In a dusty warehouse in Brunswick East, stacks of record sleeves and labels bear the names of some of the country’s most celebrated artists.
At its centre, self-confessed vinyl lover and co-owner of Zenith Records, Paul Rigby, is trying to save the Australian record-manufacturing industry.
While music lovers’ appetite for vinyl has surged in the past few years, most of the records sold locally are made and pressed overseas.
Melbourne-based Zenith Records, which launched in the 1990s, is the country’s last surviving manufacturer of vinyl records.
The company has three manual presses, which require each record to be pressed by an operator for about 40 to 60 seconds. But plans to introduce two automatic machines into the business will help increase production from about 200,000 records a year to about 450,000.
“I’m working 14-hour days, six and sometimes even seven days a week, and the guys here are putting in big time because we’re all keen to get our efficiencies and quality to a point we’re happy with,” Mr Rigby, a vinyl lover himself, said.
“It all comes down to us getting our automatic presses up and running. I’d estimate us doubling what we’re pressing at the moment and then some.”
Figures released in February by the Australian Recording Industry Association showed a 77 per cent jump in vinyl sales in 2013. However, only a small proportion of vinyl is pressed in Australia.
Nick O’Byrne, general manager of the Australian Independent Record Labels Association, which works with more than 150 labels, said artists tend to have their products manufactured offshore.
“In my experience, they’re often sourced from eastern Europe which is usually more cost effective,” Mr O’Byrne said.
Vichara Edirisinghe, co-director of independent record label Plastic World, said the company opts to source internationally for convenience.
“Our distribution company is based in Germany, so it makes sense to get the records pressed in Europe,” Mr Edirisinghe said.
According to Tom Vermeulen, of the Dutch pressing plant Record Industry, about 56 million vinyl records will be pressed globally this year, with Europe and the United States pressing more than 95 per cent of the market between them.
In 2012, Australia had two record pressing companies – Zenith, which launched in the 1990s as Corduroy Records, and The Vinyl Factory based in Sydney.
Mr Rigby said that despite the growing interest in vinyl, the manufacturing industry may struggle to attract new players in the future.
“There might be room for another plant now but if vinyl popularity diminishes, you wouldn’t want to go head-to-head with two plants in Australia because we’d be cutting each other’s throats. It’s too hard a gig and too limited a market,” he said.
Still, Mr Rigby remains passionate about spending the rest of his career making records.
“I’m not saying we’re going to get to a point where we are competitive internationally though,” he said. “There are much bigger markets over there and the Australian market is insignificant to them.”
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