Soft Wax Record Pressing | photo by Lissa Alicia for WXPN
From Punk Shows to a Pressing Factory: Federico Casanova’s journey to Soft Wax, Philly’s new vinyl plant
Federico Casanova is a first-generation American. Like many kids, he grew up surrounded by music. Before his parents came to the U.S, Casonova’s father hosted a weekly specialty radio show in the Dominican Republic called The Lonely Hearts Club where he would obsess over the music and mythology of Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starr songbook.
“My father was a radio DJ back in the Dominican Republic,” Casanova recalls. “He had a show that aired every Sunday for two hours … and he would talk about everything that had to do with The Beatles and the music scene in the DR. My dad had a pretty tight record collection, I always messed with them when I was a git. He didn’t really play any instruments, but he was a huge appreciator of music and so it sort of just rubbed off onto my brothers and I.”.
After his family came to the U.S., Casanova and his brothers came of age in Miami’s vibrant DIY punk scene. Eventually, Casanova would branch out and join his brothers in a move to Philadelphia. Living in a collective house, Casanova and his brothers built up a lifetime of experience playing in bands, booking house shows tours and building community. The punk scene had lit the creative fire in him, but it would be his acknowledgment of a need in that music scene that would lead him down a new path.
“So, when I joined my brother up in Philadelphia, he had saved a room for me in this big corner house deep in South Philly with our squad,” Casanova says. “Once everyone was moved in, shows started getting booked. Everyone that lived in that house was a musician and or in an actively touring band, so just about every other week, we had bands coming from out of town.”
In that time Casanova also learned what went into booking shows, specifically DIY shows. “As artists would come and go, I started noticing that most of them that were selling vinyl while touring were also touring on material they had written years before,” he says. “That would be because, at that time, the turnaround time for most pressing plants would be as bad as 9 to 10 months, because most plants were monopolized by major labels. So independent artists would constantly be pushed out of the queue.”
Soon, Cassanova began to obsessively study every aspect of vinyl manufacturing. Determined to learn how to build his own plant for underground musicians to get their records pressed without being bumped out of place by massive orders from major labels, he would eventually secure a job working at a vinyl pressing plant, but not before a chance connection with engineer and vinyl pressing veteran Chris Moss would arm Casanova with some essential knowledge of the record pressing process.
“So we started doing as much research as possible and I came across this forum called Lathe Trolls,” Casanova recalls. “I clicked around to see who was running most of the threads to find a username MossBoss. This MossBoss seemed like they were the head honcho of this forum, and he had some extremely helpful threads that sort of helped galvanize our vision. He had posted somewhat of a comprehensive guide to starting a two-press plant and it listed everything we’d need. Michael was familiar with a lot of the machinery that was listed because of his background in engineering, so it made things a little bit easier when we started plugging in numbers to create somewhat of a business plan with a janky P&L [profit & loss] sheet.”
Casanova sent a message out to the MossBoss asking him if he would be down to talk on the phone; he agreed to Skype. “I had a few friends with me that were into the idea so they stuck around for the meeting to where it would go,” he recalls. “To say the least, Chris Moss just called us a bunch of d*&kheads and told us it’s gonna be really expensive. He then went on to mention just about everything I’d need to know to get some traction.”
Armed with a detailed knowledge of the vinyl pressing process, alongside a few years experience working at Independence (a pressing plant in Jersey), Soft Wax Record Pressing was officially born. Located in the Lawncrest section of Northeast Philly, the 7,500 square foot facility is located inside of a massive warehouse that was once the site of the Bond Bread Factory back in the 1950s. Soft Wax is currently preparing for a soft opening later this summer and Casanova has plans on expanding in the near future.
“When we signed the lease the building wasn’t even 40% occupied,” says Casanova. “Every day I go in there’s so much work that was done the day before I rarely recognize it at times. However, our unit in particular, is just about ready for us to begin installing our machines. We’re waiting for the roof to be fixed, and as soon as that happens, we’ll start putting up drywall and building out the layout while our plumber hooks us up with high-pressure gas.”
When Soft Wax opens, it will only have two presses, but after their planned expansion, they hope to have about 4 to 6 presses running.
“As of right now, everything is falling into place,” says Casanova. “Slow and steady wins the race. We had many setbacks, we’ve learned to embrace them knowing there will be many more to come.”
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