Justin and Randi-Lynn Crowther have believed in each other from the very beginning.
Their story began in the summer of 2001, when they met as teenagers working together at a pizza shop in downtown Burlington. Randi-Lynn had grown up in the area and was finishing high school. Meanwhile, Justin had just moved to Vermont from Pennsylvania and was busy making music. They quickly became close friends. Eight years later, they got married.
“We were supportive of one another,” says Randi-Lynn. “He’s the whole reason I had the confidence to go to school.”
Burlington Record Plant just pressed 100 copies of Black Blue & White, a double album from CCV Academic Coordinator Ted Pappadopoulos and his band the New Siberians.
Sitting in his quiet office in Montpelier, Pappadopoulos talks about growing up with music. “I had a little old lady piano teacher who’d smack me on the hand,” he recalls. At 15, he traveled abroad with the Massachusetts Youth Wind Ensemble, which included a stop at the Vatican where he played a baritone horn solo for the Pope on Easter Sunday. After college—among other musical pursuits—he joined the band Go to Blazes, which toured first in the U.S. and then in Europe. Before starting at CCV 15 years ago, he helped run the Vermont Rock Music Camp.
Like Justin Crowther, he’s a musician who now balances that work with the demands of a day job. When asked how he manages to make time for both, Pappadopoulos says, “I don’t. I just let both be equally interruptive.”
And there are similarities between his work as a musician and his work at CCV—which began with teaching. “Entertainers know how to allow people to have a good time and to be relaxed, and relaxed people who are having a good time are very productive, interesting people. I think that’s the nexus. I learned how to get my class in a state of mind that was very productive and it felt like entertainment. It felt like music.”
Hear some New Siberians
The Great Forgetter
The artwork for the Black Blue & White album cover was done by Ted’s good friend, artist, and fellow CCV Academic Coordinator Jeremy Vaughn.
“Finding an overall vision for the album was most challenging. Normally when a designer makes an album cover they might get a chance to hear the content of it,” Vaughn says, his face somewhere between grin and furrowed brow. “I’d only heard the [New Siberians’] prior album.” But when Pappadopoulos shared with Vaughn a collection of photographs of the band members as kids, Vaughn was inspired to look to the design styles of the 1970s. “My intent was to design something for today’s audience but reference another time through subtle cues to the past.”
When Vaughn was asked how he finds the time to create art when he’s doing something else to make a living, he replied, “It’s just a balancing act. I don’t really see it as much of a challenge. What’s stressful is going to the mechanic. Going to the ER, that’s stressful stuff. This is all just smooth-sailing wonderfulness.”
All told, Vaughn says it took him about four months to complete the artwork for Black Blue & White. (“My computer blew up about halfway through. So that was really fun.”) His designs call on a sense of nostalgia, with ‘70s-style font, digital imagery, and several of those black and white photographs of the musicians as kids.
“The creative process is not the same as writing checks or balancing your health insurance account or mortgage payment,” says Vaughn. “It’s more absurd in nature. Things don’t have to make sense. Gravity and the laws of physics don’t have to matter anymore. You can do what you want. That type of freedom is incredibly important.”
Both Justin and Randi-Lynn are graduates of CCV. After taking classes in many locations for many years—Justin is a lifelong musician who toured with the band Waylon Speed—;after quitting jobs and finding new jobs; after deciding to finally go for it and finish a college degree; after piecing it all together, they walked side by side in the June 2013 graduation ceremony. Which is fitting: Justin and Randi-Lynn make a really good team.
The Crowthers have come a long way since they first met fifteen years ago, and today they’re still working side by side. Together, they own Burlington Record Plant, which for almost two years has been producing vinyl records inside the tall and narrow unit #5 at Burlington’s 660 Pine St. The Plant is the only place in New England, and one of only about 17 places in the country, where records are being pressed. And, Justin says, it represents the debut of vinyl manufacturing in Vermont.
The business has been nothing short of a success. There’s a growing demand for vinyl, and Justin and Randi-Lynn seem to have talent, determination, and creativity in just the right measure. But Randi-Lynn is modest: “It’s really about making connections,” she says. “We’ve been so fortunate. We’ve been able to connect with so many community resources.” She says they’ve learned invaluable skills by working with mentors, advisors, community partners, and others.
When they were starting out, the Crowthers went to Burlington’s Small Business Development Center, where they worked closely with a key advisor and an accountant. Other connections have arisen “out of the blue.” She says it’s all about building a network. “People reach out to Justin and say, ‘I can’t believe you’re doing this. I want to see for myself.’” And that spark of interest inevitably leads to a relationship. It’s those connections, Randi-Lynn says, that make their work so successful and so rewarding. “It’s been really organic. We’ve been really lucky.”
On a recent warm November afternoon, BRP’s bay door is wide open, the hum of music and machinery a welcoming cacophony. Stepping inside, where the walls are covered in rows of colorful vinyl, feels like stepping into a sacred kind of chaos. A hand-assembled steam-pressured press is pushing out 12-inch records, and Justin keeps working while he talks.
“I get really sentimental about preserving this format because I think it’s just absolutely incredible that it’s all mechanical and physical,” he says. “Growing up in the punk and hardcore music scene, records were such an intrinsic part of that. I feel honored to be able to give people records that are really trying their best to do something positive.”
“I think we might be the smallest press in the world,” Justin says. Still, they’ve made about 100,000 records since opening in the spring of 2015. “It’s absolute insanity right now. My son’s almost two, and I think I pressed my first record the day after he was born, so it’s been a really wild ride.”
While Justin takes on the nitty gritty of plant operations, Randi-Lynn handles the books. With a background in administration and a solid understanding of accounting, she says assuming her role at the Plant was completely natural.
She also wanted to support Justin in realizing his dreams. The Record Plant, the idea for which Justin describes as an “aha” moment, is the result of many months of focus and hard work. Justin read books, traveled, and made connections with people who could—albeit sometimes reluctantly—share some of the trade secrets. He and Randi-Lynn went out on a limb and used most of their savings to buy the equipment from an old record company in Germany—some of the same machinery that had been in use at the Warner Brothers plant.
At CCV, Justin and Randi-Lynn both focused their studies on the arts. Justin earned his degree in liberal studies, and Randi-Lynn in visual arts. And while Justin’s work at the Plant keeps him more immersed in the art world on a daily basis, Randi-Lynn says there’s a lot of collaborating when it comes to creating their aesthetic. “There’s a visual aspect to the record business. I really like being involved in seeing that come through.”
Yet Randi-Lynn, who also works full-time at the University of Vermont’s College of Medicine, says she usually does Plant work during her lunch break. “There are times when it’s really hard,” she admits. On top of her career and the Record Plant, they’re parents of a toddler. But she says they’re good at remembering to step back and focus on the big picture.
“We’ve been through so much together. We have a really strong relationship. We’ve really supported one another and pushed each other.” Part of their success, she says, lies in taking advantage of every opportunity they’ve come across. She says she’s pushed herself to take on challenges, and that they’ve both been willing to put themselves out there, to utilize community resources and to take risks. “We’ve both been able to have a vision and be tenacious,” she says.
What’s ahead for the Plant? “We’ve achieved a balance but we’re still fine-tuning,” says Randi-Lynn. “Finding out what’s sustainable. We should still grow. We don’t want to grow too big. There’s a lot of freedom in being small and independent.”
And for the Crowthers? It’s safe to say they’re going to keep striving to support their family, their work, and their community. “My favorite part of being in school was being in my community, working with faculty one on one,” Randi-Lynn says. Today, she cherishes the kind of engagement BRP has provided them. “It’s important to be producing something other people appreciate,” she says. “It’s like giving back. That benefit to the community is what it’s all about.”
Randi-Lynn says that when they were students at CCV, they worked closely with Academic Coordinator Dana Lee and his wife, faculty member and well-known painter Stephanie Bush. She says they were role models for her and Justin. “‘Look at them! They did it, and they have a family,’” she remembers thinking.
“It’s sort of like it comes full circle in so many ways. We’re only successful as a result of the support we’ve received. We’ve been mentored—that’s a big deal. Ultimately, that’s who we want to be. We want to give support to people who need it, because anything is possible.”
At the heart of their growing network of friendships and partnerships, at the base of the family and the community they’re building, is the bond they’ve shared from the beginning. When it comes down to it, says Randi-Lynn, their story is about being a champion of one another.