Roni Hyde | Press Operator, Smashed Plastic

As you may have noticed we kind of like Halloween here at Women in Vinyl, and Roni fits right in with her love of horror soundtracks, which is part of what propelled her into this industry.  Meet Roni Hyde, Press Operator at Smashed Plastic Record Pressing in Chicago.  She runs two semi-automatic record presses to press top quality vinyl records for artists and labels (mostly) local and abroad. Read more about Smashed Plastic (as well as their Production Coordinator Alli Klein) here.

Outside of work,“I enjoy spending time with family, riding my bike, and working on music. My kiddo is really good at video games, so I cheer her on in many boss fights. We love going to the movies and taking our dog to LaBagh Woods”. Roni and her partner make logos, set pieces and dub tapes of their respective projects for each other. “We combine musically as Infants of Sacrilege and spin tales about possessed dolls, pareidolia, and graveyard games”.  She also loves playing shows around town with her friends, as she also plays bass and sings in Dusty Turrets a hard rock trio with experimental roots “…with a bunch of original tracks after a Halloween stint as Chicago Steel (a working title) for our Judas Priest cover set. We have some shows coming up in March and April, and in the meantime are excited to work with Lindsay Miller, another Press Operator at Smashed Plastic, on some solid and sordid new recordings.”

How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?

My mom’s parents were both singers in the Lyric Opera and Hull House Opera in Chicago. Some weekends we would visit them in Jefferson Park and they’d be singing so loudly and beautifully that they wouldn’t hear us knocking and calling for them from their front door. I learned many beautiful songs and hymns from them and had plenty of practice in my grammar school days singing at choir practice, school mass on Friday, and then again on Sundays with my family. I would eagerly hoard old retired hymnals once the new ones were ready to stock the pews, practicing on my own getting ready to really show my stuff at church. I loved the bellowing cantors of my day and to sing along in my most holy voice was above all my favorite part.

Early on I was drawn to dramatic vocal performances, ritual group numbers, and classical arrangements. I also loved scary movies, especially those with a killer score. Even if the film disturbed me to my innermost core, the way Cemetery Man, Phantasm, and Candyman did, the music stayed with me. I could imagine the haunting overture of strings and electronics in my head, creating horrifying scenarios of my own out of riding my bike or turning out the basement lights, and I definitely still do this. The drama and arrangement of horror movie soundtracks captivated me, like a ceremony far much more macabre and exciting than Sunday Mass. In my opinion, there is a soundtrack for everything. I never figured I’d find a job involving music, just that music was an indefinite part of my life. Always wanting and wondering how to parlay my passion for music and my industrious nature into a career, I whistled while I worked in many different capacities over the years as a cook, shop hand, carpenter, etc. while singing in bands and playing DIY shows.

In 2021, I applied to work as a Pressing Technician at Smashed Plastic, met with owners Andy Weber and Steve Polutnik who subsequently invited me to join the team after a second interview with management. My first introduction to the rest of the team was at a holiday party. I made new friends at my new job as we snatched records from one another during a vinyl-only White Elephant and bopped to the cymbal-smashing sounds of local darlings Clickbait live at the plant.

What is a day in the life like?

Once I get to the plant, I check the current jobs being pressed. Everything I need to know is or can be programmed into the machine- the artist and catalog number, how far we are into the job, and the real-time settings that correlate to our PVC compound and conditions of the plant and each press. I check in with the squad and confirm current and future itinerary which includes the readiness of stampers (negative copies of the master lacquer), labels, PVC, spindles, and cooling plates.

Our pressing team and packaging crew all have eyes and ears on the quality of each record as we frequently compare them to the test press initially produced after a set of stampers mounts the press for the very first time with the goal of making the record sound even better. Our pressing manager, Nick Novak moonlights as our in-house maintenance and repair specialist whose knowledge and familiarity with the press keeps us rocking steady. With an incredible team of industrious problem solvers, we work together to limit mechanical errors so that our presses are always in optimum working order making quiet, flat records.

Between two stampers

In your opinion what has been your favorite / the coolest thing you’ve worked on?

There are too many cool things to consider and I could never pick an absolute favorite, but so far I’ve pressed a collection I am very proud of. Peter Brotzmann, Tomeka Reid, Laurie Anderson, Jaimie Branch, Faxed Head, Ono, Abner Jay, and The Ponderosa Twins Plus One to name a few. I am honored for my involvement in the physical evolution of these projects, and what better way to prove it than to make it look and sound good? I know an intro is no place for a rowdy noise floor, and to carefully inspect what I might easily overlook on a record pressed on crystal clear vinyl. So in my mission for quality control, sometimes I end up really loving the music, or developing a more deepened appreciation for the artist. I never got tired of listening to Marching In The Mist by Marvin Tate’s D Settlement, I would QC that one forever.

What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?

It is difficult to reconcile with the damage plastics have done to our planet. Manufacturing petrochemical products requires constant accountability for how we process and reuse our PVC, which is a highly recyclable material. In our case at Smashed Plastic, we aim not to waste and we recycle the PVC that does not press a worthy enough record. We cut up pucks by hand and consolidate flash by color and material. Our production manager, Robbie Hamilton is an inventory task-master who along with August Greenberg keep our smashed plastics ground, sorted, and ready for reuse. In my opinion, music is one of the best things to put onto a piece of recycled plastic, and we have the machinery and facility to do that under one roof.

Part of a record press, the hopper that the PVC goes into the barrel where it is then heated to form a puck.

What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?

I think any job that keeps you interested and involved in the things you love is worthwhile, and all of your skills and experience certainly are relevant and useful.

I’ve been a camp counselor, a prep cook, a french pastry cook, a “failed lab experiment” in a haunted excavation site and even achieved my AWS welding certification at Chicago Women In Trades before finding my place at Smashed Plastic. I did not follow a linear path into the vinyl industry. As Chop Top from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 said, “Music is my life!” and I knew curating the playlist at the shop or in the kitchen was barely scratching the surface for me. If music is your passion, get involved in any way that feels comfortable and natural for you.

Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?

I have an ever-expanding collection of vinyl. Vinyl records are essentially art objects- tangible, playable and sometimes opulent physical manifestations of somebody’s work, listenable without ad breaks or phone notifications to interrupt and distract. My stacks have grown quite a bit since keeping copies of albums I have pressed, but I still have records from what seems like a lifetime ago. Some of these oldies like Songs of Love and Hate by Leonard Cohen and Calypso by Harry Belafonte have been with me since I was a child, thanks to my mom. Some recent additions include a variety of old 45’s I picked up at the Brown Elephant, Energy by The Pointer Sisters and Laurel Hell by Mitski (which belongs to my daughter who lovingly shares with me).

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 am inspired by the relationship our plant has with its clients, and I think making more space for lesser known and underrepresented artists the way we do at Smashed Plastic is very important. So while I am happy to see local record stores doing well on Record Store Day, I wish the shelves would never need to be stuffed with highly commoditized 7” vinyl or double LPs in multiple colors by artists already dominating every other platform for sharing, selling, and streaming music, and that pressing plants would not have to dismiss lesser known artists for this easy cash grab.

Who has been influential to you and your growth as a professional in this industry?

The entire team at Smashed Plastic has been integral to my growth as a Press Operator. In house we’ve got an array of artists and tradespeople and no shortage of expertise. John, Andy and Steve, who are always on site, work closely with the pressing and packaging teams often affirming our work-flow and providing excellent extra-curricular activities to attend and enjoy including the American Dreams label showcase, Plastic Love: a monthly employee DJ night at Sleeping Village, and Smashed Plastic Live: Volume 1.

Anything else you’d like to add; if not tell us what you’re listening to: 

I love the music people are making in Chicago. Favorite local acts include HIDE, Ono, Seeker Pearl, Joanna Connor, Jabberwocky Marionettes, Executioner Miralda, Bussy Kween Power Trip, Gas Mask Horse, Joshua Virtue and Kebranto.

Find Roni: 

Instagram:

Roni: @it___frose and @dustyturrets

Smashed Plastic: @smashedplastic

Facebook: @smashedplastic

Website: www.smashedplastic.com

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