Arts / Manufacturing / Startups

Hellbender Vinyl, Pittsburgh’s first record manufacturing plant, is coming to Lawrenceville

A trio of local indie label heads are behind the operation: "This is phase one of making Pittsburgh a music city along the lines of Nashville."

Vinyl grooves. (Photo by Brian Conway, courtesy of the Pittsburgh Independent)
This article originally appeared at the Pittsburgh Independent and is republished here with permission.
Hot wax, on its way: Construction has started on a new record manufacturing plant, Hellbender Vinyl, at 5760 Butler St. in Lawrenceville.

Scheduled to open next spring, the facility comes at a time when musicians face year-long waits for record pressings.

“Everyone’s getting pushed way to the back of the line in vinyl right now,” said co-owner Jeff Betten, president of Misra Records.  The ownership group includes Future Oak Recording’s Fredrick Arnold, and musician and entrepreneur Matt Dowling.

“It becomes incredibly difficult to plan your releases,” Dowling said. “Those are the stepping stones of growth [for a band].”

Records surged in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the RIAA, some 17 million records valuing $467 million were sold in the first half of 2021. That’s more than double CD sales in the same time period — the first time records outperformed CDs since the 1980s.

This heightened demand for vinyl, coupled with contractual obligations to print hundreds of thousands of records for major label artists like Adele, means that musicians who shell out thousands of dollars for records likely won’t get their hands on them for 12 months or more.

“We can do 7”, 10”, and 12” [records]” Betten said. “We can do picture discs, splatter discs. We’re able to insert glitter and confetti into records. We can even do the thing that KISS did, where they brought a vial of their blood in.”

(Courtesy image)

“Jeff’s promised three pints for the first run,” Dowling joked. The pair were at a Hellbender-sponsored DJ session with Steeltown Sweetboy at Kingfly Spirits, the plant’s first public event. They have plans for many more.

Betten served as general manager of Pittsburgh’s Wild Kindness record label until 2015, when he took over the GM position at Misra Records and Wild Kindness became an independent subsidiary of Misra. Dowling plays in Misra band Paperhaus.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Betten, who noted that conversations about opening a plant in Pittsburgh began with Future Oak’s Arnold nearly a decade ago. At the time, Future Oak was putting out 7” lathe-cut releases, an artisanal record-printing process that’s about as far from mass-production as can be. (Arnold did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.)

Despite affiliations with both Misra and Future Oak, Hellbender is its own distinct entity. Betten said local and national artists and labels have already started to contact Hellbender to ask about their printing capabilities, but they are hesitant to line up too many contracts for fear of limiting their ability to turn around product quickly for local musicians — maybe just a month or two to start.

“We’re here to serve the local musicians in Pittsburgh first and foremost,” he says. “We’re certainly not in the business to gouge independent artists. And we think that they’re going to choose us not only based on our price, but also our quality and service.”

Hellbender’s presses will come from Toronto’s Viryl Technologies. The pair estimate the state-of-the-art presses will be able to press some 38,000 records a month, assuming two, eight-hour shifts per day.

“This is phase one of making Pittsburgh a music city along the lines of Nashville,” Betten said. “We truly believe that the talent is here. It’s just a matter of giving them the resources.”

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