This week we have the pleasure of introduction you to Alli Klein the Production Coordinator for Smashed Plastic a DIY independent vinyl record pressing plant. A fixture in Chicago’s indie music scene, many of their employees are members of local bands. Being in the Hermosa neighborhood of Chicago allows them a more frequent and deeper relationship with artists. They are neighbors with our friends at Music Graphics Chicago as well! Alli is also a DJ for Toast & Jam a group of super-talented, music-obsessed, DJs making sure that weddings, corporate events, and parties are truly focused on the people attending. She also volunteers as an on air DJ for CHIRP Radio – all based in Chicago
When she’s not working or DJ’ing she’s booking local bands for CHIRP radio events, or hiking / backpacking on an adventure with her husband Will. They have hiked in Hawaii, Italy, Costa Rica, the Ozark Trail, and Pictured Rocks Nat’l Lakeshore, to name a few. You can also find her playing with her dog Owen an Irish Red & White Setter, cooking and gardening or listening to records with friends, “…never gets old.”
How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?
I’ve been obsessed with music from a very young age. I made homemade radio shows on my tape recorder as a child. I joined the Radio/TV club at my high school in the southwest burbs of Chicago. I went to Columbia College Chicago for Radio Broadcasting, graduated in 2008.
I found CHIRP Radio (The Chicago Independent Radio Project – an independent all volunteer run community radio station) just after graduating and got involved right away on-air and behind the scenes. I worked in commercial radio briefly after college interning for 97.9 The Loop and Q101 in the programming department, employed by US99.5 for 6 years doing overnights and co-producing the Lisa Dent & Ramblin’ Ray morning show. That didn’t pan out long term.
CHIRP gave me the freedom to explore radio the way it was meant to be enjoyed, and it also was the place I met my future bosses! Fellow CHIRP volunteer Mary Nisi, owner of Toast & Jam DJs hired me in 2013, and Andy Weber & John Lombardo, two of the four owners of Smashed Plastic, who are also CHIRP volunteers, welcomed me to the Smashed Plastic family in March of 2021.
What is a day in the life like?
As Production Coordinator at Smashed Plastic, I work closely with our Business Manager Amber Kresser, and support her in what she needs. We do all the back end stuff – give out quotes for each order, work with labels and artists to coordinate their artwork (labels, jackets, inner sleeves, inserts, etc.) to send out to the printers we work with, get the audio from the bands out to the lacquer cutters and plating companies, answer email inquiries, and keep orders moving along the queue, setting up the pressing calendar for the year. I also get to help out sometimes in the packaging department, sleeving the records before they go out the door!
In your opinion what has been your favorite / the coolest thing you’ve worked on?
It’s really cool to be a part of the process of getting someone’s music to them in tangible form, and receiving glowing feedback from artists who are over the moon to have their music finally on vinyl. One of the more recent local Chicago albums we worked on came out super cool, from this band called Ganser who had this whole vision using the color red for their latest release Nothing You Do Matters. We’re all also very excited to work with Jeff Tweedy who is helping to fund our third press machine, due to arrive at the plant sometime in early 2023 to increase our production.
What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?
Repeating myself a lot in emails can get frustrating! Any miscommunication regarding explaining how to fix artwork or being on the correct templates. Oh, and not being able to attend some of our in house cool social events / live music performances in the plant because my weekends are also spent DJ’ing weddings.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?
Go to see local bands and support that scene. Meet people there. The bands, the sound guy, the venue people. Don’t limit yourself by assuming there’s no room for you.
If you don’t already have a background in the industry, so long as you have a passion for it. Most places, if they’re good, will train you and help you along the way. And hey, there’s so much information at your fingertips on YouTube if you want to dabble in DJ’ing
Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?
My parents still tell me how many of their record player needles I ruined as a toddler because I would play The White Album over and over. As a child of the 90s (born in ’86) Cassettes and CDs were big for me in my youth too. I took my discman with me EVERYWHERE. When I moved out for college, I inherited my grandfather’s record player and receiver, got speakers from someone on Craigslist, and took a bunch of my parents collection with me. I took my best friend’s parents collection when they got rid of it, and then I slowly started collecting my own, visiting as many shops as possible and as much as I could afford – Chicago is great for that! My husband has a large collection too; though we still refuse to merge them after almost 15 years together! Vinyl is just so special – from the sound quality to the solid feel of something in your hands, and the artwork and liner notes. Working at Smashed Plastic is great, since a perk of the job is getting to take home some of the albums we press! I am going to need a new shelf soon!
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.
It’s just exciting that people appreciate vinyl again and that trend isn’t stopping any time soon. But prices are still going up for materials across the board throughout, well, every industry and that includes us, due to the lingering supply chain issues and whatnot, so I’m really hoping it doesn’t end up pricing out the smaller local bands or smaller labels that we try to focus on.
Who has been influential to you and your growth as a professional in this industry?
Shoutout to our Business Manager Amber who always makes me feel supported, and the rest of the Smashed Plastic crew for being so welcoming. Shawn Campbell at CHIRP Radio for her stellar leadership. Lisa Dent for her guidance and friendship during my time at US99.5., and my childhood through college radio hero, Terri Hemmert of WXRT. Also my parents for instilling a love of music early on in life. thanks Dad for all the “name that tune” games in the car (before the car told you what song was playing).
Anything else you’d like to add; if not tell us what you’re listening to:
Smashed Plastic: @smashedplastic
Toast and Jams DJs: @toastandjamdjs