See more of the story

Last month at a large, nondescript industrial warehouse across County Road 81 from Osseo High School, rock 'n' roll history was being made.

Literally "made," in the manufacturing sense.

A newly unearthed 1971 live album by rock legend Stephen Stills — part of the giant slate of LPs arriving for Saturday's international Record Store Day — was on an assembly line being converted from heated, oozing PVC goo into solid black 12-inch discs.

Those LPs signaled a first: Some of the vinyl albums being sold in Minnesota on Record Store Day this year were actually pressed in Minnesota.

"You'll soon be able to pick one of these up here at the Electric Fetus or in record stores across the country," bragged Justin Kristal, founder of Copycats Media, pointing to a large row of the Stills records yet to be hand-tucked into their cardboard double-fold jackets.

With the reborn popularity of vinyl LPs — they outsold CD sales in 2022 for the first time since 1987 — bands and record companies faced a logjam in vinyl production in recent years. Most of the 30 or fewer U.S. vinyl pressing plants still in operation were outdated and prone to breakdowns, leading to wait times of up to a year for albums to be pressed.

Egged on by their customers, Kristal's Minneapolis-born company — which made its mark printing up CDs in the 1990s — and its parent company the ADS Group have invested $2 million (and counting) to open the state's first major vinyl pressing plant.

Copycats' plant just started up in November, and with only one of its pressing machines operating at first. That was enough to get LPs by Sufjan Stevens, Alicia Keys and Dessa to stores before Christmas.

They also made a lot of test-run LPs that wound up in the garbage.

"It was a bit of a learning curve, and a lot of effort to make sure we get it right," said Greg Schoener, vice president of quality and new technology. "It's not the kind of thing where you just hit the 'On' switch."

By March, the new Copycats facility had four presses up and rocking, each popping out about two LPs per minute.

The 65,000-square-foot facility's output in the interim has ranged from pressing 23,000 vinyl copies of hip-hop star Macklemore's latest album to a 500-unit run for rootsy Twin Cities trio the Last Revel. Other customers in between have included Travis Scott, the Shins, Papa Roach and Orville Peck.

With two more presses on the way from Swedish company Pheenix Alpha, Copycats plans to ultimately crank out about 2.5 million vinyl LPs per year.

The 4,000-unit Stills run was part of a crunch of work leading up to Record Store Day, an annual shopping day for music fanatics that feeds limited-edition LPs to independent shops around the country.

Stills' album could be seen in all its forms on one of Copycats' computerized pressing machines — shaped like large kiosks with various screens, metal arms, valves and buttons adorning them.

First, the heated, liquid polyvinyl chloride (PVC) substance was poured and pressed into the "stampers" (aluminum pressing discs). Then the cooled, finished, bare, black vinyl LPs would each get the circular labels stuck to each side. The machine then inserted the finished LPs into paper sleeves, which were then hand-inserted into the cardboard record jackets before being covered in shrink wrap.

Most record nerds would light up with excitement seeing the process in action — which is mostly what the Copycats/ADS staff at the new facility are.

"A lot of companies building new pressing plants now are doing it just for business reasons, and they're coming in cold," Kristal said. "They don't have the 25 years' experience filling orders for the music industry like we do, or the relationships."

One of their longest-running clients on the CD manufacturing end, the Twin Cities hip-hop label Doomtree Records, turned to Copycats in a bit of desperation to press the vinyl edition of Dessa's new album, "IDES" — which got held up in the logjam at other presses for much of 2023.

Dessa producer and Doomtree Records operator Aaron Mader (aka Lazerbeak) said he was "super happy" with the results and said, "it feels like [Justin's] been dreaming of bringing vinyl in-house for nearly as long."

"It's been so cool to watch Copycats not only add vinyl services over the years since, but now finally open such an amazing pressing facility right here in Minnesota," he said.

The number of U.S. record-pressing plants had dwindled to under 30 during the music industry's CD and digital waves in the 1990s and 2000s.

One Minneapolis company that also manufactures albums for some of the industry's biggest names, Noiseland Industries, had to go all the way to rural France to find a functioning vinyl pressing plant to manufacture its product in recent years, thus its records technically are not made in Minnesota.

Dozens more new U.S. pressing plants have recently opened or are now being built, including another, smaller two-press operation under construction by some musicians in south Minneapolis called Outta Wax.

Waiting for his allotment of Record Store Day LPs to arrive at his store in downtown Hopkins last week, Mill City Sound owner Rob Sheeley said he appreciates the fact that some of his incoming records will have been made locally.

"The vinyl boom is nowhere near over," Sheeley said. "It just makes sense to be building new presses here."

The store owner also has enlisted Copycats' new vinyl operations for his small record label, Backgroove Records, which recently reissued an album by '90s power-pop band Material Issue.

"They do great work," he added, "and it's nice having them right here in town to make it easy to go get test pressings or whatever from them in person."

Copycats will bring some of the record industry into town in June, when it will co-host the Making Vinyl conference with album manufacturers from around the world. It's a sign of how legit and prestigious the company's new facility is seen outside of Minnesota — and harks back to the bygone days when locally based retail companies such as Target, Best Buy and Musicland/Sam Goody made the Twin Cities into something of a record industry hub.

Still, no matter how much demand might grow for the new Copycats vinyl facility, the company's reps pledged to stick to their roots.

"We won't put Taylor Swift to the front of the bus and screw other customers," said Peter Stone, chief financial officer of the ADS Group.

Or as Kristal put it, "We'll always make room for Doomtree and the other local artists who helped get us here."

Record Store Day

When: Sat. starting 9 a.m.

Where: Twin Cities independent stores, including Electric Fetus, Mill City Sound, Barely Brothers, Hymie's and Down in the Valley.


More on Copycats: