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Every Day Is Earth Day at Audiodrome Record Pressing, the First Solar-Powered Record Plant in America

'We knew that taking steps toward mitigating the [environmental] impact was really important if we were going to do this,' says Betsy Bemis of Audiodrome.

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Source: Audiodrome

The exterior of Audiodrome HQ, as well as the solar panels that power the facility.

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It’s virtually impossible to read any music-related publication without being aware of just how much of a comeback vinyl has made over the years, but what isn’t always front and center is the fact that it’s had such a comeback that it’s led to problems with artists and labels being able to find places that can press their albums on vinyl in a timely fashion.

It’s that sort of frustration that led music artist Dave Newell and cohort Betsy Bemis to start a facility of their own: Audiodrome Record Pressing, which can claim the honor of being the first solar-powered record plant in the United States. Not only that, but the duo are going out of their way to make the place – and their wares – as environmentally friendly as possible.

Q chatted with Dave and Betsy about their new endeavor, how they found themselves going down this particular path, how it’s affected Dave’s output as an artist, and what other artists can expect when they reach out to Audiodrome about handling their vinyl needs.

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Source: Audiodrome

Ready for a spin? An example of the work done by Audiodrome.

So how did the idea for starting your own vinyl production plant come into existence?

Dave: Um...how much time have you got? [Laughs.] I've been a music fan and vinyl collector for 30 years, dating back to when I was in middle school, probably, and I've been an artist. And...I can't really pinpoint the exact moment this idea came to me, but it's been floating around in my head for awhile, especially over the last four of five years. I think one of the moments that made it really click for me... There were a couple of times when I ordered records from artists and I literally did not get them for a full year. And I was, like, "Man, this is insane." And it made me realize that there's legitimately a problem in this industry with how much demand there is and how much capacity there is. So I would say that that was kind of the real genesis for me start going, "Hey, I think I can do this."

From what I've read, luck played a certain role in how you were actually able to make this happen, at least in terms of a solar-powered plant.

Betsy: Yeah, it did. Very early on, we knew that taking steps toward mitigating the [environmental] impact was really important if we were going to do this. When Dave came to me with the idea, I said, "Okay, but it's really important to me... I need for us to commit to making every effort we financially and logistically can to minimize the impact of this." And some of that was going to be short-term, and then some of it was kind of future planning, things we would like to do. And solar was always on the table as something we thought about when we were looking at spaces, but not thinking that we'd be able to do it day one. But we came across a really wonderful facility that had the power infrastructure, which was very difficult to find. The power that we needed to run the presses and that also was fully and completely run by solar. So we immediately knew that that was where we wanted to be.

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Source: Audiodrome

The solar panels that help power Audiodrome's pressing plant.

How much did you have to tweak the facility for your needs?

Dave: You mean because of the solar? It was all in place. It's in... I don't know what you'd call it. An office park?

Betsy: An industrial park.

Dave: But they're in the process of building more and more spaces, so they had built out the inside to suit what we needed. So it really was kind of serendipitous. A lot of stuff just fell into place for us.

What was involved as far spreading the word that, "Hey, we've got this plant now"?

Dave: Some of it has been word of mouth, some of it has been going online, some of it has been contacting other artists I know. You know, I've gone to conferences over the last couple of years and met with people and kind of spread the word for a long time. So it's not just, like, "Hey, we're here now." I've been developing relationships with a lot of people over the years and reconnecting with people I've known from previous music things. So it's been kind of a longer journey than just an explosion of awareness.

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These records almost certainly weren't pressed as a solar-powered plant. But if they were made now, they could be!

So could you detail some of the greener aspects of the manufacturing process?

Betsy: Do you want to talk about the press?

Dave: Yeah, I guess the important place to start is with the actual machinery. The press runs on these steamless units. A lot of presses have boilers. Not all, but a lot do. But these steamless units are fully powered by electricity, so there's no fossil fuels. We have a closed-loop chiller system, so there's no water that's been put into the system every day. It's the same water, just recirculating over and over, so there's no water loss at all, no water waste. So those are two big things that definitely help us to be more eco-friendly, and...do you want to talk about the packaging?

Betsy: Well, sure. I guess PVC is the other big thing on the table. We do - like many other presses - recycle the trimmings or the things that don't meet quality control standards. We regrind and reuse those records. And we're working with some companies to get PVC alternatives. And we try to minimize the use of things that we have in the facility. So we use reusable gloves when we can, reusable rags. We have the single-use gloves that biodegrade much faster - in five years, I think, versus the standard, which biodegrade in a hundred years. So we try in every way we possibly can if something comes across our radar to shift even incrementally the waste that we're putting out there.

Dave mentioned some packaging options. One of the things that we've tried to develop are two different exterior packaging things that might replace shrink wrap or polybag that people would choose. They could choose these instead. One of them is 100% curbside recyclable and biodegradable, and the other is 100% home-compostable. And they're steps in the right direction. They're not perfect, and they're not necessarily for every client or customer. They're not quite as transparent as people are used to. But hopefully people will see the value in it and will be willing to adjust and embrace something like this. And in talking about them and developing them with the packaging companies and making mockups here and testing them on our records and getting feedback, Dave thinks some of them might work for a band on tour, for instance, that doesn't need the crystal-clear shrink wrap that some big-box stores require. The records are safe, they're not gonna come out, they're keeping things safe as you're lugging them around on tour.

Dave: To get to the level where we want with some of these materials, it just doesn't exist yet in a way that's economical. So these options, there are little things that people are going to maybe need to adjust if they want to take advantage of them. They're not quite as transparent as a typical polybag, but they're getting closer. What she's saying is that there are functions for these where one of these options might be great for bands on tour, and others might be good for record stores. But these are just little steps that we hope are going to eventually lead to a real replacement for shrink wrap, a real replacement for polybags.

Betsy: It would be great to get to a place where we don't have to offer those things anymore. Because we're just putting more plastic out there in the world.

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Source: Audiodrome

"Testing... 1, 2, 3..." A look into Audiodrome's inner workings at the plant.

As far as the timing goes, it couldn't be more perfect, in terms of the resurgence of vinyl over the past few years. Well, actually, the resurgence began awhile ago, but the fact that it hasn't just turned out to be a fluke and that the strong sales are ongoing. As an artist yourself, are you surprised that it's managed to stay this strong for this long?

Dave Not really. Vinyl has been a pretty present thing in my life since I was a teenager, so for me, it wasn't so much that it went away. I mean, I obviously know that there's a huge resurgence in popularity, but most of the people I know... Especially in the music world, vinyl's always kind of been there in some facet, and I think there are a lot of people who've kept up with the vinyl market. I think the resurgence is something that's taken it to a whole other level, but...I am surprised sometimes with who the consumers are for vinyl and some of the things that are being pressed on vinyl. That is fascinating to me and always kind of surprising. So I guess the answer is, in some ways I'm super surprised by it, but in other ways I'm not surprised, because I feel like it was kind of a cyclical thing where it was something I knew the whole time.

How are you able to balance this new endeavor with your recording career?

Dave: You know, right now, getting this up and running is taking up a lot of time, obviously, but I think as we get into a steadier work flow and groove, it'll be a positive and proactive thing where knowing we're able to press records for myself and other people that I work with... It's going to be hugely inspiring. I think right now things are busy, but it's gonna help make us more productive.

Do you have anything tentatively on the horizon, music-wise?

Dave: Yeah, I have. I'm about halfway through with the next album. It's kind of gotten put a little bit on the back burner... [Laughs.] But I'm getting there!

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So if an artist or label wanted to reach out in order to utilize your services, the website is AudiodromeVinyl.com, right?

Dave: Correct, yeah. Our website is probably the best place to start. There's a calculator feature where you could go on there and, if you wanted to press a thousand black records, you can see exactly how much it's gonna cost you. It'll kind of give you an idea, and you can save your quote and then contact us. I'm working on getting a real order form on there. Hopefully it'll be up there in a few days. But, yeah, most of it's done by email. Send us what you want, we'll send you a quote, and then we'll go from there!

Betsy: But there have been a couple of artists that maybe need a little bit more guidance, maybe don't have quite as much experience with the process. And Dave has spent a lot of time talking to clients on the phone and walking them through it and making sure they're comfortable with what's happening and understand that.

Dave: Yeah, it's not the only resource. A big part of this for me that is rewarding is being able to help shepherd people through this process. Because some of it... You know, you might be a good musician, but you don't know all the nuances of what you need to press a record, or artwork or things like that. I get phone calls, I get texts... I'm on a group text with a couple of guys that I'm doing some records for now, and they just send me questions. So it's not just, "Hey, send me your order, I'm gonna press your record." I'm very much proud of the fact that I can communicate and make this a transparent and communicative and – to a certain degree – collaborative process.

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