By now, most people in the music production business have heard about the devastating fire last Thursday at Apollo Masters in Banning, California. Thankfully, there were no reports of injuries either to the staff or firefighters, but the plant was destroyed.
Apollo was one of two manufacturers of lacquers blanks and although the figures aren’t published, they appear to supply the majority of global demand. The other manufacturer, MDC of Japan is excellent, but their output is nowhere near enough to make up for the loss of Apollo. By way of background, every vinyl project begins with a mastering engineer cutting a master disk on a blank (a 14” acetate coated aluminum disk). Once mastering studios go through their inventory of blanks (a month or so) pressing and plating plants will be forced to operate at a fraction of their capacity. The threat this poses to the vinyl industry cannot be overstated.
Note. There is an alternate cutting format called DMM (Direct Metal Mastering). DMM was introduced in the early 1980’s just before the CD so it never gained wide acceptance. There are a handful of DMM lathes operating worldwide including four at GZ in the Czech Republic and one at Abbey Road in London.
So everyone including us, is wondering what this means. Fortunately, Sterling has been a long-term customer of MDC (as well as Apollo). We hope to continue to receiving our monthly allotment, but our capacity will be cut by two-thirds. This means we will only be able to provide cutting services for existing cutting clients for projects mastered at Sterling.
What about the long-term? Will Apollo rebuild or will someone else step in? It’s too early to tell but whatever happens, the disruption will last a minimum of 12 months. The tooling and machinery for any new operation would have to be built from scratch. Also, lacquer manufacturing is a very tricky process that relies on tight tolerances and environmentally toxic chemicals.
Potentially the quickest path back to full capacity is an expansion of MDC and/or Pyral SAS, the French manufacturer re-entering the market. Pyral was at one point a market leader in lacquer blanks, so they have the background. Our hope is that the parties most at risk from the demise of vinyl (record labels and pressing plants) collaborate to provide financing, technical support, purchasing commitments or simply encouragement to induce one or both of these outcomes.