Brian Lester brings vinyl to the masses with his TikTok tutorials.
Think of collecting vinyl like you would curating your Instagram or Pinterest feed—your collection tells people more than just what type of music you like: It hints at who you are or who you want to be. It appeals to the psychological need to be an individual. From Brahms to Beyonce, giving a tour of your collection is the new “want to come up for a drink?”
It makes sense then, in an age of individualism where genres are blurred and every decade is represented in the fashion choices of teenagers, that vinyl sales are soaring. LPs represented 27% of album sales in 2020, and there’s no sign of slowing down.
Enter Brian Lester, lead press operator and factory manager of Vinyl Record Pressing in Atlantic Beach, who has captured the attention of thousands of TikTok users with his vinyl pressing videos. The videos typically use local musicians and go step by step through the pressing process. His most viewed TikTok has nearly 1 million views.
Lester began making the TikToks in December, while training a new coworker. “We had just hired Keegan, and it was one of his first days training on the press, so I decided to record it while I was watching him,” Lester said. “About four hours after I posted it to TikTok, my phone didn’t stop giving me notifications for three days.”
Vinyl is made by heating PVC pellets and then molding them into a thick disc. From there, the disc is pressed into a circular metal plate containing those distinctive lines the needle reads, which are a negative copy of the recording. When pressed, the lines are implanted into the vinyl. The record is then cut into a perfect circle, and the labels dry onto the middle.
Lester attributes the rise of vinyl to Gen Z and Millennials who lacked physical copies of things they loved. “When newly produced records started to make a comeback around a decade or so ago, it was a fresh idea to them,” he said. “For the first time, they could hold large artwork and see all the details they missed on their iPhone.”
Getting a glimpse into the process is another way of bringing music to listeners during the pandemic, and it’s a rare glimpse at that. “There’s only a handful of pressing plants in the states, and there are even fewer that use semi-automatic presses like we do, so there hasn’t been a lot of opportunity for people to see the process,” Lester said.
While the album artwork is printed elsewhere and delivered to the Vinyl Record Pressing shop, the distinctive swirls of colored vinyl are made in house—by hand—which produces one of a kind combinations. Multicolored records are created by combining different colored vinyls at high heat at just the right time, allowing the colors to swirl but not blend.
“You get this splotchy tie-dye effect on your vinyl. It takes two people to do this; you have to have one person pouring and one person pressing,” said Lester. “They look amazing, and every single record looks different—it’s impossible to duplicate the way a record looks. You have a certain color combination where it’s a style and theme that goes throughout the records, but every record looks different.”
Lester, an avid vinyl collector himself, said his favorite records combine nostalgia with the special coziness that vinyl provides. “When you master a song for vinyl, the audio engineer will cut out some frequencies that will cause the needle to skip,” he said. “The result of this is a warmness that digital doesn’t provide along with some crackle and pops below the music from the needle dragging along.” Some of his favorite records include Andy Shauf’s The Party and Memory Screen’s To Nowhere with the latter pressed at his facility.
Due to various agreements, Lester is not allowed to disclose the full range of artists whose records have been pressed at the facility, but it ranges from the upper echelons of pop music to up-and-coming-artists. Long story short, if you have a vinyl collection, there’s a good chance you have something that has been pressed right here in Jacksonville.
The pipeline between local bands, local pressing and local distribution is already taking hold in Jacksonville, as well. Tiger Records, one of Lester’s favorite stores, has started working with local bands to get their music pressed and distributed in town. Signed bands include Memory Screen and Leaving Time.
Lester hopes more local artists will begin putting their music on vinyl, noting there’s money to be made and also the opportunity to engage a fan base that’s been sidelined by the lack of touring this year. “I want to press more records for young people and local musicians,” he said. “These artists have different perspectives.”
Lester’s own band, Bobby Kid, is also pressing 7-inch records at the facility that will be available this month.