The end, sort , a long era.
Down an industrial road in southeast Nashville, framed by yellowing, beige-box warehouses, is a building dressed in incongruous, deep-ocean-blue tiling, a burnt-orange sign above its steel-and-glass doors reads UNITED RECORD PRESSING. Inside is where the first Beatles record in America was pressed, where Wayne Newton was fêted as a 16-year-old whippersnapper with an unfathomable jawline. Berry Gordy, founder Motown, was provided an apartment there, because racist hotel owners, when he was down to get his records made.
After more than five decades, vinyl records won't be made there any more.
In a post yesterday on Instagram, United Record Pressing wrote: "Spending the last workday at the historic United Record Pressing roaming the rooms Motown Suite before moving to the new facility." Historic Nashville, an organization that looks to preserve spaces exactly like United Record Pressing, called the news "shocking and sad."
United Record Pressing's operations may be moving to a new space across town, the size which can conservatively be estimated at two football fields, but the history its original location is, probably, not going anywhere. Its owners write having "every intention to honor and preserve it," and a recent push to save Nashville's classic spaces, in no small part owed to Historic Nashville's lobbying, has been successful.
When it was in operation, United Record Pressing bore the yoke vinyl's recent and steep fiscal ascent very visibly; every room around every narrow hallway at capacity -- jammed with desks and papers, a steaming, plastic-and-nickel scented pressing room with SMT and Lened machines all-but on top each other, smooshing lumpy 'biscuits' vinyl into playable discs music beneath 6,000 pounds pressure. The acrid chem-stench in the workspace Dale, resident mad scientist. Every hallway and spare foot piled with boxes labels or sleeves, countless shelves containing files, within them the internal organs music history. Jay Millar, former spokesman for the company, pulled one these files out at random during a visit two years ago -- Howlin' Wolf's Moanin' In the Moonlight from 1959. In it was everything needed to make Moanin' come to life; the labels, the sleeve and, center stage, metal stampers, a record's template and soul.
Upstairs from the main works the plant is Gordy's Motown Suite, with two twin beds in a room wood-paneled walls and a small bathroom a few feet down the hallway. Motown and Vee-Jay were the principal clients United Record Pressing (Southern Plastics at the time). They were black-owned labels responsible for some the century's best music. "There wasn't anywhere in town willing to host these individuals," Jay Millar, United's former spokesman, said at the time. Southern Plastics was the only pressing company willing to extend a line credit to Gordy. "You could make the case that Motown wouldn't have existed if it wasn't for Southern Plastics," Millar said.
There were a lot people at URP's original plant -- too many, really. But it takes a lot hands. URP went from 12 employees in the late '90s, as bad a time for vinyl records as ever in history, to over 160 now. Four-hundred-and-twenty-plus-odd hands.
Beth had been with the company for 27 years, and now oversees the company's customer service for everyone from labels to ambitious, garage-borne teenagers. "I do not listen to any music ever. I like the people," she told me. "I've got kids that were 15, 16, in their little punk rock bands. One just emailed me saying he's having a little girl." When she says she's got kids, she means customers. Artists and the people who facilitate them. "When I started," she says, back when she was doing everything from bookkeeping to running the front fice, "I had just come back from Tennessee from Texas. I thought I was in love... the funny part was, I came back and married my boyfriend from Texas' best friend."
Greg, a tall, flush-cheeked and brick-handed polymath a machinist who spoke in a rapid, overlapping stream, is the one who keeps the company's hulking beasts breathing. He can summon practically anything from metal, and creates the parts that can't be replaced by hand from his basement workshop. He's covered in glittering shavings metal. (He had a hand in building a machine that attempted to automate the mustard and ketchup operations at McDonald's. The company's executives, in from New York, decided to pass, he said with a laugh.) Greg estimates that a new record press, from scratch to being workable, could cost one million dollars. Many, seemingly most, URP's machines bear the mark his work: shiny new dark grey weldings and replaced odds and ends, conjoined to the weathered old machines.
Since the mid-aughts, vinyl has been within an ever-increasing growth spurt following a decade-and-change spurn and silence from listeners newly beholden to shiny discs ones and zeros that were as sturdy as balsa wood airplanes. The refrain is so common it barely needs to be mentioned; digital world seeks physical beauty, haptic connection. Objets de l'art aux millennials. The only thing that matters though, really, is that those silvered stampers don't get lost.