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Vinyl ahoy! Seabass ready to make sustainable waves in the Scottish music industry

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

Our Scottish correspondent Julia Mason talks to Dave & Dominique Harvey from Seabass Vinyl as they prepare to open Scotland's first ever vinyl pressing factory.

 
Logo for Scottish pressing plant Seabass Vinyl
Seabass vinyl logo

Dave and Dominique Harvey are building the first vinyl pressing plant in Scotland. Seabass Vinyl is an ambitious project and they took the time to provide a comprehensive update on how it is progressing as they near the start of production.


We first spoke back in July and there was no work even started at that point on site. How does the site look now? Yes, we had tidied up the plot and the ground works were just starting then. Now I think we are slightly ahead of schedule with the building work at the moment. The walls and roof are up, the concrete slab is in, electricity and water is connected. We should be wind and watertight in a couple of weeks’ time, and internal building work has commenced as well. We start delivering the actual plant to site on 7 November. All the pre-manufacturing has been completed and is waiting to be delivered to the site. We will commission all the kit between 7 and 27 November. On 27 November Pheenix Alpha (manufacturer of the presses) will come in and do fine tuning and final test pressings of the vinyl. On the week of 27 November we are expecting to press test pressings to send out to customers, and go into production the following week.


Over the last few months you have been out in the music community, particularly in Scotland, talking about Seabass Vinyl. What has been the response to the creation of Scotland’s first vinyl pressing plant? We’ve had massive support from everybody, it’s been so good. The independent record shops have been amazing, Assai Records (Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee), Orange Moon (North Berwick), Green Cat (Dunbar), Monorail Music (Glasgow) they have been spreading the word and been so supportive on our journey from the very beginning. We put posts up across social media and we’ve had a lot of traction there as well. People have been contacting us and sending us messages of support, including from some labels. Overall, the support has been tremendous from everybody from all over the place, but specifically from within Scotland. We have the partnership with the SAY awards as well (Scottish Album of the Year). Seabass Vinyl is sponsoring the Sound of Young Scotland award and we are pressing the winner’s first album as a prize. That has helped to increase the buzz in Scotland specifically, which is great. Another thing that has been really amazing for us is that we’ve had some local bands asking us for small runs i.e. 100 or 200 units, one only 10 kilometres away and that is really special.

That is something that you spoke about from the very start. Obviously, you’re running a business and you have to make it profitable to a certain extent, but actually, your ethos was about supporting local smaller bands, giving them an income stream. We are starting to make that concrete and one thing that I should have added as well, we’ve had a lot of press, nationally and locally. We’ve had articles in the East Lothian Courier and The Herald, and we’ve been contacted by a local radio station based Tranent which is near our plant. So it’s just like a microcosm of artists or people who revolve around the music industry that have come to us. Everybody that we’ve talked to has been supportive and there’s been engagement of people coming to us and some of the people have made a commitment and actually placed orders even before we’re open. Indicator Records in Edinburgh for example, were the first to place an order with us, which is amazing – the fact that they’re making that commitment is a vote of confidence in us.


In terms of quality, as you have not had experience in this before, is it Pheenix Vinyl who will sign off on the quality of the test pressings? Is that how it works? As part of the initial set up, there are a few strands to the quality assurance. Scott Lamb from Pheenix Alpha is on site to finalise the set up and tune the machines. We have specific stampers from Stamper Discs that allow us to do some initial calibration. We have a number of orders already processed and ready for the test pressing. We will use these for internal review of the set up also, working with Scotty.


Finally in that initial period we have some third parties lined up to do some independent quality assurance. In business as usual we have a number of quality steps in production, every order has physical test pressings which are issued to the customer and reviewed internally. During production records straight off the press are regularly inspected and listened to for any audio issues. Finally in the packaging process we have a final visual inspection of every record and audio checks where deemed necessary.


Within the plant itself we have a number of advantages with it being a purpose built factory, e.g. we have a specialised air filtration system that does two air changes per hour and helps maintain a stable temperature environment. Our factory floor has been isolated to reduce vibration between the presses etc.


Dave Harvey from Seabass Vinyl in Scotland

So in terms of training, Dave, you’ve just spent three weeks in Nashville. How did that go? I’m smiling, because it was a very productive three weeks, professionally and socially. I spent three weeks at the VinyLab, which is a small pressing plant which is the same size as us at the moment in Nashville. Scott Lemasters who is the co-founder and Chief Executive was kind enough to let me shadow the team for three weeks. And basically I spent the time making Dolly Parton’s Rock Star album. They are pressing 75,000 quadruple box sets of Dolly Parton’s album which is going to be released on 17 November, so that’s 300,000 records that they’re making which is obviously a huge undertaking. Very lucky to be able to go out and have this unique opportunity to have this collaboration. For them to answer all my questions, it was absolutely fantastic. It was extremely useful for me and for us to understand the technical challenges of running a vinyl plant that you face every day with the machines and then the actual logistics of doing things like sleeving, shipping etc. Even to realise how big a pallet of 1000 jackets is, that you physically need to put records into.

And in terms of the branding, and the websites and social media, you’re moving forward. We have made really good progress. The website is now launched and on all the social media platforms, we’ve got good traction on Instagram, Facebook, X, Tik Tok and LinkedIn, creating lots of buzz. And as we deliver records we’ll do some PR hopefully. So one thing that’s very important to us as well is that the local bands can come and take pictures and see their records being pressed. I’m also starting to have quite a few requests for people to have tours of the plant, but we just need to have the balance right, working on production first.

You’ve had the building of the plant to design, plan and construct. Now there is the building of the business itself. You started from scratch with both. In relation to the orders, are there are any confirmed that you can share? We’ve got quite a number of orders already. The highest profile from our perspective is with (ex Marillion frontman) Fish. He contacted us in August, when he discovered that there was a pressing plant that was opening just 10 minutes’ drive from where he lives, thanks to the last article here. He wanted to discuss the pressing of his two triple boxsets, 13th Star and A Feast of Consequences, which he has worked with Calum Malcom and Barry Grint for the remastering and cutting. They had some quality concerns with the original supplied vinyl in June. It’s the first pressing we will work on and the first that will be released. It is on pre order from 30 October and will be shipped from 11 December. It’s a massive vote of confidence in us and obviously a huge boost in terms of profile and credibility. Given the fact that the previous pressing was rejected it will be scrutinised and listened to by the best ears in the world, that will be a massive stamp of approval for our processes and infrastructure and people. And of course, for Seabass Vinyl to work with Fish was far too good an opportunity to miss.

On top of that we’ve got several other orders, so we’re going to be very busy through December. And it comes back to your question on setting up the business. We are trying to set up the processes to make sure that it’s as simple yet as comprehensive as possible for our customers. And I think we’re almost there but we’ll get better and better and we’ll have the tools, the software etc to do that. So all the Standard Operating Procedures that we need to put in place, such as HR processes, health and safety and all of that, is being set up in the background as well. There are probably a few other orders that are worth calling out. The Rah’s are a band based in Prestonpans, who have also contacted us and they are going to be one of our first orders. They will be announcing their album probably in early November, and we will be working with them for the pressing. There is also Indicator Records that are the first fully completed and paid for order and for which the packaging has gone for printing.

You have a made a number of additions to the Seabass Vinyl Team. You recently announced linking up with Ronnie Gurr, could you share a little on what he will bring to the business? Ronnie has joined us to act as an industry engagement advisor. He obviously comes with a breadth of acquaintances in the music industry. He knows all the labels and a lot of the artists. He is very likely to open some doors to people that we don’t know because we’re not coming from within the music industry. Ronnie will be joining us on a consultancy basis. He will accompany us at the beginning of our launch and later. In addition, we have Conor Rogan who is our lead press operator who is relocating from Ireland. We also have Bonnie Sutherland, who just joined as an account manager and she’s coming from Universal Music in Australia. Her dad is Scottish and she has relocated from Australia. Becca Ferrier-Baker from East Lothian who owns the Orange Moon record shop in North Berwick based in Steampunk is going to help as an assistant press operator but she’s also going to do some QA work. She lives and breathes vinyl so she’s going to help with listening and the quality of the records. Finally with Dave and myself, Dave is probably going to support more on the technical side of the business, and I’m going to be doing more back office and working with the artists and suppliers, working in pair with Bonnie doing account and order management. The key thing about the team is its quite music-centric. We’re all coming out of a background where we all love music and Conor, Becca and Bonnie are or have been professional DJs. Everybody actually loves music or is interested in music, knows what a good record is meant to sound like and with different music backgrounds which is quite useful. It’s good we’ve got that range of skills. And obviously this is a small team so as we start to ramp up, while we’ve all got particular roles, everybody’s going to be doing everything. In December it’s going to be all hands to the pump.

Sustainability is a very important part of your ethos, incorporating it into your production. How is that progressing? There are three main strands to Seabass Vinyl: artistic centric small runs, quality of vinyl and sustainability. With regards to sustainability our aim is to have the lowest carbon footprint pressing plant in the world. We had applied for planning permission to build two wind turbines on the site, an advantage of it being a purpose-built site, and we had that confirmed a few weeks ago. The order has been placed and the wind turbines will probably go up in January next year. We have also applied for 14,000 square feet of solar panels. We believe between those two we will generate nearly 50% of our electricity requirements on site. Between the solar panels, the wind turbines and the batteries we’re installing as well, we’ll have quite a low carbon footprint, as well as reduced costs. All the electricity that we are buying from the grid is Carbon Trust certified as being 100% renewable. We have all the certification for that. The gas, the LPG that we’re using is Carbon Trust certified for carbon offset. That’s probably the gold standard for carbon offsetting, which isn’t ideal as carbon offsetting isn’t the panacea for this but we don’t have a choice but to use LPG until hydrogen probably comes along as an alternative fuel source for the steam boiler. In the meantime, this is the best that you can do in terms of carbon gold standard, Carbon Trust or current certified offsetting programmes. And we’ll be looking as well to get the certification from an environment perspective. Our commitment is to achieve the B Corp certification by next year. B Corp is mainly for larger corporations and has a more internationally recognised and robust commitment. The alternative ESG is more UK based for small to medium enterprise, which we may also consider. Larger corporations like Key Productions have announced that they’re a B Corp certified so it’s slightly more relevant and transferable certification. We want to show our commitment to the environment, to social responsibility, that we look after our employees, that we’re a good place to work, and we contribute to the local community. The certification allows this to be auditable in terms of the sustainability. We don’t want to just say that we’re doing something, we need to actually demonstrate that we’ve done it and be able to be measured on it.

You attended Making Vinyl in Europe recently and you attended Nashville and Frankfurt last year. Now being further on with this project and with the knowledge you have gained, was it a different experience this time? Yes and no. No, because we still haven’t pressed records so we’re still in that situation where we are the new plant who wants to ramp up to start our business. We knew a lot about the presented topics, although there were new statistics for example, on the audience for vinyls, about the age groups, about the different dimensions, the demographics, etc. There was new statistics about the market which is always good to know. Also there are new pressing plants being established across Europe. Therefore there are going to be more players in the market and we need to take that into account and we need to be the best we can be as a pressing plant and as sustainable as possible. There were two main topics for Making Vinyl this year: quality and sustainability, which are two of the three differentiators for Seabass Vinyl, which shows we are going in the right direction and we are focusing on the right things. The main difference between this year and last year was that companies were still under pressure to cut lead times and the industry was under capacity. We had our eyes wide open that capacity was arriving. This year the message has gone from an industry that was struggling with lead times and capacity to now where we probably have an industry that has a capacity of about 400 million records a year and a demand for 250 million records. Now there is oversupply, which is something that we knew was happening because that was the advantage of being in Nashville. There you’ve got MRP and others large pressing plants talking about their 30 presses that they’re getting delivered in the next year. We knew it was all coming but it’s now here. Apart from the actual financial challenges that everybody has in terms of living in the UK or Europe, or elsewhere, there’s going to be a little bit of commercial pressure from within the industry on the pressing plants themselves.

So it is quality and reputation that will be the differentiator. And sustainability. Labels and brokers will want to work with the plants that are the most because sustainable because people are going to focus on that. Sustainability is important, but it also allows us to reduce our operating costs. We will have 50% of the electricity bill of other pressing plants of the same size because of the investment that we’ve made in renewables. For more information on Seabass Vinyl please check out their website, Facebook and Instagram.


 

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