Making Lots Of Records
Many producers have, over the course of the last 40
years, produced "local" or "vanity" releases that have
sold a thousand records or so, primarily selling a few
copies at performances. Many of the original
Motown acts like Smokey Robinson and the Miracles had
their local releases with miniscule sales before
becoming national-selling recording artists.
Berry Gordy envisioned sell a much higher volume of
records sold on a national basis, with his first
Tamala record label.
In order to sell records nationally, records need to
be shipped to hundreds of cities across a 3000 mile
span. Sending boxes of records 3000 miles costs
several times the amount it costs to send boxes 400
miles to a nearby city. Because of this, major record
companies, like RCA in the 1960s, pressed and
distributed records from different plants located in
different regions of the United States, with the
Mississippi River being a major dividing line of the
regions. The regions were West, Midwest and
Individually cut "master" recordings would have to be
made and shipped to 3 different major plants. An
initial supply of six masters (3 plants, 2 copies
each) would be enough to press several hundred
thousand records. If record sales started
approaching gold record levels, plants would need a
reorder of masters to press all those records.
With the amount of plants and the amount of records
Motown was releasing in the mid-1960's they needed 4
disc recording engineers and four disc-mastering
suites to cut the initial Quality Control test discs,
plus cut all the masters and reorder masters needed
for the pressing plants. Motown's solution was
to do the Quality Control test cuts in house, along
with any emergency masters needed for rush releases.
They used the services of RCA studios in Chicago to do
the masters for the pressing plant while using the in
house facilities (my department) to determe the
quality standard for the masters.
If you had a hit record on your hands, you sure liked
RCA to press your records, because each plant could
churn out 30,000 records in a couple of days, because
of all the semi-automated pressing machines they had
to use. But Motown releasing a new artist
nationally required a lot less records (like 5000
records) shipped to a lot of places. So Motown
had a series of three additional "independent" plants
it used in it's distribution system.
American Record Pressing in Owosso, Michigan was an
example of one of these independent plants. It
had 25 presses and 80% or more of its business was
pressing up records for Motown. The plant would
usually spend its day pressing recorders for current,
and past releases. It was also ready to deliver
thousands of records within 24 hours for rush
releases, like "It's The Same Old Song."
So Motown had the best of two worlds in its pressing
and distribution system with three independent plants
plus three major pressing plants at it's disposal.
The independent plants could provide the initial
shipment of records to stores and radio stations.
When the sales started exceeding tens of thousands of
copies, the major plants could kick in that really
could provide millions of copiers if needed.
After a record faded in popularity but still sold
steadily, the independent plants could service the
Motown's pressing and distribution system was a big
factor in Motown becoming the largest independent
record company in the world in the Mid 1960s.