Asheville, NC (November 30, 2020)—Vinyl record sales have been steadily rising over recent years, a fact that did not go unnoticed by 30-year music industry veteran Gar Ragland. Following a visit to musician Jack White’s pressing plant in Detroit several years ago, he decided to open his own vinyl facility in the mountains of North Carolina.
“It was seeing what Third Man Pressing are doing that really helped affirm my gut instinct that a similar concept would do well in Asheville,” says Ragland. “Not only because of our homegrown love of music and history of craft here in North Carolina, but also because we have 12 million tourists coming through town, many of whom are seeking a cultural adventure.”
Ragland’s Citizen Vinyl plant, on the first floor of the historic three-story Asheville Citizen-Times newspaper building, has plenty to appeal to tourists. The pressing plant, operated under the guidance of German native Peter Schaper, is behind glass and open to view. Ragland’s business concept has evolved to include a collective of local craftspeople.
“Under one business entity, we have vinyl pressing along with a vinyl record-themed cocktail bar, a farm-to-table café, and a store, Coda, that features new vinyl records and an art gallery featuring local visual artists. We call it analog sound and art,” he says. Staff curate Daily Sides, an in-store vinyl playlist that’s posted on Instagram and soon will be streamed on Citizen Vinyl’s website.
The newspaper built broadcast studios for its WWNC-AM radio station on the third floor in 1939, introducing a national listening audience to bluegrass music. “Hundreds of acts would play in Studio A, including Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys,” says Ragland.
Having rented a room for years at the nearby Echo Mountain Recording facility, Ragland, a musician, composer, producer and owner of the New-Song Music label, saw an opportunity to open his own studio. The building’s owner was days from turning WWNC’s studios into office space when Ragland took a tour: “I pleaded with him to put the sledgehammers down and give us some time to figure out how we could save this piece of Asheville and American roots music history.”
The Citizen Studios are in WWNC’s former Studio A, with 32 tielines to the high-ceilinged Studio B, now a multipurpose live and event space. “We’ve tracked a few projects in there and are still figuring out what the room’s strengths and weaknesses are,” he says.
“We hired David Rochester of Technical Audio Services to work on our restoration and treatment. He’s also a dealer for Rupert Neve Designs, so I worked with him to get a 5088 console in here and he helped with the wiring and installation. He’s been a great member of the Citizen Vinyl team.”
Ragland, a Rupert Neve fan, says, “What I love about this console is that it’s a new, warrantied piece of equipment, but it has all the mojo and vibe of the classic Neve sound. It’s got a lot of depth and breadth and horsepower, but it’s also simple and elegant in its design, which I find empowering.”
He has since added some Shelford modules in the desk’s penthouse. “Those sound so good—the EQs are amazing. Over time, and as our needs grow, I can pick up more.”
Ragland’s moved in his collection of gear and added some new pieces, including pairs of ATC SCM25A Pro and Yamaha NS-10M nearfield monitors. “I’m really into analog sound and trying to do as much out of the box as I can,” says Ragland. “I find it’s a much more enjoyable workflow and a more creative way to put mixes together.”
Ragland intends to continue taking projects to Echo Mountain. “We have no aspirations of being a commercial recording studio. In addition to my own workload, there are a couple of younger producers and engineers coming in a few days a month, but we’re not advertising day rates.”
Mastering engineer Ryan Schilling of American Vinyl Company has now moved his Neumann VMS 66 lathe into WWNC’s former control room. “We’re going to be able to offer vinyl mastering services on site for our pressing clients,” says Ragland. He plans to engage Schilling’s services to offer local and touring artists and their fans limited-edition vinyl keepsakes of in-store performances in the first-floor space.
“It’s not the ideal time to be starting a business,” Ragland admits, “but vinyl sales are up 17 percent from last year. It’s one of these industries that’s grown—not despite the pandemic but because of it.”
Citizen Vinyl • www.citizenvinyl.com