It’s been a story really unlike any other – Chad Kassem is sent by the courts from Lafayette, Louisiana, to Salina, Kansas, to seek sobriety. It’s 1984. Living in a halfway house, he furthers his passion for collecting records, beginning in earnest a literal substitution of vinyl for drugs and booze.
He takes a job as a third-shift line cook at a local truck stop, earning not much more than minimum wage. Then works watching light bulbs roll at Philips Lighting as a temp just dying to get on fulltime for what he thinks would be a good job.
All the while Chad’s collecting records at a freakish pace. He’s doing this precisely as the CD is replacing the LP in the mainstream. Soon enough, Chad realizes that while most people are dumping their vinyl, there is still quite a nice niche market for the most collectible audiophile LPs. A few “buy-sell-trade” advertisements in some audiophile magazines later and the first domino falls. Chad begins to sell records out of his two-bedroom apartment. Not too long after, he quits his job on the light bulb line and in 1986 officially begins Acoustic Sounds.
The story then progresses in stages that Chad likes to describe as “the next natural step”. Natural, that is, for a rabid entrepreneur with seemingly no fear of risk.
A one-man operation in a two-bedroom apartment grows to include a few employees operating out of Chad’s decent-sized ranch house.
A few more employees are added and the business moves to a larger downtown location.
And now in addition to selling the records released by others, Chad begins to reissue his own audiophile favorites on his Analogue Productions reissue label.
Then there are more employees and another move to a 6,000-square-foot warehouse.
And when a gothic-style church goes up for sale near downtown Salina, Chad purchases it initially for extra Acoustic Sounds storage. But the visionary takes over before the first box of extra records is ever moved in. Who wouldn’t look at a church in the middle of a mid-sized Kansas town and think state-of-the-art recording studio and concert hall? Chad did, and Blue Heaven Studios was born.
Just before that, Chad had begun APO Records, an original label recording primarily older blues legends.
And in 1998, Chad starts hosting a weekend blues festival – the Blues Masters at the Crossroads – at Blue Heaven, showcasing many of the same artists he’s recorded for his APO label.
Chad and Acoustic Sounds are now not just selling records, they’re reissuing and recording their own. And putting on concerts in their spare time!
A graphic design staff is added, and Acoustic Sounds is now producing the artwork to accompany their products in-house.
Chad becomes a part owner of AcousTech Mastering (now defunct after 14 years) and he’s now, in the case of the original titles on APO, controlling the production process from the microphone to the cutting lathe to the artwork to the boxing and shipping. It’s almost complete vertical integration.
Many more employees later and Acoustic Sounds is in an 18,000-square-foot warehouse.
Just six years after that and Acoustic Sounds relocates to a three-building compound totaling 70,000 square feet.
And as part of the expansion, Quality Record Pressings – a no-expense-spared, totally innovative vinyl pressing plant – is born.
So now, all in little Salina, Kansas, from the humble beginnings of a one-man operation exists a virtual music empire employing just less than 50 people fulltime. We’re a mail-order business. We’re a distributor. We’re a reissue label. We’re a record label. We’re a recording studio. We’re a concert hall. We’re a pressing plant. We’re a hell of a story.
And if you’re a good reader and quick with math, you might have noted that we mentioned that Acoustic Sounds started in 1986. So, we actually turned 25 in 2011. But with our recent move and with the beginning of Quality Record Pressings, we had far too much going on last year to think about a retrospective. And so we’re celebrating the milestone this year.
This is, of course, but a simple synopsis. Throughout 2012, we’ll publish features that we hope will bring some of these storylines to life, giving you a better understanding of just what an incredible 25-year ride it’s been for Acoustic Sounds.
Without doubt, we will. Bravo, well done, and many thanks to Chad and the entire team over at Acoustic Sounds. Congrats on the 25!