We got a chance to visit the The Vinyl Lab when we went to Music Biz in Nashville this summer. Since then, they’ve finished off the space for live events, including hosting this year’s Making Vinyl conference, and expanded adding a second press. Locally owned The Vinyl Lab is founded by musicians and artists who pride themselves on premium service, state-of-the-art technology, and personalization on every order. The whole crew truly feels really stoked to be doing what they’re doing. In this post we get to introduce you to the woman keeping things in order Heather Gray, the Director of Business Operations, who wears many hats. With all the moving parts in a production her responsibilities are to make sure that everything else around the actual presses are working. HR, bookkeeping, process and system building / implementation, managing orders from start to finish, making sure inventory is available, and so on.
When she’s not at work she says: “I am currently working on launching a creative vending business. So most of my free time is devoted to that. And also my adorable Pomeranian, Dino”.
How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?
Before joining The Vinyl Lab family, I was the Director of Operations for a local, artisanal pasta production facility (Alfresco Pasta). Several years ago my good friend Scott Lemasters began the process of opening up The Vinyl Lab. In the beginning I did some side work for him / The Vinyl Lab. One day I sent him an email and he noticed my title and he asked if I would consider coming on board full time, which was an offer I couldn’t refuse. As much as I love pasta, I am not a foodie. However, I have been a huge music lover my whole life, it was the access to live music that helped me make the decision to move to Nashville six years ago. I was able to take my knowledge and experience in a production facility and merge that with my love of music, while also helping to make a good friends business thrive. A very exciting no-brainer!
What is a day in the life like?
Every day is different, which I love. Some days I am knee deep in Quickbooks, other days I am passing out jello shots (and maybe enjoying a few myself) at a charity golf tournament. One really cool thing about The Vinyl Lab is that we make the pressing process accessible to the artists. So, if at any point, the artist wants to come to the facility to see their album being pressed, shoot social media content, sign jackets – we are here for it.
It is not uncommon to be sitting at my desk and half of Old Crow Medicine Show walks in. One thing that remains consistent, regardless of if I am in the office or offsite, is the managing of chaos. But it is a very special kind of chaos and I am incredibly grateful to have been chosen to be the chaos wrangler for The Vinyl Lab!
In your opinion what has been your favorite / the coolest thing you’ve worked on?
There have been so many exciting projects. We pressed the new Dolly Parton album, which of course was amazing since she is basically the Queen of Tennessee. However, I think my favorite part is when we press orders for smaller labels and independent artists.
Part of The Vinyl Lab’s business model has always been to make record pressing accessible to everyone. We do not have a minimum order quantity so we have actually been able to press records for artists who otherwise may not have had the opportunity. A few months ago we ran a job for a local Nashville band called Twen. They had sort of made it their mission to take the future of their band into their own hands and produce everything on their own. We found out that they were having an album release party ahead of when their job would be completed, so we were able to sort of move it up in production and surprise them with their completed job – ahead of schedule and on time for their party. They were so excited and grateful – and we were too. They were so excited that they developed a short 3-4 minute video that was played throughout their event. The video showed the entire vinyl manufacturing process, their involvement in the process (they filled the hopper, inspected a few records, etc.) and plastered on the front of the video was “Thank You to The Vinyl Lab.” It was an incredible moment.
What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?
Well, I started at The Vinyl Lab at the height of the supply chain crisis. There were many sleepless nights worrying about if PVC or packaging would be available or make it in house in time. Did you know there was a worldwide shortage of black paper last year?
One thing in particular that has been difficult has been trying to streamline a start up that didn’t just walk before it crawled, but ran. We have been so fortunate to have been embraced, so quickly, by the music community – both locally and internationally. However when you are operationally minded, it can become very daunting when you have to manage the day to day influx of work while also brainstorming and implementing processes and systems needed to keep things running smoothly. Something that makes this easier is that none of my male colleagues have ever put me in a position of feeling like they were not taking my direction due to the fact that I am a woman. I wish I could say it was that way everywhere, but as women – we know that isn’t always the case.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?
Be prepared to work long days, wear comfortable shoes and prepare yourself for a wild ride. Empathy, creative thinking and red lipstick are also helpful!
Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?
Although I’ve owned a handful of record players over the years, I haven’t owned one in probably 10 years. I went ahead and rectified that. It’s a crappy Crosley, but it’s leopard print and the albums we produce sound great on any player (shameless plug alert)! It’s funny because my second ever job was as Assistant Manager at an F.Y.E. (formerly Camelot) and at that time, MP3s were becoming the new thing. We were so worried that the compact disc would become obsolete. Now here I am, twenty two years later, and vinyl records are in such high demand the pressing plants can’t even keep up! In a lot of ways it feels like things have come full circle.
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.
We hosted the 2022 Making Vinyl conference this summer in our event space, The Vinyl Lounge, and, through that event, I learned a lot more about alternatives to PVC / plastic in the production of vinyl. I spoke with someone from a company that has begun successfully producing records out of recycled plastic bottles. This kind of blows my mind as we are learning more and more about plastics effect on the ecosystem. I also recently heard that a company has begun R&D on a sugar-based material. Not only are these concepts exciting, but they will become more and more necessary in order to help protect our environment.
Who has been influential to you and your growth as a professional in this industry?
My boss (and owner of The Vinyl Lab, and good friend), Scott Lemasters. He has been incredibly supportive and has made the transition as easy as possible. You have to learn a whole new vernacular in the vinyl industry! But he has been patient as I learn.
Anything else you’d like to add; if not tell us what you’re listening to:
I am truly all over the board when it comes to music. Classic rock, post punk, hip hop, bluegrass – I listen to a little bit of everything. A song / artist / band either has to make me move or move me with their lyrics. Favorites include: Jenny Lewis, Rilo Kiley, Interpol, Run the Jewels, The Pixies, Lil’ Wayne, Tom Petty, Old Crow Medicine Show, The Misfits, Talking Heads …. All over the place, but all soooo good!.
The Vinyl Lab: @thevinylab