Saturday is Record Store Day! Celebrate by Getting to Know Furnace Record Pressing

By Jeffrey Bonior
Apr 19 2024 |
“We have pressed records by Olivia Rodrigo, Bad Brains and John Coltrane,” said Eric Astor, founder of Furnace Record Pressing. “You name it, we do it across all genres.” Photos courtesy Furnace Record Pressing

The maker of vinyl albums is based in Virginia – and owned by Metallica.

To millions of record collectors, musicians and various other audiophiles, Record Store Day 2024 on Saturday is akin to Christmas morning. It is the one day of the year when dedicated fans of vinyl recordings have access to opening previously unreleased albums from Taylor Swift to The Beatles.

Furnace Record Pressing in Alexandria, Virginia and its resolute staff take on the role of Santa’s elves by manufacturing the toys of Record Store Day – vinyl, vinyl, and more vinyl.

Eric Astor is the founder of Furnace Record Pressing, one of approximately 100 independent record manufacturers in the United States.

Eric Astor, founder of Furnace Record Pressing.

Gone are the days when major record labels would press their own vinyl records of their star-studded roster of clients. But when cassette tapes and CDs relinquished their market dominance in the mid-2000s to digital audio music makers, Astor saw an opening in the slowly resurgent vinyl market.

Astor created Furnace Record Pressing in 1996 using mostly manufacturers in Germany. By 2008, he was certain vinyl was on the comeback trail and could successfully be manufactured in America. Having three decades of experience running record labels, distribution companies and as a touring musician, Astor had the ideal resume to lead a record pressing company that catered to independent artists and labels.

In 2018, Astor and his team moved into a new 70,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Northern Virginia, an unlikely place to find workers with record pressing experience.

But he discovered a talented workforce of diligent, experienced employees who had a love of both quality sounding music and the skill of meticulous, hands-on manufacturing.

“The quality of pressing records in Europe is very, very high,” Astor said. “But I thought we could become more hands-on if we could open something here in the United States and we thought we could compete on price.

“In about 2005, there was a lot more vinyl coming into the market. The vinyl format really started to take hold and I credit Record Store Day with a lot of that.”

The first Record Store Day took place on April 19, 2008, and the number of vinyl pressings has continued to increase year-after-year. In 2023, approximately 49.6 million vinyl albums were sold, an increase of 14% from the previous year.

And the growth rate at Furnace Record Pressing has also continued on an upward trend.

“There were years we were growing 20- to 40% year-over-year, but the last few years it’s been like 10- to -15% year-over-year growth,” said Astor, a 52-year-old Virginia native. “Last year was the first time since 1987 that vinyl outsold CDs since 1987.”

According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), 2023 marked the 16th consecutive year of growth in vinyl. And whether it’s re-pressing the older albums of long, revered bands and solo artists or pressing small-batch orders for little-known independent musicians, Astor is willing to create time for each endeavor.

“We have over 20 presses running now and total staff of nearly 100,” Astor said. “During a pressing run, we have quality control people listening to every 50 or 60 records. They listen to them, make notes, communicate with the operators. It’s an ongoing, all-day process.

“We just had to replicate that quality of German record pressing here and we’ve done that. Artists like Neil Young and others who are very vinyl-centric have helped the analog sound grow again.

“Listening with these compressed files, whether it be mp3 or even CD, we’re losing a lot of quality. And I believe that albums today have a much better sound than something from the ‘70s or ‘80s. Back then, the labels were pressing a record and they sold 10 million copies and they all had to be on vinyl. People were taking a lot of shortcuts pressing records as fast as they could, and sound quality often got lost.”

Streaming is still by far the biggest driver of the music industry’s growth, making up 84% of recorded music revenue. But younger listeners have begun to embrace the power of physical media, getting to experience the enjoyment of holding a vinyl album and reading the record sleeve liner notes.

A sampling of vinyl pressed at Furnace Record Pressing for Record Store Day 2024 runs the gamut from a 1945 broadcast of Ernest Tubb & His Texas Troubadours to Snarky Puppy and a 7-inch box set by Wiz Khalifa.

“We have pressed records by Olivia Rodrigo, Bad Brains and John Coltrane,” Astor said. “You name it, we do it across all genres.”

Astor has had a long-standing relationship with the heavy-metal band Metallica, pressing their music when the band was on the Elektra/Warner label. Furnace Record Pressing has continued this relationship by pressing all of Metallica’s records since the band retained complete rights to its catalog in 2013.

And just to take this relationship one step further, Metallica bought a majority interest in Furnace Record Pressing in spring 2023.

“We’re very good partners and have a very good relationship with Metallica,” Astor said. “They have always been a fan of our quality. My interest growing up in the tech-rock world made me excited to work with them as owners of Furnace.”

Astor emphasized that Furnace Record Pressing, while dedicated to independent artists and labels, works with many of the major bands on major labels.

Furnace Record Pressing manufactures both the album-size 12-inch vinyl down to the 7-inch records played at 45 rpm speed. And, once a rarity in vinyl production, the company offers its pressings in a large variety of colors and blended colors.

After the sale of Furnace Record Pressing to Metallica, Astor stepped down as CEO but still puts in a full workday in a variety of roles. The new CEO is Ali Miller, who has been with the company since 2008.

“Ali’s bringing new leadership and new energy to the organization,” Astor said. “And her marketing ideas are obviously very interesting. We are in good hands with Ali.”

Another female in the recording industry with interesting marketing ideas is the immensely popular Taylor Swift. She has produced many Record Store Day releases in past years and in 2023 her album “Folklore” marked Record Store Day’s largest pressing, with 75,000 albums pressed and sold exclusively at independent record shops across America.

Swift will not have a Christmas Day surprise on Saturday at the nation’s record stores. But as most Swifties are aware, she will give her fans the gift of opening one package on the eve of Record Store Day when her latest album “The Tortured Poets Department” hits record store racks.

Sounds a lot like a Record Store Christmas to us.

Click here for a complete list of records available exclusively on Record Store Day.

AAM originally visited Furnace Record Pressing back in 2018 for The Manufacturing Report podcast. Check out that episode below.