Cris Ashworth likes to say that he saw Elvis every day. Not in person, that is, but on the press at United Record Pressing, a vinyl record manufacturing company that he owned for 10 years until health problems forced him to step away. “Elvis was always good for a couple hundred thousand records. It was just amazing to me,” he recalls.
What’s perhaps more amazing is that he’s not talking about the 1960s or ’70s, but rather the past year or two. Like “The King,” who had a famous comeback of his own, vinyl records are enjoying a resurgence, thanks in no small part to Ashworth and United. In 2008, 1.88 million newly pressed LPs were sold in the United States—a jump of nearly 900,000 units from the year before.
Ashworth, an accountant by training, admits that he didn’t have the slightest inkling about record manufacturing when he purchased the Nashville-based company in 1999. But he did have a keen understanding of trends, which he credits to his education at Owen. “Being able to decide if it’s the right time to do something is really important. I found that my timing was not bad,” he says.
Not bad indeed. Although there were plenty of doubters, Ashworth saw an opportunity to re-energize the company and the market as a whole. He initiated cost-saving measures and expanded United’s manufacturing capabilities to include both 45s and LPs. He also created a Web site to appeal to a younger generation of customers, including musicians looking to get noticed—“the kids in a garage who have a dream,” as Ashworth calls them. Today United produces up to 40,000 records a day and owns most of the market share.
Though not a musician himself, Ashworth is a kindred spirit to those kids in the garage. He understands what it’s like to pursue a dream and has advice for anyone who wants to do the same: “Don’t wait too long. Get the experience under your belt and get your tickets punched.”
Or as Elvis used to sing, “It’s now or never.”