Earlier this week, Hunter and I were able to join some other homeschoolers for a great field trip in Nashville, TN. We happened to already be at clinic that morning for his check up (which went well and resulted in the dropping of his blood pressure medication! yay!) so I thought we might as well stick around in town for this unique and nifty sounding tour that came through my email. And I'm so glad that we did.
We met the group at United Record Pressing, currently the largest record pressing plant in the world. Our tour was led by Adam, a young man who was homeschooled K-12. He represented homeschooling very well. We started the tour upstairs in a special room that is rented out for things like parties and filming music videos. The Supremes and Smoky Robinson were said to have partied in this room. Legend has it that Hank Williams Jr signed his first record contrast in this room at the age of 17. Recently the Queen of Rockabilly Wanda Jackson rented out the space to film her come back music video. I think that the room has a neat look and worked rather nicely for the video. The room is still sporting original furniture and ash trays from the 1960s and the vintage girl in me just couldn't soak it in enough. It even still smelled a little like cigarette smoke and normally that would annoy me to no end but in the context of history, I found it endearing.
We were brought into this room to learn about the record making and playing process because the room where records are actually pressed is super loud. We all got to see the vinyl pellets and the plates that create a mirror image of the music/sounds which is then pressed into the vinyl to create the record. The process is quite complicated and significantly less automatic than one might imagine it to be. Many hands touch each record before it is shipped out to the customer. There is still a great market for vinyl and sales are increasing again more recently which might be attributed to iPods... a music nerd can put their catalog into a tiny portable device and then still go ahead and purchase their very favorites on vinyl for the lovely wonderful experience of taking a record out of giant sleeve (featuring gorgeous HUGE artwork) and then experience the feel of placing the record on the turn table and placing the arm and needle onto the record. I totally get that... I love the experience of the lp myself. Further, vinyl produces a more raw and authentic sound and many music geeks understand that, while digital sounds cleaner, cleaner isn't always a good thing. I love the nitty gritty sound of the vinyl and I've missed it ever since I left home and no longer had a record player hooked up to my sweet sweet stereo. One day, I will have a decent set up again.
It's a promise I made to myself.
The vinyl making process hasn't changed over the years... at all. The way that they were making records fifty years ago remains true today. I love that. The technology was so perfect to begin with that it didn't need to be improved upon!
We were shown "The Motown Suite" next. During the 1960s, Nashville, which is also known as music city, had a pretty decent R&B scene. A lot of folks from Motown (typically associated with Detroit) would come to Nashville to cut a record. Unfortunately, these black artists would often have a hard time finding a place to stay because of the color of their skin. So the record company built a dormitory area for them to use. There was a bedroom, a kitchen, a lounge, and a bathroom. This piece of history tied this field trip into our recent obession with "Hairspray" rather nicely. So if you take the tour, it might work well to watch "Hairspray" before or after the trip in order to help drive home the race relations issue and how it affected the music/entertainment industry.
Finally we headed downstairs to first see where the labeling and packaging takes place...
and finally to see actual records being pressed.
Here, our tour guide took a warm "patty" (the vinyl is formed into something that looks like a donut before it is pressed out into a record) and covered it with a rainbow of pellets to make a variegated record. It was so cool to watch it turn from this...
The excess vinyl has to be peeled off of the edges and the product is a finished record. The kids all wanted to touch it. Isn't it beautiful?
This is a more automatic record press for one color at a time. Hunter seemed really interested in this part of the process.
We finished up our tour in the warehouse where we saw the records being ready to ship out!
This was, hands down, the single best tour/field trip I've ever experienced in my entire life. I loved it and I'm sad that no one bothered to take me there when I was a kid who spent all of her time playing records. But at least I've gotten to experience it now! I hope that if you are local or if you are traveling through the Nashville area that you can drop by and experience this tour as well. Be sure to call and ask to schedule your tour with Adam because he was awesome! I seriously cannot recommend this tour enough. And it was not expensive! $5.00/person and then a cap of $15.00 per family! Totally worth that!
Thank you, United Record Pressing, for bringing to life a process that I'd wondered about my entire life. This was such a great experience and I will bring my other two children back in the future!
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