A Chicago Vinyl Factory is Making Records for the First Time in Decades

RADIO.COM

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Inside the former Hammond Organ Factory on Chicago's North Side is the city's first vinyl pressing plant in decades.

Open the sliding door and you'll hear the sounds of music in the making, literally.

The brainchild of Andy Weber, John Lombardo and Steve Polutnik, Smashed Plastic was born from Weber’s experience in the independent music industry.

"I've been with CHIRP radio since they went on the air. As part of the local music scene, I saw this niche,” Weber said.

Andy Weber of Smashed Plastic, a Chicago record-pressing plant. (WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding)

Despite having virtually no experience in the record production business, Weber said they took a leap of faith.

"Three years ago, we were joking around about starting a record label, and I said, ‘No, let's figure out how to press records because physical media is back.’ At first, I had no idea what I was doing."

The heart of the operation is the first steamless press in the world. It can turn a handful of PVC pellets into an LP in 30 seconds.

"A record starts as granulate, tiny little pieces of PVC,” Weber explained. “It melts into a long tube into a chord and goes into a little hockey puck with a hole in it. It goes into the machine, and the labels get baked directly into the record through pressure and heat.”

Weber said there are a couple steps that happen before it gets to the vinyl press. 

"Bands will come out of a studio with their audio file. They go to an audio master. The grooves are cut and a music negative is created."

The 3,000-square-foot space is more than just for manufacturing. It also has a bar, a listening room and space for live music. It's a space Weber hopes will be a kind of farm-to-table concept.

"We want people to come here and listen to their test pressings right there if they want to. They can come watch their records being pressed. We want to keep this open-door policy to allow people really experience their art being made on our machine,” Weber said.

Smashed Plastic has already pressed records from local labels and established partnerships with Chicago artists. Vinyl sales continue to rise each year, and Weber says they hope to fill that niche.

"The independent scene that we want to cater to has been making records for the last 20 years and they will hopefully continue for the next 20 years. We just want to make it easier for them."

Weber says they are already working with the labels Trouble In Mind, Jump Up Records, Star Creature and are hoping to work with Mississippi Records, which is moving to Chicago from Portland. 

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

"Once people heard the trickle of the rumors that we were up and running and we were making a decent record, we hoped they would come knocking on the door. And that's starting to happen now, which is very exciting."

In the end, he said the company wants to give small labels an easier, quicker and more hands-on local option for getting their music onto vinyl.

"The machine has been running off and on since October. This was kind of our soft opening. We're excited to be officially up and running,” he said.

There are only about 24 pressing plants nationwide, including two in Detroit and one in Cleveland.