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hot wax: how cleveland's gotta groove records is riding the vinyl wave








To paraphrase Mark Twain: Reports of the death of the LP have been greatly exaggerated.

Despite the unstoppable march of progress from analogue to digital, vinyl records are making an undeniable comeback. Contemporary bands are ordering up vinyl releases of their latest work while long-forgotten publications are being reissued in wax to a whole new generation. And catering to that expanding market is Cleveland's own Gotta Groove Records, one of only a handful of existing vinyl pressing plants in the United States -- indeed the world.

Though vinyl releases account for only a sliver of the North American music market, sales have actually risen in recent years, a claim that cannot be said about the plummeting compact disc industry. Attracted by a richer aural experience, not to mention a more physical listening process, today's audiophiles are refueling a resurgent vinyl-pressing industry.

Located in a former elevator factory on Cleveland's near-east side, Gotta Groove Records is surprisingly unassuming for a company that makes its business in rock and roll. Inside the 6,000-square-foot plant, whirring machines literally melt, press and trim slabs of vinyl, stamping labels on the warm platters as they exit the equipment. A small crew then sorts the records, places them in their sleeves, and finally seals them up in shrink wrap.

Founded one year ago by Vince Slusarz, the former COO of a plastics-manufacturing company, Gotta Groove seems the perfect synthesis of two Cleveland strengths: manufacturing and rock 'n' roll. Slusarz used what he believed was going to be his retirement fund to purchase decades-old pressing equipment, which was shipped via flatbed trucks from New Jersey. Next came the painstaking task of getting the old machines properly functioning again, thanks in no small part to former manufacturing buddy Dan Greathouse.

For the first three months the plant pressed mostly local albums. But now it receives business from all corners of the globe, including a customer in China, who's reportedly the only person bringing vinyl into the country. Slusarz says that Gotta Groove also does significant business in Canada and Australia.

You might recognize some of the nine or so employees who help operate the plant. Paul Maccarone, a local musician who used to run the indie-oriented Zombie Proof Studios, works the shop floor. Clint Holley, a local musician who played in the alt-country band Hayshaker Jones, does the mastering and cutting. Holley explains that he was at the Beachland Ballroom when he saw a postcard for Gotta Groove. He decided if he could teach himself to cut the masters, he would have a job, going so far as to purchase his own reconditioned lathe for $30,000. It's Holley who produces the "stampers" that serve as the pressing plates to create the final records.

"I cut the audio signal into the coating on a plate," explains Holley, who blogs about his work here. "What I do is a cross between the industrial and the artistic. I love records because of what they are. I don't think they necessarily sound better. I think a lot of people like their limitations."

In early October, Gotta Groove produced 6,000 albums in a single week, more than it manufactured during its entire first three months in operation. And while the plant currently is at the break-even point, Slusarz notes that his company is on track to be profitable by next year. With an initial investment in the "high six figures," Slusarz says the operation needs to crank out at least 10,000 platters a week.

Some of the plant's most recent work includes a limited edition album by the jazz group Kinsey Report as well as new releases from indie rockers Jukebox the Ghost, singer-songwriter Dave Alvin, and comedian Margaret Cho. Gotta Groove also just shipped Special Moves, a double LP live album by the Scottish act Mogwai, as well as a reissue of an old Tom Waits album. This is in addition to a slew of new local releases from singer-songwriter Chris Allen and indie rockers Dreadful Yawns and Brandston. The company recently added to its offerings 7-inchers, too, producing a special red 45 for an ad agency that was trying to persuade Target to stock vinyl.

"In terms of how far we've come, it's been amazing," says Slusarz, sitting in a modest office adorned with gold record plaques, gifts from his late father-in-law, a former Capitol Records exec. "Every month the business has been increasing. I don't know how many records we've pressed so far. At this point, we've certainly done tens of thousands."

Slusarz says he has no aspirations of starting up a record label, though he does regularly give tours of the plant and says he has thought that a gift shop of sorts might be worth looking into.

"I thought maybe a small counter with shirts and vinyl coasters would be nice," he says. "We might eventually drift toward something like that."


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Photography by  Bob Perkoski
- Vince Slusarz of Gotta Groove Records
- Gotta Groove Records press
- Gotta Groove Records press
- Tim Thorton quality control at Gotta Groove Records
- Cutting and mastering by Clint Holley of Well Made Music
- Cutting and mastering by Clint Holley of Well Made Music
 
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