Dropping Digital to Drop the Needle

Vinyl RecordsSo what does it take to motivate someone with a successful career to give that up and become a partner in starting a vinyl record manufacturing plant?

The short answer is “passion” – passion for vinyl records and a profound appreciation for the musicians that are choosing to release them. This is clearly the drive shared by the four member team spearheading this project.

Rob Rice, one of these partners, is the embodiment of this love of the vinyl record.  He is a 35 year old native of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.  With the exception of vacations, Rob has lived, gone to school and worked on the island.  He studied IT but recently left a very good IT job in Charlottetown to be part of Kaneshii Vinyl Press .  Kaneshii is slated to start pressing vinyl in March of this year with one new WarmTone press.  The company was able to purchase this press from Toronto’s Viryl Technologies  thanks to about $200,000 in federal and provincial grants.

Once they are fully operational, they will have the capacity to press 1.5 million records annually.  Given that Canadians purchased just over 500,000 records last year, I asked what other markets Kaneshii is exploring?

“We’re working on partnerships with studios, labels and brokers for musicians outside Canada.  We want to deal with the Maritimes right off the bat.  That’s part of why we’ve set-up here.  But we’re definitely open to growing this business.  But first we’re focusing on getting quality pressing before moving into expansion.”

Focusing on quality is always good.  Potential partnerships are, well, potential.  That said, it didn’t take long to figure out why Rob took these qualities and made the move to Kaneshii.  He grew up surrounded by his parents’ country records: many of which he still has.  He also has his own musical chops having played drums, bass and guitar.

He started buying vinyl about ten years ago before it was popular.

“The more I got into it, the more it just made sense for me.  If I went to sell a CD that I just didn’t like any more, I’d get a buck or two.  If you buy a record, it maintains its value.  For me, it just made sense.  Plus, I love the experience of listening to records – the art work – the fact that you’ve engaged in changing the record.  With a digital file, its just a file on your computer.  Its just not as tangible an object as a record.”

Rob also indulged his passion for vinyl by working part-time at Back Alley Records where Gideon Banahene was a frequent customer and fellow record collector.  About a year ago Gideon and Rob discussed the idea for opening a record pressing facility in Charlottetown.  He even had the name chosen.  Kaneshii roughly translated means “a growing or new marketplace”.  Gideon, Kaneshii’s owner, convinced Rob that there was in fact a growing and new market for vinyl.  That combined with the new reliability and quality of the WarmTone presses was enough to convince Rob.

“I’ve heard a lot of nightmare situations with companies that went into pressing with old equipment.  I’m definitely more comfortable knowing that we are going into this with equipment that isn’t going to breakdown in the first week or need repairs before it can even be used.  That was a huge factor that made this more comfortable for me to get into.

We have full support from the Viryl team.  I’m pretty confident about these machines.  The WarmTone pretty much does its own thing.  You don’t need to baby sit it like the old machines.”

In part, the unreliability of these older machines has musicians waiting sometimes more than a year to have their music released on vinyl.  But why are musicians choosing to release on vinyl when digital including streaming, ITunes type services and CDs are faster and cheaper?

“I think they are realizing digital has run its course.  For some musicians, digital is always going to be their only option, but in my view there are two kinds of people who listen to music.  Some will always listen to radio and the top 40 – and that’s great – but there’s the people who are very into the artists and they want more than a CD or digital file can offer.”  In Rob’s view, the musicians who realize this are the ones who are choosing to release on vinyl.

This certainly echoes Rob’s sentiments about vinyl.  “We went all of a sudden from having a physical media in our hands to digital where you could access everything for free, but it left me with having no appreciation for the music.  For me, digital media just sucks the life out of any [musical] project. The combination of the boring factor of digital media, and the sound from records – the dynamic frequency and broader sound stage – were big contributing factors for me.”

On the advantages of album cover art on vinyl compared to CDs and digital music files, Rob says ” If an artist is trying to convey something their cover art work may add to this, but you’re not seeing any of this whey you’re listening to a digital album.  You may have a completely different perception about what the album is about.”

Rob summed up his motivation to drop digital in favour of dropping the needle, ” I’ve been in a lot of jobs where I haven’t been very content.  I think this is going to be different. I like quality albums and that`s what I`m about making.”