How workable is the idea of a “global” pressing plant?

By in Features





PhonoHive is a new platform that wants to change the way records are pressed and distributed.

As the makers of the WarmTone press, which have been installed in budding pressing plants around the world, Viryl Technologies has gone some way to mitigating an international shortage of vintage presses that had seen manufacturers go to sometimes dangerous lengths to track down machines.

Over the summer, the company released a statement unveiling PhonoHive, in an attempt to shake things up once more. Making a virtue of its uniform, automated network of pressing machines, PhonoHive will allow labels to submit orders online, selecting the quantities, location, and shipping date needed. Rather than press all the records for a release in a specific location and then deal with shipping and distribution costs, PhonoHive would act as a centralised hub, disseminating an order between relevant territories, thereby cutting the logistical, and economic headache involved in retailing international releases.

In theory at least, this would not only save on turn-around time (the company promises “6-8 weeks”), but what PhonoHive hope will be around 15% in costs. Individual pressing plants would be spared the backlog brought on by large runs, and the environment would benefit from the shipping of individual stampers rather than pallets of wax around the world.

But as with the recently announced developments surrounding HD Vinyl, the complexity of the pressing and distribution process means that smart ideas on paper rarely translate as smoothly into the real world.

To answer questions around quality control, communication, accountability and printing, we spoke to Viryl Technologies’ Alex DesRogers about how this online “global pressing plant” might look in reality.

In the marketing material, PhonoHive is referred to as a “global pressing plant”. Which plants will be connected?

Pressing plants must have WarmTone or LiteTone machines installed to be considered as a PhonoHive production plant. That said, not every Viryl customer is involved. Currently there will be pressing access in Australia, Japan, Taiwan, Ireland, UK, South Africa, USA, Canada, Brazil and Mexico. The reason for only WarmTone pressing plants being allowed access is because of the importance of common tooling, and the ADAPT platform in setting a consistent quality standard for production.

In that sense, PhonoHive feels like less of a “global” pressing plant, and more an initiative within Viryl Technologies to connect its existing machines. Within that framework, ensuring the consistent quality of pressings certainly sounds like a challenge. Where will the test pressings be done, and will each plant have to make their own?

Test pressings will be completed at PhonoHive HQ and once approved, the job will be distributed to plants for production. The way this is possible is because all WarmTone machines are connected via the “cloud”, and can talk to one another. On a WarmTone or LiteTone when test pressings are produced operators save the settings on their machine for that TP, which allows them to re-upload the settings once they are approved for production. These TP approval settings will be uploaded to each machine involved in global production to ensure consistent quality. Also, it is worth noting that all stampers will be made from the same lacquer and mother which is possible via common tooling.

Could you talk us through the proposed process for those lacquers?

One lacquer will be cut, and from the mother as many stampers as necessary will be made and shipped to the production plants to ensure quality. This is the benefit of common tooling and also why only WarmTone/LiteTone customers can take part. From here, ADAPT will upload the exact settings of the approved TP to each machine globally so that record quality is consistent.

PhonoHive has a fully vertical pressing plant built in Toronto, Canada. Mastering suite with Neumann VMS 70, plating and forming facility, and pressing operation.

If artists want an attended cut, they can have lacquer cut wherever they want and ship it in for plating. PhonoHive will then manage the distribution of stampers to each pressing plant involved in production.

There are many moving parts to pulling a vinyl release together which normally means a lot of conversations between client and plant. How will communication work?

Clients will communicate through the PhonoHive platform in the same manner as they would communicate with a pressing plant sales department. PhonoHive is a one stop shop for print, mastering, plating, pressing, and logistics.

How will these orders be integrated into each pressing plant’s existing workload?

PhonoHive will be granted capacity for incoming orders at a set turnaround time of 6-8 weeks.

Given that smaller orders of records require greater processing and set-up charges, how will PhonoHive ensure pressing plants and labels are saving on costs?

As PhonoHive is still in the beta stage, pricing structures are still a work in progress and we are working with each plant to find a balance. Even with multiple set-up charges there is potential for massive cost savings.

How is the print going to be controlled? If an order for one release is split over many territories, the scale of economy will be diminished and it will be much harder to control the quality of the printing.

Good question, this is the most difficult piece of planning to date. PhonoHive will be partnering with regional print suppliers who can produce and guarantee a quality standard for each release.