As one of the only women in the U.S. to own a vinyl press (with a woman-operated plant), Caren Kelleher has revolutionized the art of record making.
By Cy White, Photo by Amanda Hoffman Art
I grew up in a household where vinyl records were very much a part of the music listening experience. The crackle of feedback before the first song starts. The analog formatting that somehow amplifies the brilliant soundscapes coming from the record. These memories stamped into my mind and my ear inform my consumption of music.
One cannot talk about music without vinyl being a part of the conversation. It’s been one of the most resilient forms of engaging with the medium. Invented in the early 1900s and popularized after World War II, the vinyl format has seen a resurgence in the past decade. Vinyl itself has a fascinating history. As part of a surge in plastic goods, vinyl is a synthetic plastic known as polyvinyl chloride (or more commonly, PVC) made from crude oil. Prior to 1948, manufacturers made records with shellac. (Which, by the way, comes from secretions of the female lac bug.) These records could only hold one five-minute song on each side. Then in 1948, Columbia Records introduced the first modern vinyl record as we know and love it today.
Those who press the music into vinyl should count themselves among the artists who make the music industry thrive. Unsurprisingly, the list of women who do this is incredibly small. Fortunately for us, there happens to be a woman right here in Austin; she at the forefront of what many music aficionados believe is the purest way to consume music. When Caren Kelleher left her position as head of Music App Partnerships at Google (helping to launch both Google Music and Google Play, by the way) to get into the business of making vinyl records, the industry widely recognized her as one of the only women in the vinyl-making industry.
Founded in 2018, Gold Rush Vinyl is a record pressing plant based in Austin. Kelleher created the press out of a desire to give fans of vinyl a high-quality product and to allow artists to bring in the revenue they deserve and would otherwise not get from streaming platforms. She wanted to focus “specifically on helping independent musicians make more money off their music.”
Forbes listed her on their “The Next 1000” list for her innovation as one of the rare woman-owned and -operated pressing plants. Lauded for “turnaround three times faster than the industry standard” and “lean manufacturing processes and energy-efficient factory design.”
She was also ranked No. 6 on FastCompany’s list of The 10 most innovative music companies of 2020. She landed right behind BigHit Entertainment (the JYP Entertainment sister company that created the Korean pop music juggernaut that is BTS), BMG (who’s artist-forward approach to representation has reinvented the way artists are compensated for their craft) and 88Rising (the groundbreaking indie label responsible for ushering in a significant wave of Asian hip hop to the masses). She listed higher than veterans like Dobly and music-streaming service Pandora.
Gold Rush Vinyl is a business you need to know about. Being one of the only women in the U.S. (and possibly the world) to bring vinyl to music fans and collectors alike, Kelleher has carved out a formidable and innovative space for women who love music.