Furnace Record Pressing ignites local and national vinyl scene

As the company moves to Alexandria, it plans surge in record manufacturing.

Photo by Eliza Berkon

“You open the record, you read the liner notes, you play the record, you have to get up and change it. It’s very intimate, you know?” says Ali Miller, vice president of Furnace Record Pressing. “And I think it really appeals to people in the same way that people want farm-to-table food.”

The bubbly company executive—well-coiffed for the industry with a rush of frosty pink hair, a glittery blue top, distressed jeans and pumps—speaks quickly and beams as she discusses the resurgence of vinyl.

Tucked into the back of a nondescript industrial lot in Merrifield sits the former site of Furnace, the two-decade-old company known for churning out CDs, DVDs, USB drives and—more recently—a whole lot of vinyl. In early December, the neon green and white staff hallways were lined with moving boxes, but the work of the warehouse forged ahead, overflowing with racks of records by the likes of Beck and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. As the doors shut on its Fairfax property later that month, Furnace settled into its new Alexandria home—a 50,000-square-foot facility near the intersection of I-395 and I-495 that aims to produce 9 million records per year.

Miller is confident demand is high enough to warrant such a staggering figure, with 17.2 million records sold in the United States alone in 2016, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. Furnace will be one of just a handful of manufacturers in the country with such large-scale capacity, Miller says, helping to satiate a desire that Deloitte Global predicted would bring in $1 billion in sales in 2017 for the first time since the 20th century.

Photo by Eliza Berkon

“The need and the hunger for more vinyl is so strong that as soon as someone knew we were doing it, we were pressing these records,” says Miller, who helped oversee the manufacture of more than 3 million records in 2017. “The next thing you knew, we had tons and tons of customers and a lot of vinyl coming through the doors.”

Eric Astor, once part of the D.C. punk scene, started Furnace in 1996 after selling another distribution company, Lumberjack. (He reports having a penchant for “blue-collar” names.) Though Furnace’s initial focus was on CDs and DVDs, the business made vinyl its bread and butter in 2010, partnering with plants in Europe to outsource the pressing component and then handling packaging with its Virginia staff. In its Alexandria facility, Furnace will add pressing to its list of capabilities, with 16 on-site record presses.

Though it works with major labels—that represent names like Metallica, Led Zeppelin and Eric Church—the company prides itself on serving lesser-known artists and local labels such as Dischord Records.

“Because there is such a dearth of capacity for vinyl pressing, a lot of it is just swallowed up by these big guys,” Miller says. “So we’re really looking forward to making room in the industry for the smaller bands.”

In December, the Fairfax facility housed stacks of Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition, a new Grammy-nominated release of the 1977 musical and visual compilation sent into space. The Kickstarter project funding the project raised nearly seven times its goal, with $1.36 million in support. Whether new life-forms ever experience the sound of a record, it’s clear that today’s humans just can’t get enough.

(February 2018)