Meet Nicole Gonzalez who works in packaging and QC at Smashed Plastic. We had the pleasure to meet her and some of her wonderful colleagues at our 5 year Anniversary party this year in Chicago. Nicole is originally from SoCal but now calls Chicago home. Her job at Smashed Plastic includes QC’ing records off the press to check for all variables of quality that most consumers don’t think about when buying a record; like trimmer plate issues to cold spots to label orientation, and more. “In the real world, we can’t listen to every record, so I mitigate the rejects for regrind by checking audio quality as well for every QC offload“. In addition to QC, she packages records and prepares them to ship all around the world. Everything from sleeving and jacketing to shrink-wrapping and affixing hype stickers to the client’s specifications. “It’s the details that count and I make sure every one is looked after. To say my job is fun would be an understatement, as it has been fulfilling in my life and allowed me to be a more creative, collaborative person while helping me network with so many unique individuals in the Chicago music scene. This is my prime and I’m living it now, and this is what I choose to do”.
Working two jobs Nicole’s free time is few and far between. When not working she says “I try to get out when I can”. Going to see live music has been a huge part of her musical journey, so she works to support the scene. “I just saw new local legends NO MEN and Cel Ray this summer. For bigger acts, I’ve also seen Bikini Kill, Skating Polly, Thick, and Destroy Boys when they came thru Chicago this year. I can’t go on about live acts without mentioning my nice Canadian boys, RUSH, which I’ve seen 5 times in my life, long before The Professor, Neil Fking Peart, passed away just before worldwide COVID lockdown. I can only imagine and dream about the songs he would have written during this tumultuous time in our human history”.
How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?
Only been a casual record collector pre-covid. I upgraded my turntable and my collection tripled in size as my love of analog media returned in full force since previously losing CD’s and tapes from past breakups and moves.
After working in Tech for 7 years and enduring 3 layoffs, I wanted to find ways to incorporate my passions into my work so that I can get paid to do what I love. I knew I was interested in working in music again. I previously answered the request and business lines at KROQ-FM in Los Angeles and volunteered at the CHIRP Record Fair here in Chicago, so I began offering my resume to the local record stores, which was bad timing for me. It was the thick of COVID lockdown, and record stores were on a collective hiring freeze, so I started looking into record distros and pressing plants.
There they were, Smashed Plastic here in Chicago, pumping out records trying to keep up with the demand. I knew they needed help but it was also I who needed them. I sent a general job inquiry, knowing I’d be up for any challenge if there was a vacancy. Andy replied back that they were looking for a sleever to work in packaging and was open to interviewing. My persistence was rewarded and here I am two years later, slinging records, growing my collection, learning more as I grow with the Team. My exposure to all kinds of music has increased exponentially. Not a day goes by I am not listening to something new and interesting. I do it because I love music and I love discovery.
What is a day in the life like?
I work a full-time unrelated job in Tech, which has sharpened my skills in Customer and Client support as well as Community Engagement within the Social Media space. While doing that, I will work part-time at Smashed QC’ing records and getting them ready for sleeving and packaging. Such a schedule calls for lots of coffee and lots of sweating. Lots of communication with the Press-ops and lots of flexibility, as sometimes it’s necessary to shift gears and change the project you are working on so that you are able to stay on top of our main goal, which is getting crisp and clean records out the door to the client, packaged up neatly and ready for the sales floor and into the collector’s hands.
It’s hard work, as most factory jobs are, however there is nothing more satisfying than ending a day at the plant going home with a fresh new record knowing that you put your heart and soul into something that the world will get to experience. It’s been very rewarding and I wish I could do it everyday. But in true Millennial fashion, you gotta hustle to get the most out of your work, and if that means working 7 days for two jobs to help get close to your dreams, then so be it.
In your opinion what has been your favorite / the coolest thing you’ve worked on?
So many jobs have come through the doors at Smashed, it’s really difficult to narrow down from the archives of excellent and local music. Working closely with Numero Group, a stand-out for me is the release of Antena’s Camino Del Sol record, which is phenomenal electronic music ahead of its time. I’ve had dreams about this record, it’s truly transcendent. I am also partial to every Wednesday record we pressed, I’ve absolutely spun Wednesday at my own DJ night at Smashed’s DJ residency, called Plastic Love. We’ve also had so many great clients with stellar catalogs over time that we have had the honor of pressing. International Anthem and StarCreature puts out amazing stuff that I always have to secure copies for my own collection. And because I’m a riot grrrl with a punk obsession, I gotta give a shoutout to my buddies at the What’s For Breakfast label. Under their roster is local lads Lollygagger. I am pining for a copy of Lollygagger’s repress of Total Party Kill, which is the fast paced kind of punk n roll that will scratch any rock itch. You also can’t talk about favorites without talking about the big projects like Sonic Youth and Wilco. I thank my lucky stars I get to be some of the first people to hear these gems.
What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?
While I am having a blast wearing a lot of hats, learning basically every single element of the business and what goes into the pressing process, it leaves me craving some structure with the current lack of defined career pathing. I have so many tools, knowledge, and skills that I’d love to showcase, but there are immediate needs for all the housekeeping and other crucial projects at the plant. Sometimes, I will want to focus on one task and will get pulled into doing last minute QC offloads because the Press Ops will have their hands tied with other essential duties that help make the plant run efficiently. But in a way, I feel the challenge, and appreciate so much that the Smashed crew sees me as an important piece to the puzzle. We are experiencing growing pains, however, everyone has been so receptive to feedback that I truly feel their trust in me. I have so many ideas I want to share with Smashed, I can’t wait to see what the future holds for all of us.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?
I think everyone who is interested in expanding their horizons should absolutely reach out and connect with their local pressing plant. Ask to tour the plant and introduce yourself. Talk music, talk about relevant experience and your goals.
Getting face time and being persistent with communication can really pay off, as I’ve seen in my own experience. Follow the socials, check out their Discogs, be familiar with the process as it will help you in the long run when you are on the job. Be opened minded, get ready to get your hands dirty.
Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?
I am an active collector! Digging through my Dad’s collection when I was younger was what drew me to it. It’s a small yet mighty collection that has lots of New Wave, Punk, Industrial, Motown, Dad Rock, and local records. I acquire records from record stores, record fairs, pop-ups, online shopping, and swaps. In the before times, buying records was a cheap alternative to CD’s and tapes.
Today, I can still get great punk records at shows for $20-25, so while inflation got vinyl in some ways, in other ways you can still find great music in your dollar bins and by going to shows and buying merch. My favorite record to spin lately is local garage punk group Watermelon. I only discovered them from a failed Tinder date, which this band absolutely rocks about the dating woes of a 30-something Chicagoan, so it feels very near and dear to me and my current plight.
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.
Smashed Plastic is currently undergoing an expansion we have not even fathomed in our 5 year existence. We keep growing and kicking ass, that we are implementing new machinery and technology to help us pump out records faster and more efficiently. We just brought home our third press and are switching out our thermal units for a boiler which is going to make temperature more controlled and consistent. Like I said, it’s an exciting time to be a part of the team, and I hope to see our plant grow and flourish with each new upgrade.
Who has been influential to you and your growth as a professional in this industry?
Lisa Worden. Go look her up! She was my first boss in the music industry and was already the Music Director for The World Famous KROQ at the time I worked under her. She has since moved up the ranks, earning her stripes as the Vice President of Rock & Alternative for iHeartMedia, is the Program Director for ALT 98.7 FM, and hosts her own radio show @sheisthevoice featuring some of the most influential women in alternative music. She’s always been the model for what I aspire to be: an encyclopedia of music knowledge, driven, persistent, and always interested in learning more, adding more tools to her ever growing arsenal. It has been a joy to see Lisa’s career evolve over the years, I am forever indebted to her for the time we worked together and giving me a chance.
Anything else you’d like to add; if not tell us what you’re listening to:
In addition to the local and big acts already mentioned, I’d like everyone reading this to check out the following bands: Dusty Turrets, Fire-Toolz, Avantist, Bussy Kween Power Trip, Bev Rage and the Drinks, Everyday Specials, Dangus Tarkus, Miniskirt, Aweful, The Cell Phones, Sweetie, NightFreak, XYZXYZ, and Heet Deth.
Smashed Plastic: @smashedplastic