Meet Karen Emanuel, the CEO and founder of Key Production Group, a creative agency founded in 1990 that specializes in the design and manufacturing of bespoke products for the music and other industries, including vinyl. Starting with a few thousand pounds from a redundancy pay-out Karen has guided Key Production through thirty one years of an ever changing industry. From setting up in the back office of Jungle Records with a telephone and typewriter with one customer, to five locations and over sixty staff members, the rest is history, and that first customer is still working with them.
Karen is also the founder of Moving the Needle, an organization with a mission close to our hearts. Their mission is to help support women in the UK music industry through their entire career, they want to let students know about the multitude of roles available in our industry and that they don’t have to hold a mic to join.
In her free time you can find Karen cooking, enjoying live music, football, theatre, and the cinema.
How did you get into your industry / What motivated you to get into it?
My love for music from an early age, going to gigs, taping the “top 40”. At University I booked the Indie bands across two venues as well as the DJs for University events, DJ-d a bit myself as well. After traveling for a year, I returned to London and decided the music Industry was where I wanted to be. I wrote my CV for the first and last time, got a job as cover for the receptionist at Rough Trade Distribution, moved into the Production Department, then became Head of Production. Within a couple of years, I was asked to be made redundant and I set up Key with my redundancy. That usually takes 20 minutes and a powerpoint to relate!
What is a day in the life like?
Every day is different but often consists of staff and strategy meetings, always negotiating with suppliers for better service, better prices and currently more capacity! Meetings with clients (when covid allows), working on how to improve our systems and structure. I also mentor young womxn and do talks or events at schools to inspire young people to get into the industry (particularly womxn into less “traditional” roles). I’m often asked to talk at events and am approached by the press for my comments particularly on vinyl. Gigs, industry events or football in the evenings.
In your opinion what has been your favorite / the coolest thing you’ve worked on?
Too many to mention and I wouldn’t want to single anything out. I love the really bespoke packages that the artist has had their creative input into..
What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?
When I have had to make people redundant*.
*For those that may not know this term it is a form of dismissal from your job. It happens when employers need to reduce their workforce.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?
Follow your passion. Know your numbers. Be authentic, ask questions. Build your network.
Speak to me! Check-out the women’s networks and groups that exist for help and advice. I am also the founder of Moving the Needle.
Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?
Not as much as my husband is! I’m a bit stuck in the ’80s and ’90s if the if the truth be known, so I have quite lot of vinyl from back then when I first really started buying it, which I still play. What drew me to it and still does is the artwork, sleeve notes, the feel, the sound, the ritual of putting it on, listening and turning it over.
What types of things are happening in your industry / with vinyl that you’re excited or worried about?
Well we all know about the supply chain problems and lack of capacity from a huge surge in demand which is a never-ending challenge currently, although on the flip-side, it’s great that the market is so buoyant. See more on this here.
There are some innovations with new machines and new materials that are being researched into currently which is particularly exciting from my point of view as I’m on a bit of a mission to make manufacturing processes more sustainable.
During this time we’re currently in, what message do you have for music and vinyl fans? How can we support you, the industry?
Be patient! There are long lead-times currently and prices are rising but sadly that is just how it is. Keep appreciating and cherishing this beautiful format and never let it die out.
In closing, tell me what are you listening to?
Key Production: @key_production
Moving the Needle: @movingtheneedleuk
Key Production: @KeyProduction
Moving the Needle: @MTN.now
Key Production: @keyproduction
Moving the Needle: @MTNnow_
Key Production: @key-production-london
Moving the Needle: @mtnnow
Key Production: www.keyproduction.co.uk
Moving the Needle: www.mtnnow.com