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Jack White's Third Man Records makes music a physical product once again

Inside Third Man Records
Inside Jack White's Third Man Records 06:12

This piece originally aired on May 6, 2017. 

A Detroit-based record label is changing the way music is recorded and released. Third Man Records, founded in 2001, is the brain child of Jack White of the White Stripes who, along with his team, has built a unique music empire.

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When Third Man Records opened its new vinyl pressing plant in February, it was a landmark in the unexpected renaissance of vinyl records. The plant's eight German-made machines are the first new presses to be built in about 35 years, reports "CBS This Morning: Saturday" co-host Anthony Mason.
"All new presses, new boilers, new hydraulics, new piping. Everything is brand new," White said during a tour of the label. 

White was born in the Motor City and has Detroit-sized dreams for his record label. 

"One day, I want this place to be like what I had heard about Henry Ford wanted for Ford Motor company. Which was you pour in raw materials on this side and out the other side of the factory pop out cars," White said.

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The musician said he is close to his goal. "The only thing we're not doing is plating and making the sleeves."  

White, who made his name as front man for the White Stripes, launched Third Man to re-release the group's records on vinyl. It was a passion project. 

"And the company has always done well. We've always profited, which I always thought it would always be a loss," White said. 

He set up a warehouse in Nashville in 2009 and recruited his old friend Ben Swank to run it.   

Mason asked, "Was there a plan in the beginning for Third Man Records?"

"You know, honestly, the most contentious thing between my wife at that time was, 'You don't even have a business plan. What are you doing?'" Swank said.

Out in front of the warehouse they opened a small record shop. It became so popular, it quickly grew into a kind of candy land for music junkies. Third Man began to expand its roster of artists, adding country legend Wanda Jackson, recording Loretta Lynn and new singer, Margo Price. The eclectic catalog also includes spoken-word recordings like auctioneer Jerry King. 

At Third Man, packaging design is as important as the music itself. They've made playable, platinum-coated records with wood sleeves and records with flowers pressed into them.

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A recording of late astronomer Carl Sagan glows in the dark. "We call it cosmic slop vinyl," Swank said. 

"Some things that were gimmicky, some things that were beautiful. Anything to capture attention of people to -- to bring back to the physical product and get away from invisible music and disposable music," White said of making vinyls. 

White, who started his career as a furniture upholsterer, has lavished the same attention to detail on Third Man's Nashville headquarters. On an archway, an upside down turntable is carved into the wood. 


"You know, I sometimes sort of lay in bed thinking a lot of it is a waste of my time. Because I don't know how much of it really connects and follows through, and especially in the day and age I was dropped on planet Earth, to work in the day and age where people -- music is the last thing on their mind after their cellphone, Netflix, Internet," White said. 

"When I used to think music was really No. 1 on people's list, I used to feel sorry for poets and sculptors, you know," White said.

Now, White says, he feels sorry for musicians.

"And so when we see a teenager come in and buy a record that just lights us all up."

This year, vinyl is expected to become a $1 billion industry. Third Man now releases about a record per week, some captured from live performances in the 'blue room' at the back of the headquarters, where they can record directly onto acetate, used to create the vinyl master.

"We think we're the only live venue in the world where you can do this," Swank said.

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