United Record Pressing in Nashville – photo by Jessica Blankenship
Upon pulling up into a parking space at United Record Pressing in Nashville, you are transformed back in time. The modest building is buzzing with activity both inside and outside. Behind the building is the shipping department and across the lot is a printing company that provides services of printing labels, sleeves, and jackets.
Inside United Record Pressing, I was greeted by a young man, David. He would be our tour guide to a group of about 20. In order to be on the tour, you have to go to their website and send an email. They only do tours on Fridays and space is limited – so be sure to get your request in early!
In the lounge area, there are offices located to the right. There are records pretty much everywhere – from desks to the walls and then some. Hanging prominently in the center of the wall was a record player with a clear record. It would be one of Third Man Records specialty products. Inside was blue liquid, so that when you played the record, it looked like a lava lamp. Very few were even made of this style record.
Before I forget – if you have difficulty walking steps, then this tour may not be for you. There is no handicap access to the upstairs area or to the front of the building.
David led our group upstairs to a rather large room. Inside was original furniture from the 1960s. In fact, all of the furniture throughout the top floor was original with the exception of a couple of modern appliances.
Upstairs at United Record Pressing – Photo by Jessica Blankenship
Hank Williams, Jr. signed his record contract on that table – Photo by Jessica Blankenship
Upstairs at United Record Pressing – Photo by Jessica Blankenship
David detailing the history at United Record Pressing – Photo by Jessica Blankenship
Pick a color, any color, or perhaps blend them together to make your vinyl record. – Photo by Jessica Blankenship
In the large room, many have hosted record release parties.Hank Williams, Jr. had his 16th birthday party and signed a recording contract. Wanda Jackson filmed a music video for “Thunder on the Mountain.” You can watch the video below:
A lot of historical facts and production facts were noted. United Record Pressing use to be called Southern Plastics. They have been making vinyl since 1949 and moved to their current location in 1962. The company uses 5 tons of black vinyl a day. They press 40,000 records a day. The machines that they use are original. There are 6 people in the world that know how to work on the machines, with 3 of them being employed at United Record Pressing. The plant works 24 hours a day, 6 days a week. The company has purchased additional property, as well as more machines, to expand production. Currently they are only working with existing customers as they are so backed up on orders.
Motown Records would possibly not be in existence without United Record Pressing. They provided the financing, as well as built a suite with bedroom and living quarters so that African Americans could record and stay at the studios in the 1960s.
Motown Suite – Photo by Jessica Blankenship
So how do they make a vinyl record?Our group was lead back downstairs into the plant area.The vinyl record making process is a scientific process of multiple steps.The company takes your music and transfers it onto a lacquer plate.This is used to create metal parts that become the stampers.The stampers have ridges that put grooves into the vinyl to make the record.In the machine, small pellets of vinyl are melted to form what looks like a hockey puck.Labels for the A and B side of the record are placed on each side.A heavy pressure plate pushes the vinyl puck, as well as melts it down to flatten out the record.The press will also put the grooves into the vinyl.Access vinyl is trimmed and placed into a garbage can.This access vinyl is recycled to form more records.Once a record is made, it falls onto a needle.
A record will have a pressing and two employees will listen to the album for any errors. They mark precisely on computers where any pops, cracks, or errors are noted. They can go from listening to rap to rock to country. If any errors occur, they look back at the lacquer plates, mother plates, and stampers to see where it occurred. Once they complete their process, several copies of a test pressing will be sent to the musician/band for them to review. Once the band approves, then the final product is made.
During the tour, we got to see several unreleased items. However, prior to our tour, we signed a confidentiality agreement that we could not discuss what records we saw. Interestingly enough, one of the records was one that I had pre-ordered. It was pretty exciting to see something that you bought being made in front of your eyes. On book carts like at a library, there were hundreds of record jackets on display. They would be carted off to be shipped. There were multiple colored records, as well as all black albums being made. All of the workers were smiling and seemed to enjoy their work there.
Before I knew it, we came to the end of our tour that lasted 2 hours. After seeing the entire process and learning the history, you truly understand the value of price that goes into a record. There is a lot of time and effort to seek perfection in the quality from the moment the plant receives your music file to the final product. In a day and age where many manufacturing plants move away from the United States, this one has remained for multiple generations. By the looks of it, it will continue to grow and expand for many more generations for a true American product.
Below is a video from the making of Jamey Johnson’s “Guitar Song” on vinyl to give you a good look of the machines and the entire process.
Many thanks to the staff for their kindness and to my tour guide, David, who provided such valuable historic information that I would have not gotten otherwise!
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Jessica Blankenship is the owner and founder of Kentucky Country Music website. The Berea College graduate has been a music journalist and historian for over 20 years. She enjoys providing concert photography, reviews, historical articles, red carpet event coverage, and exclusive interviews of your favorite musicians. Jessica is proud to be a Kentucky Colonel and alumni of the FFA and 4-H Clubs. In 2018, she was named one of Laurel County’s Ten Under 40 Award Recipients. In 2019, she was a member of the Inaugural class of BRIGHT Kentucky as part of Leadership Kentucky. She has been featured on the Kentucky Music Preview podcast, Hollercast podcast, Overtones radio show, WFKY Nashville News Roundup, KET, and more. Beyond music, she enjoys traveling, helping her community, collecting gnomes, and Volkswagens.