The history of the Artone vinyl factory in Haarlem
The past 20 years (1998-2018)
Record industry – Ton VERMEULEN
Introduction by Ariane Slinger
Casper SLINGER (my father) and his brother Willem are the founders of the vinyl records factory ARTONE in Haarlem that was built in the Waarderpolder in 1957.
At the end of 1956 the two brothers were active in the oil industry with their father and succeeded in making a huge profit because of the Suez crisis. They had kept a vast oil reserve in the Netherlands. Suddenly the price of this oil increased tremendously because of the transport problems to Europe. That lasted from the end of 1956 to the beginning of 1957. Suddenly they became very rich.
This permitted them to make a dream come true: setting up their own Record Company!
The Slinger brothers were ardent jazz lovers. Louis Armstrong and Tony Bennet were among Casper’s favourites. The two bought American jazz records at the Beethovenstraat in Amsterdam. In a small boutique, Glory, they befriended a certain John Vis, who worked there as a salesman. He had a profound knowledge of music and as a consequence of the conversations with John Vis, Casper and Willem developed the idea to start their own record company and to employ him as a Director.
It was Casper’s idea to call the new company Artone. He used the expression “C’est le ton [Artone] qui fait la musique” his whole life and that became the company’s slogan.
The Slinger brothers discovered that most Dutch record companies showed relatively little interest in introducing jazz records to the market. This was their chance! They decided to travel to America. They visited all the American jazz labels and offered their services: to press their records in the Netherlands and to establish a distribution network in Europe for them.
In 1957 the former hotel Funckler in the Kruisstraat in Haarlem was bought that was converted to an office building. Immediately after that Casper built a factory in the Waarderpolder in Haarlem and invested much money in expensive German machines to be able to produce their own vinyl records, and the Company took off!
Wim [Bill] Slinger, Dave Brubeck, Casper Slinger
From 1957 to 1970 ARTONE became extremely successful in producing records for all the main American records labels and had also several Dutch artists under contract.
In 1961 ARTONE became the distributor of the American CBS label in the Benelux and later on in Europe.
In 1971 the CBS GROUP acquired ARTONE and the vinyl record factory from the Slinger Brothers. End of the eighties CBS was acquired by SONY MUSIC and the name of the Company changed to Sony Music Entertainment (Netherlands) BV.
In 1998 SONY MUSIC sold its Record Factory to one of his clients, Ton Vermeulen, who changed the Company’s name to “Record Industry”. Ton, against all odds, survived the difficult times that the Vinyl Industry has been going through and with the revival of Vinyl these past years his factory is now the biggest vinyl records producer in Europe!
Thanks to him the old ARTONE factory of the Slinger brothers is living an entire new life.
After Casper Slinger passed away in 2016 his widow Adriana and his eldest daughter Ariane Slinger have been invited to make a “Tour of Honour” of the record factory by Ton Vermeulen and his wife Mieke on April 12th, 2017, the pictures of which have been added to this article.
Hereunder you will find the English translation of an article written by the Dutch historian Harry Knipschild in June 2018, who was also invited on this same Tour with the Slinger family, who tells about the start of the record industry in Haarlem, the tour at the factory and Ton Vermeulen’s story, how he came into the record industry and what he has achieved at Record Industry after he acquired the factory over the past 20 years.
Article of Harry Knipschild
pictures of Ariane Slinger
Ton Vermeulen, director of “Record Industry” in Haarlem
When it comes to manufacturing vinyl records, the Dutch city of Haarlem has played an interesting role for many years. Ger Oord (1913-2010), who was born in Haarlem, was the first person to install record presses after the Second World War. Oord was a really good salesperson, but to sell records, you did need to have them yourself.
In 1948, Oord told a journalist from the monthly magazine Tuney Tunes that ‘I don’t see many opportunities for importing records to Holland in the coming years. However, the demand for good records is so great that a factory in Holland would be a good idea. We can get the raw materials and stamper ready-made from England. The only difference the buyer will notice are the words “Made in Holland”. Otherwise these records will be completely the same as their English counterparts.’ With these words, the entrepreneur explained that buyers had no need to worry about the quality of the product.
Oord’s decision laid the foundation for ‘Haarlem, the City of Vinyl’, as it would later come to be known. Record companies like Bovema, Artone, Negram, Ariola, Delta, and CBS were based there, and you could find them on the Kruisstraat, Jansstraat, Zijlweg, and of course on the Bronsteeweg in the nearby town of Heemstede. The ‘Ten Days of the Record’ – the joint campaign for promoting records back in the 1980s – was also organised from Haarlem.
The old office building of Artone on the Kruisstraat in Haarlem – ex Hotel Funckler – picture Ariane Slinger
Although Ger Oord was the first, he was not the only one who dared to build and equip a large record pressing plant. Some ten years later, in 1958, the Slinger brothers – who owned Artone – did the same. The complex they built in the Waarderpolder industrial area was so large that Artone specialised in exporting the records that came out of the factory. Because of this approach, Artone became an attractive partner for American record companies in particular – they could then deliver their goods to the European market through Haarlem, which is the capital of the province of North Holland.
CBS Records was prepared to pay the Slinger brothers a large sum of money for Artone, including the factory ‘in the polder’. The Artone factory became the property of the American CBS Records and then of the Japanese firm Sony, which took over CBS in 1988. Ten years later, in 1998, the production firm came into Dutch hands again. In 1998, Ton Vermeulen became managing director of Record Industry, as the vinyl factory has been known since then.
In 2010, after a guided tour through the factory in Haarlem, Ghislaine Pahnke explained again how vinyl records are made.
‘So how do you make a vinyl record? The provided audio is cut on the cutting lathe in a lacquer (a disc of aluminium coated with a layer of acetate) or DMM (a stainless steel disc coated with a copper layer). Using a cutting stylus (a diamond stylus for a DMM and a sapphire stylus for the lacquer), the audio is etched as a groove in the layer. The dynamics, the sound level, the audio spectrum, and the stereo width determine how deep the groove will ultimately be. For a record with two sides, two cuttings are made, for side A and side B.
In the cutting room – picture Ariane Slinger
‘Then the stampers are pressed. Stampers are used to make the final records. To do this, the lacquer is sprayed with silver and then hung in a bath that uses electrolysis to adhere a layer of nickel to the silver. At a certain point this layer of nickel is thick enough to be pulled off the lacquer.
This process produces the first copy, the “negative”. The negative is again hung in a bath, and a layer of nickel is formed. This layer is the “positive”.
‘Then the positive is hung in a bath, and the layer this produces is the stamper. The stampers are put onto the press to press grooves into the vinyl. A set of stampers can produce 1,000 to 1,500 records. The vinyl is delivered in granular form and exposed to high temperatures and pressure to form a kind of paste, with is also called a “biscuit” or “puck”. This “biscuit” is placed between the stamper on the press, and in twenty seconds is pressed into a record. The record is then removed and the edges are trimmed. Once it is put into an inner sleeve, the record is set aside to cool down. Finally, the record is transported to the finishing department, where it is put into outer sleeves and provided with a ticker, insert, or plastic seal.’
The biscuits – picture Ariane Slinger
The press – picture Ariane Slinger
A personal memory
There is something fascinating and artistic about the making of a record. I (HK) well remember the first time I visited such a factory. It was 1964, and I was at Philips in Baarn together with Casper Koelman (Inelco). Right after we entered I heard ‘Little Red Rooster’ by the Rolling Stones for the first time. At full blast. They were working on turning the tape of the song (see above, the ‘audio’) into a lacquer disc. It seemed to me that this was all being done very professionally.
A bit further along in the building, I found myself in a large warm space with machines that reminded me of an industrial era I had thought was a thing of the past. The pressing of records did not strike me as particularly advanced. I encountered a similar situation some years later when I regularly visited Rien Duisterhof’s small pressing plant Cruquius on behalf of the record company Iramac – a similarly antiquated atmosphere where people were having a good time but working in factory-like conditions.
After 1973 – the first oil crisis, when the price of the raw materials (oil!) skyrocketed – I was allowed, as an employee of Polygram, to take a look inside the factory in Baarn. People were experimenting with ‘injection stampering’, a new method for making singles with fewer raw materials. Philips (Polygram) had implemented the use of robots. For some time, pressing the record and placing the newly pressed record in the album sleeve had been happening with virtually no human interference. I was extremely impressed. I also seem to remember that the albums were lighter because fewer materials had been used.
When in April of 2017 I was given a tour of Record Industry in Haarlem along with the Slinger family and my Greetje, it all felt familiar. In fact, everything that was happening was the same as nearly half a century earlier in Baarn.
visit of Mrs Adriana Slinger at Record Industry, Casper Slinger’s widow – picture Ariane Slinger
Group’s picture, Ton and Mieke Vermeulen, Adriana Slinger, Ariane Slinger and husband Carlo Rosellini, Harry and Greetje Knipschild
On 26 April 2018 I visited Record Industry for the second time, this time for an interview with Ton Vermeulen, who owns the vinyl factory together with his wife Mieke.
Ton Vermeulen was born on 26 February 1964 in the town of Badhoevedorp. It was the year the Beatles and the Rolling Stones had their big international breakthroughs with singles like ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’, ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, ‘Not Fade Away’, ‘It’s All Over Now’, and the previously mentioned ‘Little Red Rooster’. In the same year, both groups gave shows – the Beatles, three times (in Hillegom and Blokker), and the Stones, a relatively short performance in Scheveningen.
Ton heard his first pop music in the Top Pop era. He didn’t have a rebellious musical taste. At home they had LPs like ‘Alle 13 goed’ [‘13 Good Songs’] (Phonogram) with popular tunes. Thirteen songs for ten guilders. The first records he was allowed to buy in the 1970s were singles by The Sweet (‘Poppa Joe’, 1972), Middle of the Road (‘Sacramento’, 1971), Tony Christie (‘Is This the Way to Amarillo’, 1971), and The Osmonds (‘Crazy Horses’) that he saw in the AVRO television programme ‘Een van de acht’ [‘One of the Eight’], presented by Mies Bouwman (1929-2018).
Together with one of his cousins, he visited the traditional Queen’s Day (30 April) ‘free markets’, where large quantities of old 45s were being sold for a guilder or so each. Cousin Peter was a hard bargainer. Ton saw that someone had several hundred singles on display. When the seller wasn’t prepared to lower the price, his cousin offered to buy the whole lot in one go for half a guilder each. After some hesitation the seller agreed, to Ton Vermeulen’s surprise. The two went home with a mountain of vinyl.
Disco took off during the 1970s. Lots of singles were now being brought onto the market in two formats: first, as the usual 45. But also – and this was a new development – in the form of a 12-inch record that contained a longer version that was especially suited to dance to. These large vinyl discs with only one number on the long A side were bought not only by ordinary consumers, but also by bars and restaurants and the discotheques that were flourishing in those days.
For the record industry, the 12-inch record was an interesting means of generating additional revenue. These kinds of records made it to the charts relatively easily. If I’m not mistaken, Gloria Gaynor was either the first or one of the first artists to break through that way from New York. Gaynor’s ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ became an international hit in 1974. More artists followed this trend. In 1975, Donna Summer made a deep impression with ‘Love to Love You Baby’.
Lengthening popular singles was actually not new. During his club activities, Dutch DJ Felix Meurders had already learned you could stretch music endlessly if you fiddled around with two copies. On the radio, you could shorten a single you didn’t like in the same way. In 2011, Felix told me he did this when presenting the hit parade with popular Dutch-language repertoire.
During his school days (senior general secondary education (HAVO)) Ton Vermeulen fell under the spell of black disco music, especially the 12-inch versions. In 1979, he purchased one of these large discs with his own pocket money: ‘Knock On Wood’ by the American singer Amii Stewart, a disco version of Eddie Floyd’s soul hit from 1966. That record had a lasting influence on his musical taste.
On the internationally oriented website of Record Industry you can read the following: ‘The first record I bought with my own money was a 12-inch record by Amii Stewart, “Knock On Wood”. Although my budget was limited, more records followed, such as a great live album by Gary’s Gang. In the late ’70s, disco was the thing. I loved it very much’. When talking about disco, Ton meant black music in particular.
I asked him whether back then he had aspired to become a professional in the record business. Not at all, he answered. Music was just a hobby, nothing more. And Ton also had another interest: animals. Since childhood he’d been bringing animals home: cats, salamanders, birds, and the like. He often helped out at the local pet store. Maybe he could earn a living doing this later on, he thought to himself.
Music started to play an ever greater role in Ton’s life. Peter Sloothaak, the cousin he used to accompany when he combed the markets looking for second-hand singles, was able to get him involved with Radio Klasse in Amstelveen, one of the many illegal pirate radio stations that were mushrooming in and around Amsterdam. Despite – or maybe because of – their popularity, these broadcasting stations were often tracked down, stripped of their equipment, and taken off the air.
Radio Klasse handled it in a clever way. Ton on his website: ‘We had a line connection from the studio to the transmitter, unlike most other illegal stations. This meant that when we were spotted by the authorities we only lost the transmitter – gear was easily replaceable – and not the studio.’
Ton’s activities extended beyond his work on the air. He was also active in his birthplace of Badhoevedorp, where, with his stack of records, he managed to get hundreds of young people to dance to his favourite music.
Discovering new music was of ongoing importance. His searches brought him to record shops that had specialised in imports like Attalo, Monopol, Music Centre, and Rhythm Import. He also went to see how other DJs did things. He arrived at the Amstelstraat in Amsterdam – at Flora Palace, a cinema famous for showing Disney films.
Flora Palace had been put to a new use. On the current website you can read that ‘In September 1980, Flora Palace opened its doors. Long before this date, lines of children stood before these same doors every day to buy a ticket for a Disney film in the quiet old Flora Disney theatre in the Amstelstraat in Amsterdam. Some years later these same small children were standing in front of the same box office and at the same doors to buy a ticket to let loose on the largest dance floor in Amsterdam. Whipped up by a pumping bass and an endless supply of dazzling decibels, the audience went wild. Flora Palace was large, high, cool, trendy, and absolutely impressive. The music was incredible and innovative!
‘Slowly but surely, Flora Palace took off and became a smashing success. The audience consisted of hip music-loving people from Amsterdam: students, construction workers, bank directors, transvestites, gay people, straight people, artists, shop assistants, sausage-sellers, and the unemployed. There were live shows, bingo evenings, and mud fights.’
DJ Peter Duijkersloot, owner of Rhythm Import, was Ton Vermeulen’s great example. ‘His music was simply spectacular, and had often just arrived from the US. Before going to work on Saturdays, Peter would drive to the airport to pick up the latest imports and then quickly listen to all these records again in the dark room behind his shop’, according to the Flora Palace website.
The layout of Flora Palace was the same as the layout of the trendy discotheques in New York. Duijkersloot stood on a scaffold high above the dancing crowd, and presented the music without the sometimes long introductions you got from radio DJs.
A good DJ knew how to make a smooth transition from record to record, and really sensed how to keep people on the floor. That was the way it went in New York too. And the way it still goes. Ton: ‘Today’s DJs have continued this trend. They entertain their audience using only a few words.’
Every week Peter Duijkersloot put together the Rhythm Import Top 50. Ton Vermeulen used this as the basis for his own activities in Badhoevedorp and at Radio Klasse.
More than a hobby
Ton Vermeulen had to serve in the army, but was not cut out for it. After some weeks he was once again an ordinary civilian and found himself looking for a job. Ton got the chance to run a pet store on the Gelderlandplein in Amsterdam, but this was not a success. He had discovered earlier he was allergic to some animals. He also discovered that animals had to be fed every day, also during the weekends and holidays. After a short time he knew he wasn’t destined to continue living this way.
In fact, Ton had to start a totally new life. He decided to study IT and became a programmer, first in a permanent position with a company, and later increasingly as a temp and freelancer, and went on to start his own business (through Datapool). One of the people who inspired him was Eckart Wintzen (1939-2008), for whom he also worked.
Ton knew how to use his newly acquired skills for his musical activities. For example, he set up a system for Rhythm Import that the company could use to place orders using the fax machine, which in those days was a new way of communicating. Maybe without noticing it himself – and according to him, he didn’t aspire to this back then – he entered the music business step by step.
You can read about him on the Record Industry website: ‘Rhythm Import grew rapidly. At first it was just a tiny store. Then it became a distributor. After a while a bigger office space was needed. I was already studying to become a programmer, which came in handy when the company needed to be automated. Everything took off quite fast from then on. I was involved with other radio stations, such as VLOH Radio in Haarlemmermeer and Decibel in Amsterdam. I began managing artists, taking care of everything, from checking their contracts and booking gigs to making sure they got to the venue in Leeuwarden in time. These were hectic times’.
One act that Ton took under his wing was the trio Tripple Pleasure. He got to know one of the three lads through his mother, who worked at security at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. With Tripple Pleasure, in 1987 he found his way to producer Jacques Zwart, Studio Wisseloord, and the record company Dureco. One thing led to another. Soon he had his own label, Fresh Fruit, and in 1994 he even had his own record company, Touché Records.
Ton Vermeulen, who continued to work as a programmer, found a partner in Marcel Nothdurft. They became co-owners of the small company Mox Music, which they founded themselves: ‘I met Marcel Nothdurft, an old friend from VLOH Radio, at a disco night. We got talking and it appeared that Marcel was doing something similar to myself, so we decided to join forces. We had some good years. One of our biggest successes was “Give It Up” by The Good Men, which was a project of the producers DJ Zki and Dobre for whom we run their management. It was released on their own Fresh Fruit label, and got high in the charts everywhere. Around 1994 we wanted to have our own imprint and started Touché Records. Touché was a huge success, in Europe and in America. We released tracks by Carl Craig, Loophole, Booka Shade, Paperclip People, Laidback Luke and Trancesetters – all underground dance.’
In their company, Ton was particularly involved with organising things such as contracts and automation. ‘Marcel did other things.’
Marcel Nothdurft and Ton Vermeulen reached the same conclusion as Ger Oord did in 1948: to sell records, you had to have them. But it wasn’t always so easy to have records made. After the introduction of the compact disc and its overwhelming success, the international record concerns increasingly abandoned the manufacture of vinyl records. EMI (which bought Ger Oord’s Bovema) had moved production to Uden in the province of North Brabant. Almost all of the attention of the majors was focused on manufacturing CDs, and they believed that vinyl had no future.
Sony’s factory in Haarlem – Artone’s old international production company that had been established in the 1950s – was, for the time being, a notable exception. More and more, Ton had his 12-inch records made at Sony. ‘The vinyl was pressed at the Sony Music pressing plant in Haarlem. We were their biggest customer,’ he said about this period in de mid-1990s. And what they did, they did well. ‘I loved working with Sony; they were efficient and delivered great quality’.
Apparently, Sony didn’t have much reason to be in the Netherlands. The factory wasn’t there to press records for third parties, but for its own purposes. It was doubtful whether the Dutch manufacturing centre would continue to exist.
In the beginning of 1998, the decision was made. The Japanese didn’t see why they should keep their Dutch factory open. According to Ton, Sony had made an inaccurate and pessimistic assessment of the market for vinyl, which they estimated to be around 10 million LPs. In reality, around the year 2000, the demand was approximately 225 million LPs.
Sony approached their most important customer – Mox Music, Ton Vermeulen and Marcel Nothdurft’s company – with an offer for a takeover, Ton explained to me on 26 April. ‘Their first proposal, which they made in 1997, was a complete takeover of all activities and employees. In that case, the factory would have switched hands “without anyone noticing”. Mieke, my wife, was an accountant. She connected me with a takeover specialist at her office. Thanks to his input, we were able to reach a good agreement. We would continue to produce Sony’s vinyl records. The tables were turned, in a sense, and Sony became our customer. In this way we could finance the takeover. The building in Haarlem was bought by the well-known entrepreneur Erik de Vlieger, and we leased the building from him. And we started with a minimal crew of seventeen.’
The start of Record Industry
The purchase of the Sony factory didn’t go unnoticed in the record industry. Ton was soon approached by the director of the British EMI factory, who asked whether he wanted to buy that company too. Ton Vermeulen: ‘EMI really didn’t believe in the future of vinyl. And I did. In my opinion, they misjudged the market because they didn’t have a clear picture of all those independent dance labels that really did well with music on vinyl.
‘The director turned out to be an honest man. When he came to visit here in Haarlem and saw how well the machines in our factory functioned, he advised me in a personal capacity not to take over the EMI factory. Instead, we succeeded in creating an agreement in which we would produce EMI’s vinyl. That way we could grow, thanks to Sony and EMI. And of course we had our own activities.’
In a later article, Ton explained that there was an enormous overcapacity in the industry, and as a result there was a major shake-out among the group of pressing plants, including the demolition of the large Philips factory in Baarn in 1995. ‘Because of this, Haarlem got more orders. One man’s pain is another man’s gain, shall we say.’
But it wasn’t all roses. Running a factory took some getting used to. For a start, Ton was less connected to the rapidly changing dance scene than in previous years. For this reason, he and his partner Nothdurft decided to split up the activities by exchanging shares. Ton concentrated entirely on Record Industry. In the future he would do this together with his wife Mieke, who had become bored with her work as an accountant.
Ton also had to survive a crisis of confidence among his employees. Was he really the ideal director for such a company? It even got to the point that his employees proposed that the company should be managed by a colleague. In this case, Ton would step back as executive director and only work in the background. But it didn’t get that far, he explained.
After the start-up period, the factory picked up steam. But this wasn’t achieved easily. There were fewer and fewer orders, and there was also an economic crisis. Ton: ‘In 2001, we had a terrific year with a production of 7.5 million records; in 2007, this was 5 million, and in 2010, less than 3 million. To compensate for the drop in demand from the multinationals, we actively acquired rights and took the initiative to press and distribute vinyl. But even that wasn’t enough. In the end we had to have a thorough reorganisation. In 2010, our future looked bleak. Did we still have the right to exist?’
Change for the better in 2010
Just when things were looking bad for Record Industry, the tide turned. Music lovers had become fed up with CDs in a way. This small disc with an inlay (rather than an attractive sleeve) in a box was no longer seen as a precious object. Also, downloading was becoming less popular. Furthermore, many people thought that records sounded better than CDs. The demand for vinyl began to soar.
At the time, positive articles appeared in the press about what was seen as a positive development. In an article in the newspaper NRC Handelsblad on 8 January 2010, Jan Vollaard observed, ‘The return of the splendid double sleeve. The old-fashioned vinyl record is back, at the expense of the CD.
‘“Daddy, what’s that thing that looks like a big black CD?” It happens less and less often that children need to ask their parents what a vinyl record is. Young people once again have a working turntable in the living room or bedroom, and play, buy, and collect music on vinyl records. In the CD store there is once again a large bin with records, and all relevant music is released on vinyl. New vinyl is being produced in large quantities again.
‘Dance music was the real driving force behind the survival of the vinyl record. DJs had to buy vinyl, because there were no alternatives in the era before Tiesto made the CD player the new standard.’
Things had changed. Vollaard pointed to the sales of vinyl LPs by Miles Davis, Jeff Buckley, and Michael Jackson. ‘Good reasons to bring the old pickup down from the attic, or to buy a handy automatic turntable,’ he advised his readers. ‘The true audiophile feels that records sound warmer than CDs. They would rather have a nice double sleeve with beautiful artwork than a measly CD booklet.’
In the article, Ton Vermeulen also gave his point of view. The director of Record Industry said that in 1998, 250 million records came off the presses worldwide every year. Around 2010, the global production was 20 to 40 million vinyl discs a year, divided among approximately twenty factories worldwide.
Vollaard: ‘Every year, the Record Industry factory produces around 4 million records on 12-inch LPs or maxi-singles, 7-inch singles, and even vinyl discs with the diameter of the old-fashioned 78s. Although it has always been possible to get U2 and Madonna on vinyl, Anouk now released her first LP, the new “For Bitter or Worse”, which was recently pressed at Record Industry.’
Three months later, Ghislaine Pahnke was even more optimistic in an article entitled ‘The LP is Making a Comeback’: ‘You might think that vinyl records are no longer being produced. With the coming of the CD, a lot has changed in the world of music. Nevertheless, Record Industry is doing very well in these hard times. This factory was established in Haarlem in 1957, and still presses 4 to 5 million records on an annual basis, which are sold mainly in Europe.
‘It is become increasingly clear that there are still artists who are making records, and this factory has pressed a lot of them. There is an enormous archive. For instance, Anouk, Outkast, Robbie Williams, Norah Jones, and U2 have been released on vinyl. Even records by the Beatles and Michael Jackson are still being pressed. People clearly still want records, and more and more artists and bands like Giovanca, Wouter Hamel, and Spinvis are putting their hits on records,’ said Pahnke.
In the newspaper de Volkskrant, Berend Jan Bockting reported that same month that internet company Bol.com had decided to start with selling vinyl records. ‘Business is good,’ said marketing director Michel Scheffer. According to the company, customers had often asked about a vinyl version of a certain album, and Bol.com responded to this.
Ton Vermeulen was quoted here as well. After all, he was the ‘director of the largest record pressing facility in Europe’. According to him, records were bought by ‘conscious consumers’. According to Vermeulen, the popularity of USB turntables stimulated the demand for vinyl. ‘Thousands of these have been sold over the past years. Even the department store de Bijenkorf has a record player you can link with your iPod in no time.’
It turned out to be difficult to come up with unambiguous statistics. Even the industry organisation NVPI found it hard to estimate the number of records purchased. ‘Over the past years, vinyl has been mainly sold in speciality shops, not in the chains. We don’t get these figures.’ Wouter Rutten of the NVPI spoke in terms of a ‘stubborn niche’. A cautious estimate indicated a market share of 2 percent.
At the end of 2010, you could read the following: ‘The total surface area of Record Industry on the Nijverheidsweg in the Waarderpolder in Haarlem is 6,000 square metres. That is bigger than a soccer field. In the hall there are thirty-three record presses: twenty-six of them produce 30-centimetre LPs, three of them produce 25-centimetre LPs (78s), and four of them produce the 45s, or singles – on average, good for 30,000 discs a day. Thirty people work in production and ten in the office.’
Vinyl had become a trendy product. In an article for broadcasting organisation VPRO, Vermeulen said that in the popular television programme ‘De wereld draait door’ [‘The World Keeps Turning’], presenter Matthijs van Nieuwkerk had, in the past, waved a CD around. This had now become an LP. ‘If you don’t have a record, you’re no longer cool as an artist,’ he said.
Funny poster in Record Industry office- picture Ariane Slinger
During our conversation on 26 April, Ton Vermeulen provided some clear figures. Since the disastrous year of 2010 with 2.8 million records, production had skyrocketed. He told Louis Dekker of broadcasting company NOS that there had been a whopping 40 percent growth in revenue. And I understand that this trend has continued, to 9.4 million in 2016 and 10.3 million in 2017.
Last year he told me that no fewer than 100,000 copies of Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd, 1973) had been produced in Haarlem. This number had been exceeded by Kind of Blue (1959) by Miles Davis: 250,000 copies. This was far more than the jazz album had ever sold. In his book Inside the Record Business, CBS president Clive Davis looked back at the trumpet player’s peak years at the end of the 1950s, when albums like Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain were sold in numbers that totalled 100,000.
Time and again, Ton Vermeulen emphasised in the media that vinyl has been on the market as a recording medium for sixty years. ‘It’s the only music carrier you can actually see playing. A CD disappears into a kind of drawer. This is why you see more and more records in series and movies. There’s no other way to communicate music visually.’
According to him, this visibility is also one of the reasons for buying records or giving them as gifts. ‘You don’t give someone a piece of paper with a download code for his or her birthday. You do give a record, it’s something you can see. The same applies to a large collection. No one is impressed by tens of thousands of songs on your PC. But they are impressed by that long row of records.’
The market share of vinyl would now have increased to well over 20 percent. According to Vermeulen it was difficult, if not impossible, to make an accurate calculation. A marketing research organisation like Nielsen did not succeed at this, in any case. Although the polls were done correctly, they were not broad enough.
Finally, the question as to how things will develop further. No one can see into the future.
Ton is optimistic. But I remember that he made some qualifying remarks last year. Don’t exaggerate the growth, he suggested. When I asked him about these remarks, he could no longer remember making them. But in April 2018 as well, he was both optimistic and cautious. Not that the interest in vinyl records would disappear again. That wasn’t going to happen. It was human nature to collect things.
His biggest ‘problem’ was that the current top acts – in contrast to the past – were releasing so few new products onto the market. ‘In the past, artists earned their money by selling music carriers, in the form of records or otherwise. That’s different now. In the past, they performed to sell records and in this way earn royalties. Today they earn their living with performances, publishing, merchandising, and other rights (for instance, Spotify). Recording new albums doesn’t have the same priority it used to. There simply aren’t that many top products available. Fortunately, the existing catalogue has plenty of room for growth. So, we’re really not worried.’
picture of record sleeves in record industry offices – picture Ariane Slinger
‘Zo gaan we vooruit!’, Tuney Tunes, April 1948
Clive Davis, Clive: Inside the Record Business, New York, 1975
Jan Vollaard, ‘Comeback van het vinyl. Persen vinylplaten groeit’, NRC Handelsblad, 8 January 2010
Ghislaine Pahnke, ‘De LP is bezig aan een comeback’, Vers Pers, 8 April 2010
Berend Jan Bockting, ‘Ook de gewone muziekliefhebber vraagt vinyl. Bol.com slaat toe’, de Volkskrant, 13 April 2010
‘Record Industry Haarlem. “Wij zijn de grootste van Europa”’, Vinyltijdschrift, 15 December 2010
Louis Dekker, ‘Muziekindustrie is vindingrijk’, NOS, 24 January 2011
Robert Haagsma, ‘Ton Vermeulen’, in Passion For Vinyl, 2013
Hugo Hoes, ‘Op bezoek bij vinylperserij Record Industry’, VPRO, 15 April 2014
Rolinde Hoorntje, ‘Leve de langspeelplaat’, NRC Handelsblad, 12 December 2014
Peter Voskuil, Dutch Mountains, A