Interview by Danny Coleman
“We do get contacted,” says Graham Alexander the go to guy at The Vault in Berlin, NJ. “It’s a hard thing to get people to understand what we are doing here. Recently we did a thing for Disney, licensing for film and TV is possible. I’m very passionate about it all. I want to build this place into a musician’s ecosystem; I love it so much and never want it to leave Camden.”
To understand the breadth of his passion for “This place,” one must get the background of what exactly goes on at this relatively small complex with the big history. The Vault is the new home of what remains of the RCA Victor catalog and its past and present branches, “Victor Talking Machine Company,” “His Master’s Voice,” “Little Nipper”and “Radio Corporation Of America” among others.
Perhaps this passage taken from the venue web site sheds a bit of light on this amazing piece of educational and musical history: “Part intimate, world-class entertainment venue and part official archive for the master recordings, and artifacts of the legendary Victor Talking Machine Co./Victor Music Group and associated record labels- The Vault™ at Victor Records was formed in 2015 as a means of establishing an education and research facility catered to the study and appreciation of the art techniques and development of sound recording, the history of the recording industry, & music performance. The collection focuses on the birth of the music industry with Victor Records – and traces its establishment and association to music giants EMI, Deutsche Gramophon, JVC, Radio Corporation of America, and HMV (His Master’s Voice) until the modern day. From Caruso to Coldplay and Louis Armstrong to The Beatles – visitors to Victor’s headquarters at “The Vault” will uncover the historic ties you never knew existed between Victor Records and nearly every major musical event of the last 100+ years.”
Few people realize that some of the very first recordings were created and pressed into”Records” along the Camden, NJ waterfront where they were mass produced spawning the birth of the record industry. The history of recorded music from artists such as, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, legendary blues great Lead Belly, Enrico Caruso, Louie Armstrong, Bing Crosby and many more as well as some of the first ever recorded Presidential speeches, comedy routines and actual sounds of war are contained within the walls of this multi-purpose facility. According to Alexander, there are over, “10,000 masters, tests, acetates and shellacs of some of the earliest recordings ever made.”
“They were going to just let all of this go with the old RCA building,” he said with a tone of bewilderment. “So much history here. To look at it and see where everything or just about everything in music over the last century has evolved from, it’s right here and to think it could’ve been possibly lost would’ve been a tragic event. The connections, I liken it to branches of a tree and this, this is, or was the trunk; even Abbey Road Studios in the UK has a connection to Victor.”
Alexander has starred in Broadway productions of two Beatles tribute shows, “Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles” and “Let It Be” and is also an established singer/songwriter with several albums, tours and multiple credits to his name. This love of performing and the knowledge, both good and bad of the record/entertainment industry has aided this young entrepreneur and his partners in making the decision to take the plunge and invest in The Vault.
“In general, I didn’t have a good experience with the current music industry from my own label,” he said with disappointment. “So I bought this and made myself the president. There’s myself, Keith Hohing, Zach Harski and Christina Sees and the goal was to start a music company that was a different approach to the current ones. We unite software with hardware, we build machines here, we record here and most of all we make records here. When the record industry started, they built their own players for their product and over time, other companies began to just specialize in making the players. Many of the older companies sold off their hardware divisions but that ruined cross marketing and eventually, as the industry started to shift towards compact discs and digital downloads it left this huge void. There’s not much happening in the music industry today, not much left of the industry in general and it’s been in decline for years. Their business is their old back catalogs, very little new business, the bands are out there, there’s so much good new music and so many great bands. The problem is that there is no real infrastructure anymore. Digital downloads are dead, CDs are dead and streaming is what’s in now. Streaming has forced the format of the vinyl record to come back to the tune of a 400 percent increase in sales and output. A good way to look at it is, if vinyl were a book, then it’d be the hard copy. Young people today are falling in love with vinyl or experiencing it for the first time because they can see it, feel it, hear it but most importantly; touch it. They can read the liner notes, see the booklets or inserts that you can not with discs or downloads and we want to be a part of its rebirth.”
Currently the facility is only open during its ever growing list of shows and prearranged tours. Alexander says that the facility plans on possibly opening more and expanding its hours of operation as the word gets out and the business begins firing on all cylinders.”Right now we give tours of the facility as part of VIP packages before our events but we are growing and that’s a good thing. As we grow we intend on hiring more people and increasing our hours so that we may be open to the public more than we are now. We were still kind of new in 2016 and now that we are getting the operation up and running and things are going more smoothly, we are hoping to do so by early to mid 2018.”
The Vault has a capacity of 85 with up to 120 standing room for events which currently take up approximately 20 percent of the building’s usage. Book signings, Q & A’s, clinics and live performances are just some of the activities which take place in this museum/recording studio/manufacturing facility. Recent personalities who have held book signings with meet and greets are the legendary vocalist Bobby Rydell and drummer Carmine Appice. Rydell, who’s hits included “Volare” and “Wild One” held a wonderful storytelling/Q & A session and Appice (Vanilla Fudge, Rod Stewart) gave an informative 45 minute drum clinic before mingling with those in attendance.
“This is what it’s all about,” says Alexander. “Putting people in these seats and getting to educate them on the history of music from the past and the present. We are so happy that we have the opportunity to be part of something that is so rich in history with an eye to the future; we really do combine the past with the present and it can only keep getting better. Can you imagine this collection anywhere other than Camden. NJ? I can’t and this is where it belongs.”
To discover more about The Vault and all that it offers musicians and fans alike; please go to www.victorrecords.com.
Danny Coleman (Danny Coleman is a veteran musician and writer from central New Jersey. He hosts a weekly radio program entitled “Rock On Radio” airing Sunday evenings at 10 p.m. EST on multiple internet radio outlets where he features indie/original bands and solo artists.)
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