We have covered various parts of the pressing process but have yet to have someone in packaging join us. Packaging and shipping is a part of the process that’s less talked about but so important to bring the whole project to fruition. For this post, we got lucky to not only have one person’s perspective on packaging but the whole girl gang running the department at SunPress Vinyl in Opa-locka, just north of Miami, Florida.
SunPress Vinyl is housed in the former Final Vinyl factory, founded in the 1970s by reggae pioneer Joe Gibbs. As the U.S. base of Gibbs’ operations, and later, Studio One‘s Clement ‘Sir Coxsone’ Dodd‘s main pressing facility, the plant issued classic works by Toots and the Maytals, The Skatalites, Dennis Brown, and Sugar Minott. A symbolic circle has been completed with the pressing of Bob Marley and the Wailers re-issues for Tuff Gong International. Exodus, Legend, Burnin’ and Catch a Fire are some of the classic albums pressed on the very same machines that pressed Bob Marley records for Studio One back in the day. Reggae’s influence on contemporary music is indisputable, with vinyl records playing a key part of the process; SunPress states they are proud to continue that rich tradition, honoring the history of their location with bespoke record pressing services. SunPress Vinyl’s founders are musicians, producers, and engineers, with credits on recordings by a diverse group of artists such as Pet Shop Boys, Britney Spears, De La Soul, and Arto Lindsay. The team we’re talking to consists of Elsie who has been working at SunPress for 2 years and supervises the shipping and packaging department. Michi who packages and ships records, and as you’ll read is responsible for almost everyone finding their way to the department. Kat who is in production, and Nata responsible for packaging but also plays the important role of work Mom.
When they aren’t at work, they’re all pretty involved in the local music scene and love live music. Elsie also loves horror movies and watches them while also sewing or making jewelry. “Being in Miami, I also love spending time at the beach with friends too.” Prior to covid, she used to book metal and punk shows around Miami for Vile Productions, both local shows and touring acts. She is looking forward to when things return to some semblance of normalcy (safely of course) so that she can once again resume booking. Michi is all about chilling out in her free time and enjoying the moon. Kat loves to travel, eat good food, drink spicy margaritas, and go dancing with her partner. She’s also a movie buff, and her favorite company to watch them is her dog Rza. Nata, isn’t only the work mom but a real mom so when she’s not packing records she’s spending time with her family. She was unable to work for most of the pandemic because her child is immunocompromised so it’s been a scary and trying time, but she’s happy to be out in the world working again more appreciative for what she does and who she does it for.
How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?
Elsie: My best friend, Michelle Pezet (Michi) got me into the industry back when I was looking for work. I grew up bonding with my father, Herbert, over records and music of all genres. So, when Michi offered me the opportunity to come in and try out, I knew it’d be a dream job that I could put all my love and dedication into.
Michi: I was referred by a friend that I in the music scene.
Kat: I love collecting vinyl, working with music, and getting to meet other people in the industry who love it as much as I do. I was motivated by my best friend, Ally. I was the first person she called when she heard there was an opening at Sunpress and she knew it would be the perfect place for me.
Nata: Ironically at our plant majority of the employees are involved or at least participate in our local music scene. One morning Michi had posted that her department was looking for a third and I took a chance and so did she. If it wasn’t for their kindness and how welcoming the team was I don’t think I would’ve stayed. The fact it was an all female department is definitely a HUGE motivation factor. It sounds luxurious to the outside world but I really love how dirty the work can get because it’s just that more rewarding, and I have always been music driven and passionate about music’s impact in my life.
You all have a little bit different roles and responsibilities at SunPress, so what is a day in the life like?
Elsie: We start out by turning on the shrink wrap machine. While that warms up, I check the emails to see if our boss needs us to prioritize any clients in particular. Then we start checking out records from our storage room. We move on to sleeving and jacketing records, making sure they have their inserts and any necessary extra items (download cards, stickers, etc.). After that we send them all over to the shrink wrap machine. We wrap them, and the heat tunnel seals the wrapping and conforms it to the records. Once that’s done, we sticker them, and then it’s off to shipping where we build and wrap pallets to send to the labels.
Michi: Task oriented, communication and repetitive work, with a goal at the end of the day to ship out as many records as possible.
Kat: I sleeve and jacket the records, organize them in boxes to take to shrink, shrink-wrap, sticker if need be and set them to be mailed and added to pallets.
Nata: A day in the life is getting clocked in like any other job. Being on the same page with my supervisor (Elsie!) as she reads priorities or tasks for the day from the plant owner, Dan. We distribute and get an idea of what the day will be like, obtain / confirm we have assets. Turn the shrink and heat tunnel machines on, make boxes, prep as best as we can because when we hit that rush when the freight or mail person comes we are going to need be prepared. I pull out spindles of records and prepare them to the specifics of the order. It usually is never what we expect, but thankfully our team is strong. We work well together!
In your opinion what has been your favorite / the coolest thing you’ve worked on?
Elsie: I’d say the coolest album I’ve worked on was one where the client’s double-gated jacket folded out into a board game. I was lucky enough to play the game with friends, and while the music wasn’t really something that’d be my first choice to hear, I thought it went great alongside the game. I love seeing artists get creative with their merchandise like that.
Michi: I think that on a very personal note, having worked on my band’s record when we finally got it together, was pretty cool.
Kat: To be honest, I loved working on the new Kali Uchis record because I was obsessed when it came out!
Nata: My favorite is when ever we get local bands I know. Even the local bands I don’t know! I’m constantly expanding my music palette and that’s pretty cool to me.
What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?
Elsie: We’re already a small team, so trying to get things done by certain deadlines is already a challenge. The few times we’ve been understaffed makes hitting those deadlines much harder. Plus, it’s hard to find people who really have what it takes to commit themselves to this like of work. Most folks just want to work normal 9-5 jobs without really reaching to learn a specialized skill like this that takes time and dedication. Aside from that, working in a warehouse in South Florida, the heat is obviously another huge factor a lot of the time. Some days, despite having fans and keeping the doors wide open, it can still feel like a sauna inside the main warehouse. And that’s just another aspect that one has to commit to tolerating when entering this field (especially in our part of the country).
Michi: It could be challenging getting the assets together at times, when there’s a lot of moving parts on a specific job
Kat: The HEAT!
Nata: Definitely when we get thrown curve balls, but that’s just part of the job. This industry will never cease to surprise or reward. I like being on my toes and I think it makes me better in all aspects of my life.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?
Elsie: I think it goes without saying that one should definitely have a passion for not just music, but music on vinyl when looking to get into this industry. But even past that, you have to be ready to dedicate the time and effort to some good hard work on a daily basis. I’d say turn to YouTube to maybe check out some videos on how records are made to really get a visual insight into the industry and the dedication that goes into it. And I say this because while vinyl may be a wildly popular format once again, I don’t feel like many people really understand the process required to actually make records. After all, it isn’t exactly as easy as burning cd’s like we used to once upon a time lol!
Michi: My advice is to try to stay as organized as possible, because there’s a lot of moving assets and information going around that needs to be kept in check.
Kat: No dream is too big. It’s hard work but it’s fulfilling work when the artist and listener is happy.
Nata: Go for it! It’s not for everyone and that’s ok. You can still love records even without knowing the intricate craft of pressing / packaging them. I really like Discogs, when I’m out shopping for records in life it’s a helpful tool to obtain knowledge about said record.
Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?
Elsie: My dad was an avid vinyl collector, so I grew up around records, and still collect them myself today. I love my collection and I’m always looking to keep growing it. I just started putting more of my collection on Discogs. Check it out: Embndeath
Michi: My husband and I have a vinyl collection that includes many different types of music, but with a clear preference in punk. We have released records ourselves for our bands.
Kat: Yes, I am very lucky and my collection is pretty big! I realized I was traveling to shows and festivals a lot and going to new record shops to find vinyl to add to my collection. It was a good way to hold on to those memories and experience those moments in my mind again – just put on a record and I’m transported to a whole new place, with new food, new artists, and music I love. I was also living in Austin for a while (the music capital of the world!) and going to different record stores was a great way to explore the city and meet other like minded people. Waterloo Records was a great place to see new artists and also just artists that I already loved when I was out there.
Nata: My partner is more of a vinyl buff but I’ve learned to appreciate the work and dedication that goes into pressing a single record.
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.
Michi: It’s really exciting to see more people getting interested in collecting and / or releasing vinyl, and seeing the industry growing every year.
Kat: I’m excited to see more women represented in the vinyl community!
Nata: I’m excited about how much the industry is expanding. I do worry about how fast / the pace it is expanding. Hopefully it will lead to more vinyl employment.
During this time we’re currently in, what message do you have for music and vinyl fans? How can we support you, the industry?
Elsie: Keep buying and supporting music especially on vinyl. Through doing that it supports my staff and their families to continue to do what we do.
Michi: By continuing to enjoy the f*** out of the experience that you get when you play vinyl. Thank you for the support already and please keep on getting wax!
Kat: Don’t let physical music die! Keep buying records and supporting your local record shops and artists!
Nata: Support your local artists, support your local record pressing plant! Keep an open mind and heart when it comes to the process and how much work goes into their craft.
Anything else you’d like to add, if not tell me what you’re listening to:
Elsie: I can’t choose a favorite genre but I can mention a few of my favorite artists I listen to at work: Ozzy Osbourne, Ripping Corpse, Terrorizer, Deicide, Leeway, Turnstile, Scorpions, Ministry, DJ ATB, ABBA, Ace of Base and Britney Spears.
Michi: I like many different genres of music and depending on how I feel that day, is what I listen to.
Kat: I’m a total Ween groupie haha! I follow them around like a deadhead. My coworkers laugh at me about it. I was actually in Minneapolis recently to see their first show back. I’m also a HUGE Fiona Apple and Radiohead fan.
Find the SunPress Vinyl Team: :
SunPress Vinyl: @sunpressvinyl
All photos credit to: Chris Briggs