Musician and entrepreneur Jack White [Tape Op #82] has opened a brand-new storefront and vinyl record pressing plant in the historic Cass Corridor section of Detroit, a place that's been home to artists and musicians for decades and is now experiencing a renaissance. Third Man Pressing helps fulfill the increasing demand for vinyl records, plays a vital role in the resurgence of vinyl culture, and contributes to the rebirth of Detroit. White also founded Third Man Records, which has also released music by his bands, The White Stripes, Dead Weather, The Raconteurs, as well as his recent solo album (Boarding House Reach). White has produced countless records, released scores of records by many artists on Third Man Records, written a children's book (We're Going To Be Friends), and put out other authors' work on Third Man Books. He's also helped support music education for kids, acted in films, and created the unique Blue Room; the only live venue in the world where artists can record live-to-acetate. Detroit's Third Man Records and Third Man Pressing Plant feels like a small, family business. Workers earn a living wage of $15 an hour, with full benefits, and the company eschews traditional job titles. Instead, most everyone can jump in to help wherever work needs to get done. David Buick was kind enough to give me a tour of the pressing plant and tell me a bit about what goes on there, and Roe Peterhans, who runs the Detroit operation, chimed in during our conversation.
The Third Man Records store has been open in Detroit since when?
David Buick: We opened to the public on Black Friday of 2015, the day after Thanksgiving.
And the Third Man Pressing plant?
DB: The end of February 2017.
Can you talk about the history of the Cass Corridor neighborhood, and why you chose to put the store and the plant here?
DB: This is the center of the Cass Corridor, which was re-branded "Midtown Detroit" about ten years ago to try to fancify the neighborhood. But, since way back with blues and soul musicians, it's always been a hub of artists, musicians, poets, sculptors, painters, drug addicts, prostitutes, and bad guys. It was always the seedy, creative, free-thinking neighborhood. Gold Dollar was a venue where the White Stripes first played, which is not even a mile south of us. Zoot's Coffeehouse venue was a block away. The old Freezer Theater and the Clubhouse were nearby, and they were the main venues for the early ‘80s hardcore scene. There's The Old Miami; a bar that's been supporting the music scene for years. This is the hub of many different generations of music in Detroit. That's what the murals in the front of our store represent. There's a big MC5 mural, of them playing at the Wayne State [University] football field, which is right down the block. Then there's The White Stripes playing at the Gold Dollar. And then the next one is The Gories playing at an old art gallery, which was on the same block as us right now. When the opportunity came to get right here in the heart of it, Jack, of course, jumped on it.
How many manufacturing jobs will the pressing plant supply?
DB: What are they saying, Roe? How many jobs will there be when we go to three shifts?
Roe Peterhans: About 40 to 50.
DB: We're in the process of adding a full second shift. And then once that starts running smoothly, we're going to add a third shift. And at that point it'll be about 40 to 50 [manufacturing jobs]. And we have about 15 in the front of the house. It's a sizeable amount of jobs.
What are the different jobs, and what does each position entail?
DB: As a company, our theory is [to have] no job titles. If you look at my card, my job title on there is "Romantic Comedian." Jack feels if you give someone a title, that will limit what they'll do. But Randy is the person that oversees the whole plant, and then his right-hand man, Brandon, is like the foreman. There are people QC-ing [quality control], people that are running the presses, and people running the packaging and the shrink wrapper. But, for the most part, those rotate. There are some skills certain people feel more comfortable with, or are better at. But everyone can hop from job to job.
After you get up to three shifts, how many records can you manufacture in a day?
DB: We estimate, if all eight machines are running completely smoothly, about 5,000 a shift. So that would be 15,000 for a three-shift day, eventually.
I read that you bought new presses from Newbilt Machinery [a German company]. Are they all up and running?
DB: Yeah, all eight are up and running.
When did you get them working?
DB: We were test running and then pressing product for a month and a half before the opening. No one that started the plant – other than our customer service whiz, Jessica, who came up from United Record Pressing [Nashville] – had any experience in a pressing plant. Some people had experience working with other injection molds and other factories. Everybody was learning, because it's not just pressing buttons.
What were the first records you guys pressed here?
DB: Opening weekend we pressed the first two White Stripes records [The White Stripes, De Stijl], a deluxe version of the first Stooges record [The Stooges], and a reissue of the first MC5 record [Kick Out the Jams]. Those were all on Third Man Records; we licensed...