As a door slams shut on a recent vinyl-pressing attempt in Calgary, an Edmonton entrepreneur has found a new window of opportunity. While some would consider investing in the global LP revival a risky roll of the dice, Todd McLean has looked at the endeavour from every imaginable angle and couldn’t be more excited about the prospects.
“I am at the cusp of turning this thing into a reality,” says Todd McLean, the optimistic spirit and brainchild behind Moonshot Phonographs. “It’s kind of like you’re going to have a baby, but you’re still in the first trimester and you’re not really sure who to tell yet. But it’s far enough along it’s like, ‘yep, it’s happening now.’”
McLean has kept his eyes wide open throughout his approach to occupational parenthood, admitting, “this is not a cheap undertaking. It’s a very expensive line of manufacturing.”
In the last decade, a number of record pressing plants — hoping to capitalize on the industry’s resurgence — have opened in Canada, only to close their doors with little to show for it other than some hard-learned lessons and a handful of disgruntled artists and music fans. The most recent example was the complete collapse of Calgary’s Canada Boy Vinyl at the end of 2016, whose assets are currently being held behind locked doors by a jilted landlord.
“The existing presses that have been brought out of the back corners of some warehouse somewhere in the world and have been fired up again, they are not capable—long term—of sustaining this demand. They are unreliable, they break down, they produce marginal quality, and that was the case [with Canada Boy Vinyl,]” says McLean, who has taken the time to research and connect with other pressing plants all over the world, as well as the record brokers who use them, and is sure this is the primary obstacle to a thriving record industry.
McLean’s dreams of succeeding with the vinyl revival found a root in reality while he was reading an article in the Globe and Mail about a few engineering friends in Ontario who had banded together and reinvented the record press. Rather than just clone the old presses, Viryl Technologies has completely modernized and automated the technology used to produce LPs. Last June, just a few months after reading the article, McLean made a trip to Toronto to see if there was weight behind the hype and came away more reassured than ever.
Recognizing a significant turn in direction, McLean says, “I have really no concerns about being a newcomer to the industry because of the fact that these presses themselves are new to the world. This is a first in 30, 40 years, that there has been new technology, that it’s Canadian — which get me all proud and sentimental — and it’s like, ‘this is a moment, here it is.’”
While new presses are necessary to go the distance, the game changer is the entirely new platform and technology running the presses, while cutting the production time and the number of errors with a highly automated system.
“We’re going to collect all this dark information that’s never been known in record pressing before,” Viryl Technologies’ CEO Chad Brown told the Globe and Mail in the article published last February. “Nozzle pressure, temperature, all this data that’s necessary to actually make a perfect record. In the 50s and 60s, they didn’t have this technology.”
There are a number of other pressing plants using new presses in North America, including Precision Vinyl in Burlington, Ont., and Jack White’s Detroit-based Third Man Vinyl Pressing Plant, but the supporting technology has remained the same and won’t deliver an increased production time to meet the ever-growing global demand and relieve a current crippling bottleneck of supply.
There’s no question where his passion lies, and this vinyl fan was as surprised as most at the unexpected return of music in this adored analog form.
“I can still remember buying a record — and knowing — this is the last time I’m buying a record, from here on in it’s CDs. I still remember that moment and being dismayed, thinking ‘I’m going to have to settle for less now,’” says MacLean. He still has that record, White Heart’s Freedom, in his collection.
According to Nielsen, 2016 saw the most vinyl records sold ever, a 29-per-cent increase from the year before.
McLean, 50, was born in Owen Sound, Ontario, and attended a college and seminary in Saskatchewan before following “his girl” to Edmonton where he’s spent the last number of years working as a facilities manager for a company contracted by the province. He’s not a career musician and has no prior experience with music as a vocational pursuit, but insists, “Music — it would be an understatement to say it’s a part of my life … I’ve been on the sidelines appreciating, going to shows, and it’s brought joy to me and into my life all through the years. So I’m excited, partly, by the fact that I can now make my own contribution to that world.”
by Jenny Feniak