WORDS Kyle Collins PHOTOGRAPHY Tim Sugden
It is a ceremony: You slide the disc from the sleeve and place it carefully on the turntable. You put your headphones on, press the play button then oh, so gently set the needle down on the first groove. You are transported.
It’s an experience and a joy that many are just now discovering. The pendulum swings and a renaissance has happened. Music fans are returning to the sounds of vinyl.
Audiophiles and DJs carried on the love of the record when CDs and downloads became the new sound. In 1978, The Recording Industry Association of America, reported sales of three hundred and forty million records sold. That number in 1995 was just twelve million. Lately music fans are rediscovering the love of vinyl and in 2017, record sales reached nearly a billion dollars.
Portland has long been a haven for fans of the L.P. (That’s Long Play). Stores like Music Millennium and Jackpot Records have carried on the vinyl affair and “Record Store Day,” has certainly been a big factor. There are now over fourteen hundred stores in the U.S. offering special vinyl and CD releases each April 22nd.
Cascade Record Pressing has made it possible for a local band, or musician to record, master and press their records here in Oregon.
After meeting Penny, the house bulldog at the front door, I then met Mark Rainey, co-founder and CEO of the plant in Milwaukie to discuss how records, um… got their groove back.
How is business?
Business is great, but we’re a very new venture. It is still very volatile. When we came on line, we were the 16th plant in North America and since then three are making new equipment and there are now over 30 plants. It seems very dot-com to me. It’s cool, it’s very visual and it’s getting attention, but like the dot-coms, I don’t think they’re all going to make it.
How many units did you press your first year and what do you think you’ll do this year?
That first year, 2015, we had only one line up so, around 350k records. This year, between three hundred and four hundred titles and about 650k units.
Tell me about the shift from vinyl to compact discs. What’s bringing people back?
In the history of recorded music, the concept of the album has only been around for a short while. First, it was a collection of singles. Then there was the idea that we could think of this as a body of work unto itself. It was the mass-media until the formats that could offer portability arrived. For me and for many people, mono records were how I was first introduced to music. My parents lived down the street from an eclectic record store. My dad had a huge collection. Some of my first memories were of learning how to operate a player. There’s new interest now and I speculate that these people grew up with a very different, digital experience from what I had. Many grew up with compressed digital files on crappy laptop speakers. If you’re a real music fan, I think once you’re exposed to the large format presentation, on a decent stereo, the experience is as close as you’re going to get to the sound of a live band’s performance. It’s all personal preference, but I think it’s a better sounding format.
What was the lead-up to you moving here and opening Cascade?
I ran a label in Fountain Valley, CA and people kept coming in and asking if we were a retail shop, looking for Frank Sinatra Christmas records, or whatever. Eventually we opened a retail store in the front of the space and used the space in back for the label. At first sales were all used records, then a few new, then over the next five years that crept to 50/50, and as new vinyl outsold used, that’s when I moved towards pressing. That was in 2012.
My teen-aged daughters came to me Christmas of 2013 and said, “Dad, we don’t want to live here anymore.” So, I said okay, you pick where we’re going. Portland was on my short list, so I was already on board. We were able to house sit for friends and I had music contacts here, so of course the idea of opening another store was floated But Portland has a lot of record stores, so I thought, what’s missing in the music world here? Besides the obvious difficulties, it seemed to make a lot of sense.
What are some labels that you work with?
It’s overwhelmingly independent and primarily local. Of course, we have goals for quality, and customer service, but we’ve always wanted to be a resource for underground music. The shared heritage of independent music, and the history of vinyl; it was hip hop, club music, independent rock, punk, metal, etc. Those small labels kept the industry on life support during the dark days. So, there are times we could use the major label money, but in the long run, not depending on that and supporting smaller labels will benefit us. Mississippi Records were the first to support us. We have Kill Rock Stars, Dirt Nap, Black Water, and Iron Lung, from Seattle.
I love to ask this question: What was the first record you ever bought with your own money?
Ooooh, man! That was Quiet Riot, “Cum on Feel the Noise”, in 1984. It was a 45. The next was Pink Floyd’s, “Another Brink in the Wall.”
Nice. What’s in the future for Cascade Record Pressing?
We are looking to expand, and add services. We own seven machines, we’re running five; the others need refurbishing. The demand for those machines is there. We acquired some printing equipment and want to do some degree of printing in house, maybe labels. We want to do 7” singles, hopefully coming next quarter.
Thank you Mark, for your time and for the work you do for us music lovers.