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A small Czech village is at the center of a global vinyl record revival

After moving through communism and revolution to lead the global return of vinyl records, Czechia’s GZ Media is now facing pandemic, populism and war, as Tim Gosling from Lodenis reports.

Laudenis doesn’t look like the heart of rock ‘n’ roll. But the small Czech village, overlooking the motorway connecting the capital Prague with Germany, is home to largest vinyl record manufacturer in the world.

The vinyl revival of recent years has propelled GZ Media to a height that owner and President Zdenek Pelk could hardly have imagined as he led the company. The turbulent days of communism, revolution and transition for the capitalist system.

Read also: 40 Years of CDs: From Listening Pleasure to Hazardous Waste

“It was like the Wild West at times,” said Pelk, who had joined the state enterprise Gramofonov Zavodi in 1983 as a manager. He smiled as he recalled the privatized company’s operations during the 1990s. This decade saw the birth of the Czech Republic from the ruins of former communist Czechoslovakia, but its death was near. vinyl,

With the advent of CDs that strangled the old technology, GZ Media’s vinyl presses almost came to a halt. By 1994, the company was producing just 350,000 records a year, with vinyl presses continued by punk and metal bands seeking cheaper production and smaller batches.

“We now withdraw the same amount in a single day,” said CEO Michael Sturba.

The vinyl revival has prompted an expansion that, aside from the sprawling venue in Laudenice, sees the company operating six plants in four different countries. Last year, GZ Media hit 56.5 million records from the likes of The Rolling Stones, Nat King Cole, Black Sabbath and Ariana Grande. It is expected to be 140 million by 2024.

So history did not end in the 1990s. But it cuts both ways.

That leaves Pelk, 71, who has been in the office only four days a week since “withdrawing” from running day-to-day operations — and CEO Sturba is not navigating the vinyl boom, but its There is also a result. -19 pandemic, populism and war.

back from the dead

“Nothing will beat the rich, natural sound of a vinyl record!” GZ Media announces website.

While the company also produces CDs, DVDs and has a large printing operation, it is the vinyl division that garnered all the attention in the midst of a surprising revival, as fans of rock and pop flocked to aural, visual and tactile enjoyment. A new taste has developed. LP

According to the Recording Industry Association of America, during the 1990s for vinyl, just 1 million albums were sold in the United States—by far the world’s largest market. Although still an ocean drop compared to streaming, US vinyl sales topped 22 million in 2020.

“This is the only example I know of a product, but only dying to return,” enthused Pelk. “There’s so much digital information in the world that’s filling it up. Some people like to hold a nice package in their hand. That’s why books still exist.”

The president of GZ Media said these newly appreciated items of desire got an added boost when COVID-19 forced people to stop spending their hard earned money on concerts, restaurants and holidays and Locked them at home.

But while the pandemic raised record demand, it also disrupted trade and transport, Sturba pointed out – issues already compounded by the reoccurrence of trade barriers raised by populist agendas.

The impact of Donald Trump’s bickering with Europe or Brexit means transport containers still take longer to cross the Atlantic, tripling the cost for GZ Media. The lockdown is still delaying the arrival of a Chinese technician to install a machine purchased in China two years ago.

The president and CEO both declare that the company’s ability to adapt, while navigating the whims of the music world for decades, allows them to take such bumps in their stride. But when the ongoing rise in energy costs comes to the fore, the pelk clearly turns red.

The company’s vinyl presses – running more than 70 24 hours a day in Laudenice – are greedy for gas and electricity as they heat the vinyl to 160 °C (320 °F).

The war in Ukraine has driven prices down, with GZ Media’s energy costs increasing by 2,000% over the past year. Pelk indicated suspicions that the country’s powerful energy lobby may have helped drive Czech energy prices to the highest in the European Union.

This raises the question of sustainability. Although efforts are underway to investigate making vinyl more sustainable by using recycled plastics, Sturba said it is early days.

“The most permanent solution is of course to download music, but consumers want an emotional connection that [music downloads] Just doesn’t supply,” he said.

future music?

GZ Media also claims that it has less environmental impact based on production closer to consumers. In June, the company launched its second US plant in the music hub of Nashville. The company also has production bases in Canada and France.

“The vinyl revival is largely limited to the US and Western Europe,” said Sterba, which includes expansion plans for the division, although the company is also proud of its high-end, high-tech printing and packaging services. “The US is the largest vinyl market in the world, so expanding there is a simple decision,” Pelk said.

But other destinations are trickier. He turned his back when asked about the European markets in the past. GZ Media used to have some Russian clients, “but we stopped operating in that market because they would disappear without paying.”

However, “adaptability” is clearly an important word, and one that Sterba should keep on hand when working with the company’s president for a long time.

“It makes sense to build investments in the US now, but maybe in three or four years we’ll be off to Asia. Or Britain after Brexit,” Pelk said with a smile.

At this, CEO Sturba, whose job it is to deal with the nuts and bolts, gives a good-natured grin at his colleague’s grand ideas.

“We are always ready to adapt,” said the president and nodded. “Vinyl is bigger now, for example, but in 10 years, who knows?”

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