Soundbites: Burlington Record Plant On the Move | Music News + Views | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Soundbites: Burlington Record Plant On the Move

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Published April 24, 2024 at 10:00 a.m.


From left: Justin Crowther, Andrew Rowekamp, Mitchell Baker, Alex Raine and Randi-Lynn Crowther at Burlington Record Plant. - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • From left: Justin Crowther, Andrew Rowekamp, Mitchell Baker, Alex Raine and Randi-Lynn Crowther at Burlington Record Plant.

Justin Crowther comes across as a humble man. Speaking about the decade-long history of the business he helped launch in the Queen City's South End, the owner and founder of Burlington Record Plant claimed little credit for his venture's accomplishments.

"I don't like to talk about legacy or things like that," Crowther said about starting a boutique pressing plant in Burlington in 2014, as vinyl began staging its grand 21st-century comeback. "But if there's one thing I'm proud of, it's coming up with the idea to make the first record ever in Vermont."

Crowther concocted that dream while touring with his former band, Waylon Speed. According to him, he knew "jack shit" about the resurgence of vinyl; he just wanted to start something cool and make records for his home music scene. So, with his brother and bandmate Noah Crowther and a handful of friends, Crowther launched Burlington Record Plant, which specializes in printing 12-inch custom vinyl and has manufactured records for artists such as Coheed and Cambria, Eve 6 and Daniel Johnston.

One reason Crowther might ponder his legacy now is that, come July, Burlington Record Plant will pick up stakes and move south to Albany, N.Y. The business has been purchased by Equal Vision Records, an independent label founded by punk musician Ray Cappo (Youth of Today, Shelter) that is home to notable punk and hardcore acts such as Hot Water Music, Armor for Sleep and Yellowcard.

"I grew up listening to so many records Equal Vision put out," Crowther told me on a recent visit to the plant with his wife and BRP co-owner, Randi-Lynn Crowther. "To join that crew is such a cool feeling."

The couple and several of their employees are gearing up to move to Albany this summer to work for Equal Vision. While their business will keep the name Burlington Record Plant, it will be a Vermont company only in name and spirit.

"I'm from Burlington and have lived here my entire life," Randi-Lynn said, sitting with Justin near one of the plant's vinyl printing presses. Records of many colors lined the walls, a tapestry of vinyl relating the history of the business. "We built our life and our family here together, but we couldn't pass up an opportunity like this," she continued. "This one is a unicorn."

The chain of events leading to the sale began not long before the pandemic, when the business took on local partners as investors.

"It didn't work out, and our values didn't align," Crowther said diplomatically, only noting that he had a stronger commitment to paying his employees fairly than the investors did.

"Justin and I have always been really good about staying true to our sense of integrity," Randi-Lynn said. "So we realized we needed to get those guys out."

After a few meetings with lawyers and forking over a significant sum to buy out their partners, Justin and Randi-Lynn got control of their business again. But doing so left them broke and at a crossroads.

"I was ready to plan a big party and just memorialize the business when Equal Vision approached us with their offer," Justin said. The label had been doing most of its printing in Europe, with high financial and environmental costs. In Burlington Record Plant, it found a ready-made solution for both parties' problems.

According to Justin, other companies made bigger offers, but most wanted to take over the Burlington facility as a new entity.

"That just felt off to me," he explained. "I put my blood, sweat and tears into this place — I didn't want to invite someone in to take the name and just do whatever. To take the business with us to this incredible label, it's just such a better scenario."

There's no doubt it's a loss for the Burlington music community. Many local artists printed their records at the plant, which often housed after-hours shows, including performances by Dinosaur Jr.'s Lou Barlow and Brattleboro thrashers Barishi.

"I love this community, man," Justin said with a shake of his head.

He added that loving Burlington has been tough for him the past few years, between dealing with "shitty local businesspeople" and the rise in crime and drugs. "I started to develop a sort of negative view of the city," he said. "But when I moved here from Pennsylvania in 2001, this place helped change my life and has given me so much. Honestly, I'm going to miss it here a lot."

Randi-Lynn pointed out that the move may not be permanent, as the couple are keeping their Burlington house and renting it out when they move to Albany. But she's excited for the next chapter for her family and the business.

"We've paid all our loans off; we hugged our banker. It's all really happening," she said with wide, incredulous eyes. "I kept my job at UVM for all these years while still working at the label so Justin and I and the kids could have health care and benefits. But my last day at the university was two weeks ago. I'm an employee of Equal Vision now, so ... here we go!"

It's an ideal scenario for the record plant and the Crowthers, and I'm beyond excited that the business survived bad investors and a pandemic to land where it has. That said, I can't help feeling a little remorse about losing a vital piece of the local music scene, not to mention a unique and cool local business.

So often I've stopped at Feldman's Bagels, which shares the record plant's building, to grab a bagel on my way to the office. As I exited, I'd pause to stare at the nondescript warehouse in the back, marveling that vinyl records were being printed there at that very moment. In a music world dominated by downloads and streaming, there was a real Great-Library-of-Alexandria vibe to the BRP. I'm not sure we'll see its like again in the Queen City.

So raise a glass to Burlington Record Plant before it moves on this summer. We were lucky to have you.

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