As lead singer of ‘80s Canadian rock band Brighton Rock, Gerry McGhee was no stranger to making records. Now, as President of Isotope Music Inc., he’s getting back into making records, on a far grander scale. His company has partnered with Czech vinyl manufacturing company GZ in Precision Record Pressing Inc, a Burlington, Ontario-based vinyl pressing plant that is close to getting up and running, on an impressive scale.
In an interview with FYI yesterday, McGhee explains that “all the machines and boilers arrived from Europe two weeks ago, and we’re in the set-up phase. We took a 20,000 sq ft building so we have room for expansion and our first pressing will start in the second week of August.”
Precision will start with a bang, he notes. “There’ll be an announcement pretty soon about the first record we’re pressing and what band it is. There’ll be a documentary done on it, plus a press conference from the plant.”
McGhee adds that “the official opening date will be Sept. 16th. The chairman of the board of GZ will be here from Prague, and we’ve been informed that the Czech Ambassador to Canada will attend and cut the ribbon.”
The company has been pressing vinyl in Prague since January, filling orders for Universal and Sony Canada plus some independent labels. “In phase one we can do 4.5 million units out of the Burlington plant plus 2 million from the Czech plant,” says McGhee. “We’ve already put phase two into motion and that is adding five new automated presses. That’ll put us over the 11 million mark, making us the second largest plant in North America. We’ve already bought a plant in the US based in the Midwest and there’ll be a west coast plant so we’ll have three in North America.”
The impetus for this new venture came from Isotope Music, a music e-commerce wholesaler McGhee set up 20 years ago. He was approached two years ago by the Canadian major labels in real need of a domestic vinyl pressing plant. “They promised to support me if I could get this together, and I began a two year search for machines. I went to plants in the US, UK, Japan, trying to find presses, but was always outbid for them. That was the old technology and it is kind of a blessing that when I did find GZ and started a co-venture with them it was with new machines. With all their technical expertise it has been an easy set-up. It is what they’ve done for 65 years.”
The deal with GZ to set up Precision came a year ago. McGhee recalls that “I had my guy at Isotope in England fly to Prague to meet them and he pitched them on a joint venture. They asked ‘when can Gerry get here?’ I jumped on a plane the next day, and had meetings in the boardroom for six hours, explaining our plans. Then they came over to see my operation at Isotope and we did the letter of intent a year ago.
“It has moved quickly since then. We’ve been to their plant many times, watching the new machines being made. We’re just starting to hire the press operators and supervisors. They’ll go to Prague for three weeks to work there, and then they’ll come back along with technicians from Prague to get set up here and do the training. When we’re up and running in phase one in Burlington we’ll have 100 employees, and at phase two it will be 200.”
He’s enthusiastic about the quality of the new presses. “They’re all automated, with heat control and a lot of safety features that weren’t in the old machines. More importantly the new technology will mean there won’t be the problems with the old ones, like oil leaking or the inability to get parts when they break. GZ has its own tool and die company inside its own plant.”
While doing plenty of business with the majors, Precision will cater to the independent label sector too. “We are more than happy to look at 200- 300 unit runs,” says McGhee. “We’re very aware of the independent market and the way they’ve been treated. Right now where we are really pushing is delivery times.
“With pressing in Prague we are filling orders in 8-10 weeks. Our goal is that when we’re at full capacity in Burlington it’ll be 6-8 weeks. It’ll be a game-changer for plants around the world when we go to that kind of delivery time.”
He pledges to make Canadian clients the initial priority, but is anticipating doing business with US labels, including the majors. “That is why we are talking about doubling our size. The weak Canadian dollar always helps exports.”
McGhee explains that he first realized the unexpected vinyl resurgence was for real “about five years ago. At Isotope we were bringing in vinyl from European companies and whatever we brought in would sell. That’s when I saw vinyl as the next big move for my company.”
He happens to be a lover of the vinyl format too. “I have three turntables at home now and a great set for my music room. Vinyl Fridays at home means going through the old records and listening to the new ones. The quality of the new vinyl is so high, like the Led Zeppelin reissues. That’s the closest you can get to standing in the recording studio listening to playback on the big speakers. Nothing sounds as warm as vinyl.”
McGhee is looking forward to the possibility of pressing titles from some of the Canadian bands that were around during Brighton Rock’s heyday. “We’re talking to ole about the possibility of Max Webster vinyl, and there is Coney Hatch material out there that could be pressed on vinyl.’
Brighton Rock has had their albums reissued with bonus material through Warner, and the group has occasionally reunited for gigs, including European festivals.
“We played Hamilton Place in April and broke the bar sales record,” says McGhee. “We still all get along, we’re still like brothers. It is mostly my scheduling that keeps us from playing more.”
His primary company, Isotope Music, remains very active as a music distributor. “In 2010 we switched to carrying our own inventory. We’re up now to 60,000 titles in stock, including 20,000 vinyl titles. We have an office in London, plus a sales office in Tokyo.
"We do all the orders fulfillment for such artists as Celine Dion, Roger Waters, Elton John, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, and James Taylor- about 60 acts. Anybody who buys off their website, it gets filled from one of the Isotope locations.”
Isotope’s HQ is also in Burlington, close to the Precision plant. “That means I can see where all the money went,” jokes McGhee.