictly for the indies, Brooklyn Vinyl Works can’t open soon enough.
We spoke to Socolov to find out about his motivations behind opening the plant, what he hopes it will bring to the scene and just why it makes sense to invest in opening a vinyl factory in 2015.
Let’s begin with the here and now. How are you feeling about the factory and where does the Kickstarter come in?
The reality of it is that I’m very happy we bought the building. My idea with the Kickstarter was two fold. It was to finish getting the two pieces of equipment which I need to get – I want to get a particular boiler which is really exactly the size that I need – because if a boiler is the right size it really runs much better.
I also want to get a lot of publicity for the factory, because a lot of my old customers have all come back. Captured Tracks, Traffic, Sacred Bones a certain amount of big, really really good clients.
I told it to them and they all jumped at it. I’m also trying to do this pressing plant with not many majors involved. They can use the Uniteds and the Rainbos and people like that. My clientele has always been kids and small indie labels and people like that and that’s what I’m trying to stay as and there are enough out there so that I can do that.
With Record Store Day now overrun with majors, the kick back in the UK has been from indies not able to get their records pressed on time.
Absolutely, so here’s the thing, that’s what’s happened. You know my history, I ran Sleeping Bag Records and a lot of my friends who were contemporaries, they’re all at majors now and they told me, “Will, the minute you open we can be your only client, we can give you enough work to run your presses 24 hours we have so much work”. And I said to them, “that’s great” but I didn’t pursue the conversation. There’s a lot of reasons why, and I’ve pressed for majors in the past. They start doing a lot of work and they start trying to control a lot of what you do because they’re such a big customer. But if you never let them in and you never become beholden to them then you never have to worry about them dictating.
The other thing is that we didn’t get a big building. We got a building that will fit the factory but I don’t have a lot of storage space so I can’t store a lot of printed goods. My thing is you press your records, you take them, you’re gone. You print what you need and that’s the way you have to run your business with me just because I don’t have the warehousing space.
Indies are, I suppose, by their very nature more able to adapt to work in that way.
Yeah exactly and the reality is that necessity is the mother of invention. The only people now that are really making a lot of print are the majors. Independent guys are hand to mouth, they don’t have the ability to finance thousands of jackets that are just sitting around.
So I spoke to a couple of my labels, and I said, “I really want to make this the best factory I can, I’ve run factories and have been pressing records since I was twenty years old, this is what I want to do.” And they were the ones that were really supportive and said “look we’ll do a Kickstarter campaign.”
So my strategy at this point is to really try and get the labels that I press for, to really help be my partner in the campaign, because they’re the ones that will get the real benefit out of it. In the sense that, if my boiler runs continuous for a year as opposed to breaking down, that’s good for them.
That certainly feels like a more co-operative, innovative model, where the labels feel like they have a stake in the prosperity of the pressing plant as a business.
Well they do, because these are mostly vinyl labels. And what they do in the States, I don’t know if they do that in Europe, but if you put an order in for 10,000 records, they’ll press 2,000 until the stamper breaks, and then they won’t put you on press for a week, and then they’ll put you on press until the stamper breaks again and they’ll only give you around 2,000 records a week on a title. And I’ve told clients, if you give me that title I’ll press it all until the job’s done. So that’s the other interesting thing, I think that the big pressing plants won’t press long runs anymore.
With that in mind, there seem to be pressing plants popping up all over the place in the US at the moment.
When I had my factory [EKS] I had tons of people interested. But really running a factory and being romanticised by the idea of making vinyl and really being able to do it are two different things. There’s a lot of work. When I was selling my factory, I had loads of young kids in labels that had money, but that’s all they had, they had no know-how. And when I started talking to them, you really need to know about mechanical engineering, boilers, hydraulic pressure and pneumatics to make stuff work.
It’s obviously not a simple thing to do, but with demand so high it’s interesting how few new manufacturers there are, particularly in the UK.
There have been machines that are in different places. Jamaica had a lot of equipment that wasn’t used, there was stuff in Zimbabwe in Africa, so what’s happened is everyone’s farming out whatever is available and setting it up. I think it’s getting to a point where there’s not a lot out there.
Here’s the thing, my factory is going to run 24 hours when we open. There’s a huge demand, people are trying to fill it and so many pressing plants are close to six months to wait for records and it’s growing. It’s not going to get better and the only way to get better is to create more capacity. And any machines that are available out there people are buying them and doing it. That’s what’s happening.
I think though the problem is, there used to be tons and tons of pressing plants in the New York area and there were a lot in the rest of the country too, and they’re all gone. And most of those machines were just sold for scrap.
You’ve set up three factories from scratch. Could you talk us through what happens in that process?
The reality of it is looking at your space, figuring out where you have to put your presses, your boiler and then building it. It’s hard for me to explain what the theory is, because what you need to do is analyse your space. We built it with the concept of what’s the fastest way to get the records off the press, examined, cooled, sleeved, jacketed and out the door. So in other words it’s done in a way that is a straight line as opposed to my last two factories which were not built that way.
The reality of it is good news, digital files just don’t sound as good.
The other thing I’m doing with my factory which is going to be interesting is that I’m going to build a glass wall inside my factor, so that people can come and visit and look in the factory and watch records being pressed while they’re picking up their records. It’ll be pretty big so you can stand and watch records getting pressed.
Like turning the factory into a destination…
My wife called it an ‘exhibit’. Absolutely. It’s got to be done in an organized way, but I’m sure I’ll be able to allow people to walk in and watch stuff, ask some questions. That is definitely something I want to do if the Kickstarter is successful.
Despite the strength of the market at the moment, is there an element of risk involved in investing in a new plant when the music industry moves so quickly?
I think this is a sustained revival. I think it’s already been proved that it’s sustained. It might peak, and it might grow a certain amount, but it’s going to be around for the next twenty years. I’m 59 years old. Will it be around much longer after that? I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that but for my lifetime, vinyl will be around. The reality of it is good news, digital files just don’t sound as good.
What will keep it going?
The question I guess is how big the indie scene is. Europe always was very dance orientated, and that was great, that was the music I put out when I had Sleeping Bag. What I do now, the majority of records I press are indie rock. That is where the growth has been here.