Worldwide vinyl record supply threatened by “devastating” fire at lacquer manufacturer

Third Man Records' Ben Blackwell says the loss "will affect EVERYONE"

Apollo Masters lacquer manufacturer plant fire vinyl record industry worldwide
Apollo Masters warehouse fire, photo via Cal Fire/The Desert Sun

A catastrophic fire at the Banning, California manufacturing and storage facility of Apollo Masters may put the booming global vinyl record manufacturing industry at risk. Apollo made the lacquer used in the production of master discs, from which commercial vinyl records are made, as well as the styli used in the pressing process.

The blaze tore through the facilities on Thursday, February 6th. While no employees were injured, the fire left the facility entirely destroyed. A note on Apollo Masters’ website reads, “We are uncertain of our future at this point and are evaluating options as we try to work through this difficult time.”

Industry figures are expressing concern that the loss could lead to a major delay or reduction in the production of vinyl records on a worldwide scale. In an email to Pitchfork, Third Man Records co-founder Ben Blackwell explained that Apollo is one of only two companies that produced the vinyl master lacquers in the world. “…The other, MDC in Japan, already had trouble keeping up with demand BEFORE this development,” Blackwell wrote (the emphasis being his own).

While Blackwell has heard “whispers” that a new company has been “entertaining the idea” of manufacturing lacquer, Apollo Masters was solely responsible for making a unique type of stylus used in the vinyl pressing process. In fact, said Blackwell, Apollo was the “primary or possibly only supplier of the styli.”

“I imagine this will affect EVERYONE, not just Third Man Pressing and Third Man Mastering, but to what extent remains to be seen,” Blackwell added before continuing, “I don’t want to be an alarmist. But I’m attempting to be realistic as opposed to Pollyannish.”

Blackwell’s not the only one worried about the impact of this catastrophic fire. Calling the news “distressing,” Toronto-based vinyl pressing company Duplication tweeted, “Disaster for the vinyl pressing industry… There will be a lacquer shortage and possibly plants having to close or scale back operations for a while.” Another tweet estimated that “vinyl pressing turntimes will go back to being 6 to 9 months!”

Duplication vinyl production and sales coordinator David Read also told Pitchfork he expects that the blaze “will directly affect all vinyl plants, bands/labels, mastering engineers, plating facilities etc., anyone who used lacquers as part of their vinyl production.” That said, he ended with a note of optimism: “In my almost 40 years experience the vinyl industry as a whole is incredibly resilient, and filled with talented professionals who will, and already are, teaming together to find a way out of this current problem.”

For the thousands of people around the world whose jobs are tied to the vinyl industry — and the music fans who get so much joy expanding their vinyl collection — we hope Read is right.