California Fire Could Devastate Global Supply Chain For Vinyl Records

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Experts say lacquers, a critical component of vinyl production, will now be in short supply. (Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP/Getty Images)
Experts say lacquers, a critical component of vinyl production, will now be in short supply. (Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP/Getty Images)

People in the vinyl record business are warning of a global bottleneck in the industry after a fire last week destroyed the Apollo Masters Corporation factory in Banning, California.

No one was injured in the fire, which completely destroyed the Apollo factory, the company said on its website. Apollo was one of only two companies in the world that makes lacquers, a critical component of vinyl production that experts say will now be in short supply.

“Lacquers are essential to the process of making vinyl records,” says Jessa Zapor-Gray, an independent vinyl and audio consultant in Southern California.

The fire at Apollo means that Japanese company MDC is now the only supplier of record lacquers in the world, Zapor-Gray says.

“They are not a high capacity manufacturer,” she says. “So they will not be picking up any of the slack resulting from the loss of Apollo.”

The devastating fire comes at a critical time for the booming vinyl industry, which has undergone a resurgence in the past several years. Vinyl record sales in the U.S. rose nearly 15% last year, according to Nielsen Music.

Lacquers are used to make the master discs in which individual vinyl records are pressed, Zapor-Gray says. Master discs are then sent to individual vinyl pressing plants where they are used to make the “stampers” that are used to press thousands of records.

While she doesn’t want to speculate about the fire’s impact on the cost of records, Zapor-Gray says that consumers likely won’t feel the effects as much as manufacturers. The loss of the Apollo is a huge blow to the industry’s already loose supply chain.

She says the lack of lacquer suppliers has been on the radar for some time, so the industry isn’t starting at zero to solve the problem.

“Everyone talks about the vinyl resurgence, and that's something that happened pretty quickly,” she says. “So it's almost like repairing a car while you're driving down the highway. You have a lot of demand and you just keep it rolling.”

There is an alternative process for cutting master discs called “direct metal mastering” or DMM, but it would be difficult for plants that have relied on lacquers to adapt to a new process, Zapor-Gray says. DMM is also more expensive, and there are no factories in North America that do it.

“A lot of U.S. and Canadian manufacturers were concerned that labels and artists might take their business to those plants overseas that have DMM machines,” she says. “And if those labels and artists do that, it is likely that business will permanently be lost for North American manufacturers.”

Chris Bentley produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on February 14, 2020.

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Peter O'Dowd Senior Editor, Here & Now
Peter O’Dowd has a hand in most parts of Here & Now — producing and overseeing segments, reporting stories and occasionally filling in as host. He came to Boston from KJZZ in Phoenix.


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Samantha Raphelson is an associate producer for Here & Now, based at NPR in Washington, D.C.



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