With artists placing a large emphasis on touring to earn a living, opening a vinyl plant may seem like a risky venture to some. But founder of the soon-to-be-first and only vinyl pressing plant in Austin, Caren Kelleher, doesn’t see it that that way.
Kelleher has spent the majority of her professional career in the music industry. After graduating from Harvard Business School, Kelleher worked for music discovery company Songkick, moved to Google’s music service Google Play, and co-founder management company Sister Management.
As a band manager, Kelleher saw the demand independent artists had for small batches for vinyl and realized the demand wasn’t being met. With less than 25 vinyl pressing plants in the United States and the growing appetite for the MP3 alternative, plants are overwhelmed and can have trouble turning out product even in small quantities.
Expected to open at the beginning of 2018, Gold Rush Vinyl will be located at a 8,400-square-foot warehouse in Northeast Austin with new equipment currently being shipped in from Canadian company, Viryl Technologies.
Amplify chatted with Kelleher about Gold Rush and why she believes now is a great time to open a vinyl pressing plant.
We’re going to be producing high-quality fast turnaround vinyl records. Specifically, we’re going to help artists who need them for tours and for the special moments that pop up now in the digital era. We are going to focus on under 1,000 copies.
Why did you choose Austin as your location?
I looked at a number of cities to open the plant and I was really impressed by the music community here. I have been coming to SXSW for 10 years and saw tremendous opportunity here with especially independent artists, but also other businesses that have an appreciation for making a physical good. They have great companies out here like Yeti and High Brew Coffee. It was an easy place to decide to build a long-term business.
Where in Austin is the plant?
We’re just outside of downtown. We’re still in the city proper. I wanted it to be an Austin-based business and employ Austin artists and manufacturers and musicians. We’re north of the neighborhood Mueller which is an up and coming part of town on the east side. One of the dreams I have is to have the plant open for vinyl tours for people who come through Austin. Austin is such a travel city, especially for young people now.
Austin has a huge music scene so it seems like a smart location.
The people in this music scene, I’ve found to be very welcoming, very helping with sharing their own experiences. And enthusiastic about what we are building. The Texas Music Office, which is part of the governor’s office, was a huge help in getting started as a new Texas resident and there seemed to be a hunger for new music business here in Austin and it said a lot about the kind of place I would be setting up my company.
There has been a recent boom in interest for vinyl, but overall music sales have gone down. How does Gold Rush fit into that?
One of the reasons that I wanted to create this was because I was the customer. I was managing bands and was having a really hard time getting vinyl produced. I could see how much money a band could make if they had a good vinyl product, especially compared to the revenue specs that were coming in from streaming services. I think for bands who have a loyal following or just know how to reach their fans correctly, vinyl is a very good revenue option for them. We’re also seeing that people have a want to hold artwork and own something from a band they love. There’s certainly a lot more mass vinyl that you can buy at Urban Outfitters now, but I think the bulk of the growth we’ll see will be from fans who want to have a better connection and product from a band they love.
Will Gold Rush be doing specialty vinyl?
We will be doing special products, not just black vinyl. I hope that we can add creative thinking to the projects bands want to do. Having worked with artists for so long and we have a team that is going to work with me, a lot of whom are musicians or artists themselves, I’m looking forward to helping bands think through what would be a cool product to give their fans.
Did you have trouble finding someone trained to run vinyl machinery?
We’ve been really lucky with the kind of people who have come out of the woodwork and are excited about what we are building. We have both the traditional vinyl manufacturing experience, but also understands some of the newer things we’d like to do. The other thing that has been helpful is speaking with manufacturers in different industries, especially brewing. I found that beer brewers have very similar challenges that they face everyday and very similar machinery. So we’ve actually gotten a lot of great advice from craft brewers. We walked the breweries and I was like ‘Wow, we have the same boiler system, the same water tanks.’ It’s crazy.
You’ve held many jobs in the music industry, where did you passion for music come from?
I have no talent for music which is the funny thing. I’ve just always been a fan. I had a great introduction to music from my parents who brought me up on great records. I’ve been very lucky that I’ve been able to carve out a career for myself doing this in different formats. I started at a print magazine (Paste) then concert ticketing then Google. The music industry will never go away. There will always be a demand for music, but it is such a challenging industry that I’ve found it a very interesting space to work in. I’m lucky that I have had mentors who’ve helped me figure out ways to grow my career.
Do you see going into vinyl as a risky business venture?
Any startup is risky and there are definitely good days and bad days as we are building this. There are things that are sometimes out of my control. I’m confident that the artists, managers, and labels I spoke to before first embarking on this the idea resonated with them and that gave me confidence that if I hire the right team around me and we build excellent products that this should be a business that is successful. That all depends on getting the foundation right and that’s what we’re working on right now.