Today I get to introduce you to Gail George, formerly of Universal Music Group and Abkco Records. I met Gail through work and immediately we hit it off, she is one of those people that after we got to talking I knew I not only wanted to interview but was a genuine woman that I will hopefully be in touch with personally for a long time.
Gail has been in the music industry for years and has done a little of everything but most recently vinyl production and manufacturing. She worked 18 years with Universal Music Group in both LA and NYC and Abkco Records and Music in New York City. Prior to that she worked at two of the most well known records stores; 10 years with Tower Records, in it’s hometown (and hers) of Sacramento, California and the great indie record store Music Millennium in Portland Oregon.
How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?
I started out as part time clerk at Tower Records in Sacramento, California back in 1987. Very quickly after being hired, I went on to be a buyer for 7″ and 12″ singles as well as being a Billboard Reporter. This was before Soundscan so that was a pretty crazy time. I would also go on to be the Pop/Rock buyer for CDs as vinyl faded away in the late 80s, early 90s.
What is a day in the life like?
From the label side of production, vinyl manufacturing feels like this… First thing I do is check the status of any title in production. Catch any problems right away and work to resolve as quickly as possible because every day there is a problem, there can be a delay. And that goes in all aspects. Did the plant receive the production order correctly? Did the lacquers deliver? When will we receive our test pressings so all can be approved? Did the print arrive? Once workable, when can we expect delivery of product? And that’s just on our end. Plant issues can also range from anywhere to a press has gone down, a test pressing was not approved and has to be redone (adding at least another week of delay, probably more) a truck delivering has broken down/stuck in bad weather, jacket print errors or issues, etc. Has to be redone and resent. More delays. There are many people involved in getting one vinyl title made. Sometimes it feels like herding cats.
What has been your favorite / the coolest thing you’ve worked on?
When Universal acquired Capitol Records it meant that all Beatle vinyl production would now be handled by UMG. I was not necessarily a part of the day to day per se but I was privy to all that went with getting those iconic Beatle LPs made. Abbey Road, The White Album, Sgt Pepper’s, Magical Mystery Tour and on and on. I was sent the LP print samples of all of their records to view and it was mind bending to hold them in my hands. That was an acquisition that made me very happy.
What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?
Explaining turn around times to customers/fellow employees/artists/managers, etc regarding vinyl production. In any production it seems though. Even CD manufacturing can take weeks now. When compact discs were it, the plants were steam engines and product got out quickly and efficiently. Not any more so all production has slowed way down. It’s a different world now. Getting that point across though has been the most difficult. And the old, “don’t they know who I am” line doesn’t work anywhere in getting something made quicker. In my experience actually, it only makes matters worse. Be kind, be respectful, be understanding. The person at the other end of the line or email is doing the best that they can, in more than likely, an overwhelming situation.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?
In all reality, LP production is an art form. It can be laborious, it takes time and great care but like all beautiful art, it is worth it in the end. If the process appeals to anyone, I would at least work to secure touring a vinyl plant to see how all is done on that end. I would also give some thought as to where you want to be. The plant itself? A record store? A label? If you’re of college age, I would see about interning somewhere and see if its a good fit for you. Internships usually lead to full time positions as well. If a college internship isn’t possible, maybe look into volunteering or possibly even shadowing someone for a day to see you if it’s something you would still want to do.
Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?
I’m old enough to remember when vinyl was the only option. Even 8-tracks were a few years away so it’s part of my DNA. That’s how it came to me, imbedded itself. It’s all magic. Still is. When it felt like it went away in the late 90s/early 2000s, I was pretty heartbroken. I thought, well that’s it then? No more vinyl? But then it came roaring back to life and thankfully feels stronger than ever.
What types of things are happening in your industry / with vinyl that you’re excited or worried about? i.e. innovation, or trends you’re seeing.
It’s encouraging to have more and more plants open around the world, especially in the US where I feel like it almost went extinct. Record Store Day has certainly helped keep this most beautiful art form present and alive and I hope that continues because there is nothing like putting a record on and sitting with it’s artwork while listening. There’s a whole concept that the artist is trying to convey and the cover, lyrics, credits, it’s all part of the message of that particular piece of work. That is absolutely lost in digital.
Tell me more about what you’re listening to:
If I think about the music I’ve listened to in the last month I would say my favorites are quite diverse. The Beatles, Prince, George Gershwin, Bowie, XTC, Mozart, Mac Quayle, Tower of Power, Al Green, The Beach Boys, Queen, Joni Mitchell, Harry Nilsson and on and on. I don’t know if I could stick with one genre. I sometimes joke with people that I am an analog girl in a digital world. Put Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road LP in my hands and I will give you a thesis on the how’s, where’s and why’s of the making of this record. Not only how it changed the music industry but how it changed my young teenage life as well.