Amid the ongoing vinyl resurgence, if a small independent label or indie band goes looking to get LPs pressed by the limited number of plants that exist to meet the demand, the response is typically: “Take a number.” That’s particularly true in the run-up to the semi-annual Record Store Day, when hundreds of exclusive releases get added to an already overtaxed manufacturing system.
Enter a new concept: the boutique-level LP pressing plant. Gold Rush Vinyl, a new facility in Austin, Texas, is now catering to those formerly shut-out imprints and acts by pressing small runs ranging from 1,000 units to orders as small as 100 copies, with a speedy turnaround time of four to six weeks.
Caren Kelleher, the company’s founder and president, formerly headed Google’s music partnerships, and notes that while she worked there, music service partners like Spotify, Pandora and YouTube were contemplating an entry into vinyl sales.
Concurrent with her Google tenure, Kelleher says, “I was working as a band manager on the side, and it was taking us months to have vinyl made. I had a band, the Family Crest from San Francisco, that had a sudden hit online, got offered a huge tour, and went to get vinyl made because it offered really great margins for them — and I was told, ‘It’s just not gonna happen.’”
In a world in which CD and digital download sales have contracted violently over the last decade, burgeoning LP sales are a significant source of revenue for indie acts. Artists will make as much from the sale of 100 vinyl albums as they can from 368,000 Spotify streams or 2.3 million YouTube views.
“The availability of pressing plants for these small bands, for whom it’s critical, was next to none,” Kelleher says. “Smaller artists and independent labels were having a really difficult time, and I experienced that myself as a manager of independent bands. But it was so crucial for our revenue streams to have that [vinyl] out in the market. Also, I heard from bands all the time about how depressing it is for them when they had to over-order vinyl and end up with extra inventory that sits in a closet.”
Sensing a big hole in the marketplace, Kelleher drew up a business plan to serve the smallest of players, and built a factory from scratch in an 8,400-square-foot warehouse.
Rather than work with refurbished pressing equipment, as many newcomers to the vinyl business have, Kelleher says, “We hired a construction team that doesn’t come from vinyl to build us a best-of-class factory. The infrastructure that we are using employs a lot of manufacturing techniques and supporting structures that you won’t find in other plants.”
Gold Rush purchased two new WarmTone pressing machines from a Canadian firm. “It’s automated machinery, which I like because it reduces the chance of manual labor injuries – these are very sensitive machines with a lot of pressure,” Kelleher says. “On these two machines we can do about 1.8 million records a year.”
The firm offers full-service production to its clients. “We manage the project end-to-end,” says Kelleher, “for plating, pressing, printing and packaging. That helps us to maintain a four- to six-week turnaround, because we have relationships with these vendors and we can keep track of when the deliverables are arriving.”
Full-service doesn’t mean they can handle everything on-site. “We don’t do plating here,” she points out. “We’ve been working with a company called Welcome to 1979 in Nashville. They do our cutting and plating, and send our stampers here… We output some jacket production to both local printers in Austin and national companies that do traditional jacket printing.”
Though Gold Rush has only been up and running for a quarter, it has already manufactured such titles as “Speak Out: Live From the Newport Folk Festival” — a Record Store Day exclusive produced for Saturday’s nationwide event, featuring such artists as Nathaniel Rateliff, Jim James and Margo Price — as well as a jazz album by Guggenheim fellow Rudresh Mahanthappa.
While many of Gold Rush’s orders are based in the company’s musically active backyard, more are beginning to come in from around the country.
“Austin felt like the right place to build this business, because of the amount of musicians — especially independent musicians — who are here in town,” Kelleher says. “But we’re also seeing orders from major label pop stars who just can’t get orders pressed fast enough and need something for a special opportunity. We’re seeing labels I’ve worked with in my career at Google who are coming here, and then some bands who are testing vinyl for the first time and doing a 100-record run, to see if their fans have an appetite for buying vinyl.”