Over the past five years, Paul Rigby and his team have resurrected Australia’s only record pressing plant, Zenith Records, and turned it into not just a viable business, but an important addition to the record market in the Southern Hemisphere.
“To date we’ve done two and a half thousand titles since we’ve been here in five years,” says Rigby. “A lot of what we do is [runs of] 200s, 150s, which a lot of other plants around the world won’t do because they need to keep a balance between their cutting and plating output. That’s why we run two shifts a day with plating, because 150 seven-inches is two days work; there’s a fair bit of work in preparing those plates and polishing them, punching them and whatnot.”
The business has worked hard to address production issues and ensure that their output is of the highest possible quality, while hoping to change any misconceptions about the standard of Australian vinyl.
“In the ‘90s and early 2000s with vinyl where it was at that time, quality wasn’t a big concern,” says Rigby. “A lot of the product back then was a bit hit and miss, not just from us but from everyone. We just had to make sure that the records were clean, the cuts were good, the pressings were good, [and] the plates were good. It’s a known quantity, you just need to develop techniques and processes and ways to ensure that you get consistent quality and you learn from your mistakes.”
The plant itself resembles a factory floor like many others, with various figures huddled over large industrial machinery, each worker attuned to the calculations and steps necessary to achieve the desired final product. The walls are lined with discs that have been created in the space, with titles from smaller local bands to some of this country’s most celebrated artists. As a reflection of this demand, and as a way to deal with the inevitable fallibility of the machinery, Zenith is about to undergo a major upgrade to its facility that will enable it to pump out greater quantities, even if one machine breaks down.
“We’re running three presses at the moment, we’ve got six additional presses waiting at the docks,” says Rigby. “We pretty much need an extra 7” press and we need two extra 12” presses, but with that means we’ve got the capability to do picture discs and 10” as well. If we’ve got extra capacity, one machine goes down, we’ve got an extra one to back it up. The instillation of this new gear is going to be massive.”
Examining some of the recent titles that are sitting in boxes and on shelves, it’s obvious that many local labels have been taking advantage of the fact that they can speak to someone in Brunswick about their project rather than await an email from the other side of the world. For Rigby, this convenience and level of customer service is an essential part of their business.
“They can attend the session; if there’s any issues they can talk to the cutting engineer, he can do some test cuts, evaluate options and do it quickly,” he says. “If someone’s got an issue if they’re going overseas, it might be two weeks before they hear back. We’ll listen to it on the day or the next day and A/B compare. There’s often jobs that really need to get out quick, and that was driving the need to have a plant here. There was one last week that was a four-week turnaround, big release, we had to hand glue 100 covers just to get the first lot out, we’ll do that. That sort of stuff you just wouldn’t get. An offshore plant is going to finish the job and then send it, they’re not going to send you dribs and drabs. And it’s good because people can come down and pick their stuff up, or if it’s in Sydney it’s a next day service.”
For more information on Zenith Records, visit their website. Record Store Day will be held on Saturday April 21.