Caren Kelleher creates Gold Rush Vinyl, one of the few women-owned and -operated vinyl presses right here in Austin.
By Kaitlyn Wilkes, Photos courtesy of Gold Rush Vinyl
Caren Kelleher grew up with music in her household. Her dad introduced her to classic rock, her mother was a huge fan of Broadway and her sister is a classically trained opera singer. Although she never took to creating music, Kelleher loved the idea of the music business.
Google eventually recruited her to help create Google Music, which became Google Play. It was during her tenure at Google that she fostered her longtime passion for helping independent artists.
“I really wanted to help Google have more influence with independent musicians in particular,” Kelleher says. “It’s gotten so much harder as streaming has become oversaturated. The pay rates for streaming are really difficult to live on too. So, from the start of my career, I’ve really always looked for ways to help musicians build long-standing careers.”
In 2018, Kelleher founded record-pressing company Gold Rush Vinyl. Before deciding on Austin as her company’s base of operations, she went to multiple music cities. The support she got from the government, locals and music community inspired her to call Austin home.
“I was just blown away by Texas’s commitment, especially in Austin, to keeping the music alive here,” she says. “I felt like if I moved my life here and built my business here, I’d be super supported. That has absolutely been the case.”
The company recently invested in new record-pressing machines, doubling their capacity. This will allow Gold Rush Vinyl to make records faster than usual in an era when more artists are going independent, seeking control of their music. Local artists, bigger stars like Train and Weezer and legends like Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton have all had records pressed at Gold Rush Vinyl.
“We still turn away contracts with major record labels that want to take capacity up here,” Kelleher reveals. “It was important to us to be a pressing plant that gave people opportunity. Get their record pressed quickly.”
Kelleher and her company faced an unexpected change during the pandemic: the growth of vinyl demand, especially with Gen Z. In 2020, sales for vinyl in the U.S. went up 40% and another 41% in 2021.
“One thing that’s become really apparent to us with manufacturing is there’s going to be an increased focus on more sustainable manufacturing practices,” she reveals. “We’re always experimenting with ocean plastic, with recycled plastic, with how we reduce our waste. Thinking about how to get ready for the next generation of vinyl buyers who are going to want more transparency in their supply chain.”
She reflects on how children usually turn away from the things their parents did, but with vinyl it’s different. As she observes, the generational aspect of vinyl comes from the memories associated with the records. Music lovers can hear these memories in the crackle of the albums on the turntable.
“I think for your generation who grew up online, music has always been free. So when you pay for it, when you own it, it says something different about you as a fan. You’re enough of a fan to collect this artist[‘s music], which puts you in a different category of fan than somebody streaming online.”
The sentimentality of vinyl records, the impact they have, also translates to the reactions of artists who see their records for the first time.
“One of the nice things about Austin is that so many artists come through this market or live here that they can physically come to the factory and pick up their records,” Kelleher says. “For our team to be there when an artist opens the record for the first time, it’s not just the manifestation of the manufacturing work. For a lot of artists, [it’s] years they’ve poured into a record. Memories, hard work, being in the studio. To be able to physically hold a record and see all that work in a tangible format is really powerful. That makes my job very rewarding.”
The attention Gold Rush Vinyl is getting goes beyond the younger generation and artists. They recently featured on the Today show, highlighting the widespread impact the company is having on the industry.
Part of their industrial impact comes from supporting nonprofits like Women in Vinyl. The founder, Jenn D’Eugenio, also works at Gold Rush Vinyl. This collaboration promises to help boost Women in Vinyl’s message and give Gold Rush Vinyl the opportunity to give women more space in the industry.
“I really want Austin to be put on the map as the place to get vinyl made,” Kelleher says. “I mean, we have a lot of competition in Nashville, a lot of competition abroad. But between what we’re doing with the creative studio our gold records and Gold Rush Vinyl, [we’re going to] keep pushing the boundaries of innovation in this industry.”