Making a vinyl record out of coffee grounds was an ambitious—and weird—request, but Gotta Groove Records entertained the idea. A client of the Cleveland-based record press wanted something that smelled like coffee and looked like grounds suspended in a clear substrate and it seemed feasible so they gave it a go. What they got was a greasy, brownish mess. "We were cleaning coffee out of our factory for two weeks after," says Matt Earley, the company's vice president of sales and marketing.
Since opening in 2009, the Gotta Groove Records has earned a reputation for being the mad scientists of vinyl manufacturing for its technicolor records and willingness to push the envelope when it comes to fabrication. Other strange requests include embedding records with glitter, leaves, pages from a 200-year-old book, and shredded cash, as Pitchfork reported a few years ago. ("We had to draw the line somewhere; we don't do blood," Earley says.)
While Gotta Groove still produces traditional records, the company has also attracted musicians who want to push the envelope when it comes to vinyl, an industry which has seen an unlikely resurgence fueled by consumers who still lust for physicality to their music. In new short documentary, Gotta Groove shares a behind-the-scenes look at how they make records:
Both the traditional and experimental work starts out roughly the same way. The company makes a lacquer "master" record of the audio file, which is then sprayed with silver and electroplated to create a mirror image, called a stamper. The stamper has raised ridges and—like a waffle iron presses into batter to cook a waffle—it will eventually make the impressions in vinyl. Here's where things diverge. In a traditional black record—or a single-color record—vinyl is heated up to about 250 degrees and is extruded into a mass about the size of a hockey puck, which is called a biscuit. The stamper then presses the biscuit to produce the record, which is then trimmed and inspected. This is pretty much all done by machine and can be repeated ad infinitum and all records will be identical, if done right.
Each of the experimental processes is much more labor intensive and every single record is produced by hand; there's no economy of scale with these. To create a "splatter" record, which kind of looks like a cross section of a lava lamp, the press operator uses a hot plate to melt one color of vinyl pellets then sprinkles them over the biscuit before it's pressed. The company has developed a handful of other proprietary techniques—and declined to comment on the specific processes—to create Nebula effects, Color stripes (which essentially involve Frankensteining multiple records together and re-pressing them), and Label Blowouts.
To Earley, part of the company's experimental culture is just part of the personality of the people who work there: they're interested in music and want to try something different. Sarah Barker and Heather Gmucs, two of the plant's press operators, lead Gotta Groove's "special edition" offerings also opened their own label on the side called Wax Mage Records to try make even more designs—an example of just how die-hard vinyl the company's employees are. Some of their recent inventions include making fishnet vinyl and achieving a pig imprint in another.
"Nobody in our company worked in vinyl manufacturing prior to this—everyone has learned it here," Earley says. "We actually employ a lot of musicians, which makes us unique compared to our competitors. Because they're musicians themselves, they want to put something out that would make them as proud as if it was their own record."