New York’s rich and varied musical history owes a lot to Will Socolov. As one of the founders of the now-legendary hip-hop imprint Sleeping Bag Records, Socolov is the guy who brought us EPMD and Mantronix. After Sleeping Bag’s dissolution, he started Freeze Records, which distributed the earliest work from one Shawn “Jay Z” Carter.
But despite the legacy that’s been built around him in hip-hop circles, his days as an A&R guru and label head have long passed. Socolov isn’t the first guy to leave that world behind him, and he won’t be the last. But you have to wonder how many of his peers stepped down from their seat atop the musical food chain to make a living physically cranking out the product he used to cash in on.
“The hip-hop world was changing, and it really wasn’t conducive for a white hip-hop guy to be an entrepreneur,” Socolov says of his decision to get out of the label business. “At least I wasn’t comfortable doing it. I had too many issues with too many groups, and it wasn’t fun.”
More than ten years later, Socolov is in the thick of a second career as a vinyl man. Not in the pack rat, record store junky sense, but rather as a guy who actually presses and manufactures records. After leaving the executive world behind, he and his brother, Ben, started pressing records at a facility on 26th Street in Manhattan. Business was good, and Socolov hasn’t looked back since.
“I started pressing vinyl more and more and more, and it became a huge business for us,” he recalls. “I just said, ‘You know what? I like this business better.’ That’s how things changed.”
In 2003 he opened up his own pressing plant, EKS Manufacturing, which in the last decade pressed more than eight million units for local labels including Captured Tracks, Sacred Bones, Daptone, Katorga Works, Northern Spy, and others. Skyrocketing rent forced him to shut down the Brooklyn plant in 2013, but Socolov didn’t waste time making his next move. He and his wife, with the help of a few investors, dropped more than $400,000 into building a new plant, Brooklyn Vinyl Works. With a new space on Powell Street in Brownsville, Socolov wasn’t given much to work with, noting that he sank close to $50,000 into the building to make it operational.
“We had to bring gas into the building; we had to bring in electricity,” he says. “The landlord said, ‘You’ve got to bring it in. It’s all on you.'”
Still, it’s a space, and while costly to get up and running, Brooklyn Vinyl Works is merely weeks away from being in business. With three presses functional and a fourth on the way from Russia, Socolov’s goal is operate a 24-hour plant, a mode of operation he says is easier on the machines than routinely flipping them on and off. He plans to begin pressing 20,000 units a week, a figure he wants to increase to 40,000 with the purchase of two additional presses.
That might sound like a lot to take on right out of the gate, but Socolov isn’t jumping into his new endeavor blind. He’s bringing the majority of his EKS clients with him, and the work is already beginning to trickle in.
“A lot of them have already expressed interest in coming back for some work,” he says. “Captured Tracks has given us 50,000 records in orders already. They’ve given us about ten jobs. Traffic has sent us four jobs. Daptone is supposed to be giving me five or six jobs to press.”
One of the biggest costs associated with getting the new plant off the ground is restoring and maintaining equipment. Socolov turned to Kickstarter to bring in additional funds to help pay technicians to restore the plant’s presses and other machinery. Those who donate to the cause can reap rewards including limited test pressings, a spot on the plant’s pressing queue, factory tours, and the opportunity to have your own record or project pressed by the plant.
“The best thing to do with machines is to shut them down, restore them, and make sure they’re all running correctly,” Socolov says of getting the plant’s equipment up to par. “Otherwise it’s like putting your finger in a dike. You plug one hole and another pops up somewhere else.”
As of July 9, plant is approximately halfway toward reaching its $100,000 fundraising goal with three days left in the campaign. But beyond the additional funds brought in through Kickstarter, the publicity the plant has generated through the campaign has helped Socolov line up a lot of jobs in advance of the plant’s August opening.
In an era where physical music is increasingly being decommodified thanks to online streaming services, pressing vinyl sounds like a fool’s errand — until you look at the statistics. Vinyl sales in the United States doubled from 2013 to 2014, a statistic that puzzles Socolov himself. He posits a few theories, noting that many vinyl records today are packaged with digital download codes, but his guess as to what’s behind vinyl’s resurgence is as good as ours. But really, he doesn’t need an explanation. People are buying, and that’s good enough for him.
“The funny thing is, you ask me, but I can ask you the same thing,” he says. “I’m 59. I have loads of friends who used to be vinyl collectors. They don’t really play their records anymore, but now their kids or their kids’ friends are into vinyl. They’re really into it. It’s not going away.”
Neither is he.