As we see videos like Jack White’s plea to the major labels, we should also turn our attention to plants like Press On Vinyl in Middlesbrough, UK opening their doors to facilitate an all in one solution for those bands, indie artists and small labels in need of vinyl to help them survive. Their aim is to provide new capacity and reasonable lead times to all levels of the music industry. This includes unsigned artists and small independent labels, pressing records in runs up to 3,000, and starting at just 100, a quantity that most plants don’t offer. It was pleasure to connect with them recently having just opened their doors this year, making them Teesside’s first vinyl pressing plant, and one of just a handful in operation in the UK.
For this interview we had the pleasure of meeting Emily Skipper, and what seems to be another unicorn in the vinyl process still, a woman in galvanics (plating). Em makes stampers for Press On, and her main job in the chain is to spray lacquers with silver and run them through our galvanic baths to form a negative version of the lacquer made from nickel, before they have to coin, form, and clean the stampers for the mould on the press. If you need a refresher on this process check out our visual resource here, or the podcast episode on it here.
In her free time Emily is a film fan. “I’ll watch anything except horror because I can’t sleep after a horror, my sister absolutely loves them though, and she calls me the weirdo?!?” She says she loves a quiz, especially a pub quiz, and applied to all the quiz shows in lockdown, “luckily I didn’t make it on any, I’d have just gone bright red and forgotten everything I know the second they said action, do they say action for the telly? I do love a trip to the pub with my friends, the lads from work and my family, or just anyone who’s going really”. She also really enjoys a bit of DIY even if it’s not her strong suit, and this year has built a quote, lovely set of wonky shelves. “Flat packing I am brilliant at though, if it doesn’t work out at press on I’m going to be ringing IKEA. I dont get why people hate it, it’s just a 3D jigsaw isn’t it.”
How did you get into your industry / What motivated you to get into it?
Before I started at Press On I had absolutely no idea about the processes required to make records. When I learned about the factory opening I decided to read about it and although I did think it sounded quite complicated I thought it sounded really interesting and right up my street. I was buzzing when I was offered a job but nervous because I hadn’t done any work like it before, the best I’d done was some shoddy DIY. It was comforting knowing that I was starting as the factory was starting and that meant hopefully I wasn’t the only person who had no clue what they were doing and that we would all learn it together. I’ve loved learning the job and I’m very grateful for being given the opportunity but if I’m honest I guess the way I got into the industry was by being very lucky and knowing great people who have taken a chance on me.
What is a day in the life like?
A day in the life at Press On for me is standing in my mucky lab coat for 8 hours making it muckier. We start the day running a few tests on the solutions in our baths, preparing our silvering machine and prepping lacquers. Once one job is down, they take a few hours to nickel plate in the baths, we will prep the next one. Then, as the jobs start coming up they need to be back lapped, which means a light sanding / buffering on the back to remove any imperfections. After that we need to cut out the center hole for the mould pin, we use a microscopic camera to find the true centre using the grooves as reference points. Then we need to shape it into a stamper and once cleaned it’s ready to go to the presses. Most of the time we need to run side A and B for a job to produce 1 record. We’ve put in place a step by step process to produce the best stampers we can, we have to be very organized and keep the lab as clean and as dust free as possible and we have to be gentle and precise as to not damage, scratch or smudge anything we touch. I’ve always thought of myself as quite heavy handed but having practiced the processes so many times now I think as a team we have it sorted.
In your opinion what has been your favorite / the coolest thing you’ve worked on?
I think seeing the Komparrison records we produced has been the coolest thing I’ll ever do at work. They are a local band that I’ve gotten to know of since starting work here, and were the first proper stampers I helped produce and then the first records to come off our presses. I even helped pack them up into the class packaging they had designed! I felt really proud putting each one into the sleeves, like we’d really achieved something amazing.
What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?
The temperature. That factory is mega cold in winter… No I think the most difficult part, but also the most rewarding part is all the bits of trouble shooting we do to find the processes that produce the best results and work best for us. We’ve had some hard days where so many things go wrong and we all feel a bit down and then someone says ‘hey, what about this‘ and we give it a go and when it works we all feel mint together.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?
My advice would be read and learn as much as you can about the process just from searching the internet. There’s loads of helpful sites and forums and even videos showing how people make their own stampers. I think everyone does it slightly differently but the general idea is the same. I found a really helpful handbook, just available to download for free, about nickel plating which has helped me figure out a lot about what happens in the galvanic baths. I did find that when I first started reading I couldn’t quite wrap my head around certain parts but the more you read the easier it is to understand.
Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?
I’m not a vinyl collector, but my dad has quite a big vinyl collection, a lot of which he bought from charity shops and then eventually eBay, and I grew up listening to him play his. I’ve always loved the sound, but you cannot have the same hobby as your dad can you?!
What types of things are happening in your industry / with vinyl that you’re excited or worried about?
When I started at Press On not knowing much about vinyl, I thought you just got a black record. Then I learned we had different colored PVC. Then I learned you could do a color mixtures and that blew my mind. Then just this week I’ve heard the lads talking about all these mad records you can get with patterns and different things going on. They sounded very innovative and exciting and it was a big step away from plain black. I did think I’d always prefer black either way but this week I’ve seen the bright pink Komparrison records we’ve made and they do look pretty good to be fair.
During this time we’re currently in, what message do you have for music and vinyl fans? How can we support you, the industry?
I think the best way to support the industry, after buying vinyl, is to spread the word about Press On. There is such a shortage of vinyl pressing plants at the moment, and the ones that do exist seem to prioritize the bigger names; I worry that little bands – who are not aware of Press On – may be missing out as they think the waiting times are too long or that they have to order thousands of copies. Press On was created for the purposes of facilitating vinyl pressing for the local grassroots bands of Teesside and it’s aim now is to treat all customers equally and support everyone on the music scene.
Anything else you want to share? If not, tell me what you’re listening to:
I am always told I have terrible taste in music, I probably shouldn’t work at a vinyl pressing factory. I don’t really have a favorite music genre or band. I look at music the same way as I see films, I could never pick a favorite, it just depends what I’m in the mood for. I have always thought that how you enjoy music is largely due to what you are doing and how you feel when you first hear it, it’s an experience, like how you remember a song from a film as it makes the scene. I’ve realized this is true even more since I started at Press On. When we were running our first tests and listening to what we had made it all sounded like the best song I’d ever heard, but I know for a fact if I’d heard any of it on the radio I’d have put my radio in the bin.