We’re starting off the year with a bang, an interview full of great advice and a truly honest and thought out perspective from someone with years in the industry. Meet Stacy Karp the Chief Operating Officer at A to Z Media. A to Z has offices in NY, Portland, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, LA and San Francisco and since 1994 has been a leading provider of vinyl records, optical media and complex print packaging solutions for clients large and small. Stacy oversees the Production and Art staff, as well as supports the day to day business.
Outside of work, she loves to travel and as of when we conducted the interview she said: “…this year I’ve been to Paris, Brussels, Prague, Vienna and Bermuda (so far!) and have more trips scheduled this year. If I am not working, hopefully I am on a plane going somewhere cool and visiting record stores in new cities! I love drinking an Aperol Spritz with my favorite people, fashion/shopping and chocolate research / experimentation are always on my To Do list”.
How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?
I have always been obsessed with pop music, which hasn’t really changed over the years. For my 9th birthday, I can remember asking my mum for the Saturday Night Live and Grease soundtrack cassettes, in addition to the entire Beatles catalog, at 9 years old! I believe that is how I learned French (Michelle, ma belle Sont les mots qui vont tres bien ensemble Tres bien ensemble). That passion evolved into my early mall rat years (it’s the peak 80s, and I was living it) frequenting every record store (what a dream) buying my first 45s, enamel pins and Cassettes…and then later we can talk about my temple devoted to Billy Idol. Of course in College I had my radio show, where I always kicked it off with The The / Infected, but always included YAZ/Move Out which I had sincerely hoped my college roommate would hear, seriously.
After getting my MFA in Arts Management, I ultimately landed a job at World Trade Center Boston and the President had a co-ownership role at Great Woods, an outdoor music venue in Massachusetts. He had a number of seats for every show and I was responsible to sell/fill those seats, VIP parking, events around the shows – etc. Then, when all the good fortune was smiling down on me, I saw an ad in the paper (old school, this is the 90s), for a Production Coordinator position at Rykodisc, in Salem, Massachusetts. If I knew about manifesting at that time, I would have known exactly what I was feeling because I wanted that job so badly I felt like my life depended on it, and then I got the call for the interview! I was hired, and my first boss in the business was Peter Wright – we’re still connected to this day.
What is a day in the life like?
For me, a day in the life at A to Z Media is a daily lightening strike of everything you ever wanted to do in the music industry, and then some. I have been with A to Z Media for over 15 years, but the company has been around almost 30 years and in that time, Sarah Robertson has created a diverse / exciting client roster that spans every genre of music you can imagine. We have a global vendor network, so mornings are typically spent on the EU-centric stuff so we can address all the active / important issues at hand first thing. Then, our West Coast office comes on line 3 hours later, and we together work on the over 2,000 active projects we have on – a good percentage of those being vinyl that we make at a number of facilities in the EU and North America. I also work with our internal staff to ensure they’re supported, assist the CEO with important initiatives and of course work on scheduling / timelines – a production person’s DNA is definitely somehow wrapped into caring about timelines.
It’s hard to believe when it’s 6pm, the day flashes by and there is so much done and yet so much to do. This is great, because you have a sense of accomplishment but know you have so much ahead – for me it’s an ideal scenario of controlled chaos. I hate quiet. I like loud, I want to talk to everyone / everyday and this role is perfectly suited for my inner weirdo who craves everything all the time – this is the dream for me and I always count my lucky stars – seriously, I know how fortunate I am to get to do what I do / where I do it.
In your opinion what has been your favorite / the coolest thing you’ve worked on?
HA – Is this a trick question?! It’s like asking who is your favorite child?! To me, my favorite and most important thing is the community that I’ve built over the 20+ years I’ve been in the music industry. It’s people. My Rykodisc family is still just that – we still all talk and during Covid we actually had Zoom calls and so many people showed up, years after the offices had closed, we’re still close. The same goes for A to Z Media, it’s a family with the most talented friend group…and in my case, that means I get to work on crazy good records. I have my personal favorites of course, but am also so proud of so many of the projects I’ve worked on the production side. I cared about the Ryko Green Jewel Case (it was Pantone 339c, FYI) because it meant something to the artists and fans alike. A to Z have had many Grammy nominated projects and I am so fortunate to have worked things small and large including big box sets for Gang of Four, Hamilton and Pavement. I even get the opportunity to help industry friends and got to manufacture the Zoe Shanghai record, and that was very special to me because of the strong female roles within the band/management. While there are a few artists I still haven’t had the pleasure to work with, I have been giddy with excitement to work on/be associated with The Cure, Belle & Sebastian, Phoenix, The Pixies, Depeche Mode and my current obsession with Nation of Language. If Duran Duran ever happens, I retire – that’s it.
What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?
Disappointment and tears are hard. We work in an emotional business and that’s amazing when things go well, but in production it’s often a case of your Plan A, Plan B, Plan C…Plan Q. You have to be super resourceful to negotiate anything that comes your way on behalf of those artists/projects/clients you are working with…and sometimes, it can be a lot. Right now in vinyl, everyone is well aware of raw material, supply chain and capacity issues – I’d like to think that we’ve become fairly expert at navigating these things but if you have hundreds of active projects on your roster and even 10% of those have a complication, it can be a lot to deal with. However, I am a very positive person and believe you learn from adversity / mistakes and it only makes you stronger and a better partner. Also, if everything were easy how boring would that be? I like to be forced to think and connect to make projects happen – I’ve been fortunate enough in my career to see a lot of complex projects on the shelves of your favorite record stores and I am so proud of that, every single time I see something that I worked on. Production is amazing in that you have a tangible finished good for every project you work on & it feels so great to hold something you worked on in your hands – physical production is my jam!
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?
I am a fountain of advice (this is good and bad) and love to mentor as I have been mentored – it’s so important to support those around you, and those who have yet to be part of this dynamic industry.
First off – care about what you think you want to do…in physical production, that means audio / print / logistics / planning. Care about this stuff and the rest will come together – I certainly didn’t come into this role knowing what DMM (Direct to Metal Mastering) or an Obi was – but you learn and you love that learning process. Be open to listening, asking questions, learning, caring and doing – and you will win every time.
Next – You have to be a great communicator, and that means you have to listen as well as reach out. Zoom has made things so easy to get to know your partners/clients who live all over the world and it’s those connections that make you grow and become a successful production person.
Finally – Nothing is overnight, invest yourself / your time in being dedicated to the role and set goals, seek guidance and take proactive risks…
Before you know it, in my field you’ve made some pretty incredible records and that fact will never, ever go away because you manufactured that product and to me it’s like a series of amazing lifetime achievements! I was recently thinking I should put together a list of every title I’ve manufactured since the 90s, I bet it would be quite a read.
Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?
I collect everything, which is not really in line with someone who lives in an NYC apartment! I also weirdly believe that we truly don’t ‘own’ anything, so clearly I have internal conflict that I am still trying to work out. I owned a lot of cassettes, a lot of CDs, a lot of vinyl, a lot of merch and most importantly – probably one of the largest Billy Idol collections of my day. But again, in the phases of our lives physical things come and go and so I collect vinyl in terms of collecting my memories of that vinyl – the packaging, the shows I went to and the songs I sing over and over and over in my head.
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.
A good production person is always excited and at the very same time expecting the shoe to drop at any moment! For projects I am working on, I often say to myself “I love this record and street date is just a few months off, what if…” The excitement comes from the nature of the project and the team you make it with. The terror / worry is a different type of excitement that comes with the nature of all those vinyl related issues we’re facing right now including staffing, capacity and materials – but guess what, the stuff I’m worried about in 2022 probably won’t be the same stuff I have to deal with in 2023, everything is moving so fast but what I can say is that I expect things to look different (both good and challenging) this year.
For my company, I am super excited about our expansion into Merchandise, as well as Book production. We’ve made so many interesting things including Merch for Nancy Sinatra, MF Doom and Japanese Breakfast. From the book division, we’ve had some cool titles including from Beyond the Streets and the Butthole Surfers, and I expect this to grow significantly in the next 12 – 24 months at A to Z so there is a lot to look forward to and learn about.
Finally, and importantly (not a trend) is that my company intends to highlight / grow our range of sustainably made products so that our clients have choices when ordering with A to Z Media. Obviously this is super important in the world and the trickle down into our industry is something that is more challenging to implement given industry practices / product. Keep an eye on our site as we develop options and hopefully inspire others to do the same, for the sake of Mother Earth and all of her beautiful creatures.
Who has been influential to you and your growth as a professional in this industry?
My luck is unparalleled in this arena. I have so many strong female friends/mentors who have carried me over the course of my music industry years. I suppose this starts with my Mum who supported me in school, in life and got me to where I am today – that’s the truth, without her guidance I can’t tell you where I’d be.
Then, I have my professional fan club, those people I fangirl over despite knowing them for decades. Sarah Robertson / CEO + Founder of A to Z Media has been incredible in mentoring, leading, teaching and being a great support to me over the years. I am also always learning from my BFFs – Sonya Kolowrat / Beggars – she is so cool, knows every band, cares about all the things and has been in the industry from her Berklee Music days! Colleen Theis – another BFF who is killing it as COO at The Orchard. Talk about strong female leadership and she is so generous with her mentorship of others – every time we talk I learn something or steal an idea from her (don’t tell her that bit).
Anything else you’d like to add; if not tell us what you’re listening to:
I am an open book and love sharing, I could go on forever on any topic – how much time do you have? Favorite music genres are Indie and Pop. Bands now include Nation of Language, Hatchie, Cut Copy, Softer Still, Marble Arch, Ex Hex, The Julie Ruin, Phoenix. Legacy bands include exactly who you think I’d like (I am an easy read) but Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, New Order, The Cure, Spice Girls (nick name is Karpspice), The Pixies, Erasure, The Pet Shop Boys, The B-52s, Blondie, The Monkees (my first show, with Herman’s Hermits opening!), De La Soul, OMD, J Geils Band, Roxy Music (just saw them at MSG), Yaz, Belle & Sebastian and I could go on and on – how lucky are we that these bands exist and we get to listen.