Gold Rush Vinyl is changing the record-pressing game
by Kathryn Stouffer
Photographs by Claire Schaper
Tucked away in an unassuming office building east of I-35, Caren Kelleher and the Gold Rush Vinyl team dance alongside a slew of record presses, boilers and coolers, machinery reminiscent of a brewery. The culmination of a superior infrastructure, pinpointed temperatures and a whip-smart team, Gold Rush has managed to create top-quality vinyl with efficiency in an industry notorious for its slow turnaround.
Kelleher built this burgeoning empire with the future in mind, and her confidence in Gold Rush is apparent as she gracefully maneuvers between machine repairs, managing the company’s 100-plus clients and plotting the future of her business.
Traditionally, the process of creating physical records could take anywhere from four to eight months, but the Gold Rush team has streamlined it to four to six weeks. “We’re a plant that does everything end to end. Artists send us music and art and we do the rest,” explains Kelleher, talking through the process as if she were narrating “Record Making for Dummies.”
The magic begins with a master lacquer, an “aluminum disc covered in nail polish enamel, essentially.” A cutting engineer will then cut the original grooves with a lathe. Based on how bass-heavy or quiet a record is, grooves are cut at varied distances to allow for the most dynamic sound. The master lacquer is then sprayed with silver, placed in water with nickel deposits and electrocuted — a process more formally known as electroplating — which yields a stamper, a negative of the record. Next, polyvinyl beads are melted to create a disc known as a “biscuit.” The biscuit is pressed on the stamper and the excess vinyl is trimmed. “Before we trim it, it looks like an oversized Belgian waffle,” Kelleher notes. The whole process takes 30 seconds per record, and is completed with a hand inspection and sleeving.
The Gold Rush team’s attention to detail and unprecedented quality make the newcomer a leader in the industry. Out of the hundreds of thousands released records, only 48 have been unusable. Most plants will toss 30 to 40 percent, whereas Gold Rush tosses only about 2 percent. The team is making, and breaking, records.
Kelleher’s personal foray into music began at a young age in Washington, D.C., and continued as she moved across the country. “I was always the kid in high school making mixtapes and staying up too late taping off the radio,” Kelleher says. Fast-forward to Harvard Business School and then a stint in San Francisco, where she worked on the launch of Google Play by day and managed a handful of bands by night. It was during that time that the idea bloomed. “My clients had a willingness to pay for a faster turnaround, and not a single plant in the world would take our order,” she says. “The capitalist in me said, ‘That’s silly.’”
The Live Music Capital has been an ideal fit for Gold Rush and Gold Rush a godsend for the city. “The record labels here have been huge champions of ours. I’m blown away by the diversity of talent here and humbled by the way Austin shows up for its own kind,” explains Kelleher, bursting with affection for the city. She is passionate about keeping the Austin music scene viable for local artists and equipping them so that they can continue to make art.
As for Kelleher’s take on digital music, she sees it as living symbiotically with her analog productions. “Vinyl would not be having this resurgence without digital. They go hand in hand,” she says. “Digital music and vinyl should coexist, but it is special to hold something tangible, to read the liner notes, to see the vision an artist had for an album and to hear the music how the artist intended it to be.”
Kelleher lights up when envisioning Gold Rush’s next steps. From creating new jobs to exploring sustainable options and expanded product lines, there is no shortage of potential and no limit in Kelleher’s mind. When asked about crazy requests, Kelleher says it’s been pretty mellow, minus a rainbow-colored record for the band Turkuaz. “No one’s asked us to put blood in their records yet,” she says. As for her dream pressing? Anything reissued from the Beatles.
At the end of the day, Kelleher is matter-of-fact about her mission. “I just want to grow this and put Austin on the map as the place to get your vinyl made,” she says. “I love it here. I never want to leave. Texas forever. I own a forklift that goes 3 miles per hour, so yeah, I have to stay.”