This week meet the audio queen of New West Records Caroline Barfield, the Catalog and Project Coordinator, who makes up one half of the production team and oversees all things audio in Athens, Georgia. From setting up mastering sessions to approving test pressings, the audio is Caroline’s world! New West Records is an indie record label established in 1998 based in Nashville, Tennessee, and Athens, Georgia. It was created “for artists who perform real music for real people” and has been home to indie rock, alternative country, and Americana bands including the likes of Dwight Yoakam, All Them Witches, Ben Folds, Shovels & Rope, Nikki Lane and more.
How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?
Since high school, I knew I wanted to work in music as it has always been the thing I’m most passionate about. When I got accepted to the University of Georgia, I was thrilled because I knew they had a Music Business program and I knew immediately that I was going to pursue that. Through the program, I had several internships but my senior year I interned with New West Records, and then luckily ended up landing a job here! I never thought I would be working in production or with vinyl, but Matt Etgen and the folks at New West believed in me and trusted me to learn about the process and about the audio world in general, and I’m so lucky that I fell into something that I very quickly became passionate about!
What is a day in the life like?
A day in the life for me looks like coming into the office, pouring my coffee, petting everyone’s dogs (we have some seriously cute pups in this office), and then diving into work! I usually spend my mornings doing the other half of my job which is delivering audio to DSPs and working with video assets, and then I focus the remainder of the day on vinyl production.
For me, that looks like checking in with each active project and making sure lacquers have been cut, stampers have shipped, seeing where we are with test pressings, listening to my copies of tests, etc. Communicating with pressing plants, engineers, and artist managers is a daily thing and it’s one of my favorite parts of my job. I love connecting with people and I’m super lucky to work with some awesome folks!
In your opinion what has been your favorite / the coolest thing you’ve worked on?
There have been several projects where I was fortunate enough to work with producers or engineers that I admire, or projects where we did really creative stuff with the vinyl and packaging, but my favorite thing has to be the Pylon Box. Pylon is a legendary band that is especially admired here in their hometown of Athens, GA, so working on that project was extra special to me. It was my first box set that I coordinated the audio for start to finish, and I was really proud of how it turned out. Each disc sounds great, I formed new relationships within the vinyl industry, and it was really rewarding to help create something that represents the city of Athens and our rich music history so well!
What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?
For me, the most difficult part of my job (and one of my favorite parts) is the test pressing process. Tracing an issue back to its origin can be hard, tedious and often filled with ambiguity. Also, it can be frustrating when something happens with tests outside of mine or anyone else’s control that causes the timeline of the project to shift. Even though it’s difficult, I love the challenge and it feels like solving a puzzle!
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?
Trust yourself!! I went from googling what a .wav file was to where I am now, and it was easy to doubt myself at first, but trust yourself that you have the passion, support, and skills to pursue a career in vinyl! Don’t be afraid to reach out to other folks for their knowledge and expertise, especially other women. More often than not, people are stoked to lend a hand, an ear, or a word of wisdom!
Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?
I definitely am! I started collecting in high school and never slowed down. What drew me to vinyl originally was how fun it was to physically interact with my music. Getting to read the liners, see the art in a size larger than a thumbnail on a screen, and flip the record made me feel more connected to the music I loved. To me, I feel like I listen more closely and appreciate an album more when I’m listening to a physical copy. I love seeing my collection grow as well. It’s fun to see my life and varied interests and phases I went through at different times all together on a shelf represented in my collection.
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.
I’m personally really excited about the growth that is happening. Even though it’s causing turn times to be pretty backed up right now, I’m really hopeful that this growth will continue. So many plants are expanding, and it’s really exciting to see more people getting into vinyl, especially younger people!
I also love how people keep finding ways to push what we are able to do with LPs. I always think the sound of the record should be the priority, but it’s pretty amazing to see more innovations with colors, shapes, scents, picture discs, liquid filled LPs, etc. that actually sound good, too! Not only are they cool to see and own, but I think that those things are attention grabbing and might be the thing that causes someone to check out vinyl for the first time and start their collection.
I have been a little stressed about the lacquer shortage situation since the Apollo fire in 2020, but so far we’ve been in good hands at New West with some awesome cutters we work with and we haven’t felt it too much. I just worry about what the solution to that might be long term, especially with the industry growing so quickly.
During this time we’re currently in, what message do you have for music and vinyl fans? How can we support you, the industry?
For fans, I think the best way you can support the industry is to keep buying vinyl and to be patient. Don’t let a record’s delayed pre-order prevent you from pre-ordering the record. Even though it’s frustrating to wait, a little patience goes a long way in this time of manufacturing delays. Also, as always, support your local indie record stores!
Anything else you’d like to add, if not tell me what you’re listening to:
Lately, I’ve been listening to tons of Fontaines D.C., King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Turnstile, and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. When I want something more chill or groovy, I’ve usually got Khruangbin or Parcels playing.
New West Records: @newwestrecords