GZ Media: Czech firm is world leader in vinyl record production
GZ Media, based at Loděnice near Prague, produces vinyl records around the clock in order to meet huge demand. In fact the company, which also has three plants in North America, is the world’s biggest producer of a music medium that many thought was bound for the dustbin of history.
Are you one of the growing number of people again purchasing music on the once dominant delivery format of vinyl records? If so, there is a big chance part of your collection has been pressed up here in Czechia.
GZ Media, which is located in Loděnice, a small town near Prague, was founded in Communist Czechoslovakia in the late 1940s.
However, instead of going the way of many state enterprises from the era of the state-controlled economy, the firm has gone from strength to strength – and is today the biggest producer of vinyl on the planet.
Indeed last year the firm pressed more than 55 million records, including by major rock names such as The Rolling Stones and Black Sabbath.
At its flagship Loděnice plant, one of the eight it operates, CEO Michal Štěrba points to one of many vinyl presses on the factory floor.
“This is an automatic press. We construct and produce our own presses here. It’s the main means of production for making gramophone records. The one that is being pressed right now is by Marc Almond and it’s called Open All Night.”
Štěrba says there were a number of record production operations in the then Czechoslovakia before the war, but that changed following 1948.
“The history of Loděnice dates back to the period following the Communist takeover, when there was a consolidation of the industry, which was also nationalised at that time. A decision was taken to create one central place where gramophone records were to be produced. Loděnice was chosen, and the first record was pressed here in the year 1951.”
When the state-run enterprise was founded it was given the no-frills name Gramofonové závody, or Gramophone Plant, accounting for the GZ in today’s moniker.
The plant itself has a rather fascinating history. It was once a textile mill, but during the Nazi occupation of Bohemia and Moravia it was turned into a factory making parts for V1 and V2 rockets in World War II.
Getting back to its more recent function, the company did not just stick with making vinyl records.
It also got into other music formats, such as cassettes, which it began making in 1972, and compact discs, which it started producing in 1988. DVDs joined its portfolio in 2001.
Today GZ Media also makes a whole range of other items, including cosmetics.
But its main business is still records, of which it makes tens of millions a year, struggling to keep up with demand.
In fact these days many albums are only available on vinyl many months after their digital release, as producers such as GZ Media are unable to keep up with orders.
Michal Štěrba outlines the company’s long-term strategy.
“We always knew we wanted to be the last player making records, because of respect for the tradition that the production of records has. And at the same time the production did make economic sense, even though it was low. To our surprise, a product that was mainly an item of nostalgia became something that made economic sense. Sales are growing markedly and we are building the future of our company on that.”
Indeed, vinyl records – though clearly infinitely less important to the music industry than the now dominant streaming – have made something of a comeback in recent years.
Štěrba says he is not entirely sure why this has come about, but then offers the following suggestion.
“I would say that it’s similar to how, in today’s digital age, people still purchase physical books. The connection with something physical… when I like music, I don’t just consume it via some digital platform. Instead I want to have a product at home that I can display, that I can read the liner notes on, look at, show to friends. I can put it on my record player and it’s a whole other dimension of listening pleasure. It’s irreplaceable.”
And GZ Media really turns out a lot of records, including the limited edition picture discs and coloured vinyl beloved of hardcore collectors.
“We produced the fewest records sometime in the mid-1990s, when our output for the whole year – around 300,000 – was similar to our output in only two days today. We now press records around the clock and we make almost 200,000 a day. So that’s something like eight or nine thousand an hour.”
The plant in Loděnice doesn’t only turn out enormous amounts of vinyl. It also makes, among many other things, high quality record sleeves.
“At the turn of the millennium we, like everybody else, realised that the digital revolution was a really big thing. We saw that major changes were coming in how music reached people. We didn’t much expect that there would be a new physical format after the CD, or that records would come back in such major fashion. But because we wanted to survive, and it’s in our DNA to remain strong, we wondered what we would do. Our idea was to transform the company into one that also made the wonderful sleeves that go with records.”
Today GZ Media also has a number of plants abroad, including three in North America. They are in the Canadian town of Burlington, which is near Toronto, and in traditional music cities Memphis and Nashville in the United States.
Indeed, Nashville Record Pressing, GZ Media’s latest international venture, was only opened this year. The company also has a plant in France.
Looking to the future, Michal Štěrba says the outlook seems bright.
“Demand for vinyl records has been growing constantly for over 10 years now. I don’t know if it will grow for one more year, or 10 years – maybe it won’t grow at all. In any case it is already clear that it isn’t just a matter of fashion that will disappear overnight. There is a robust base of fans who are into the format. So we are firmly convinced that interest in records will remain strong. That’s why we are investing strongly in our brand.”
GZ Media celebrated 70 years of vinyl production last year, including with the publication of Gramofonka, a glossy coffee-table book exploring the plant’s history that is the same size as a 12-inch record.
Not prepared to rest on their laurels, the operators of GZ Media says they hope to produce up to 140 million vinyl records annually by the year 2024.