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Karen Emanuel: Follow your dreams and be yourself

'We are making more vinyl records now than when we started'

19 November, 2021 — By Karen Emanuel

Karen Emanuel at Key Production

THE vibrancy of Camden’s music scene and alternative culture really struck a note with me from my teenage years, much to the concern of my parents.

I remember the excitement of buying my “punk-rock inspired” green and black stripy trousers from the market and feeling like a rebel.

I studied genetics in Leeds but while doing this I kicked off what would be my long-term career in music, booking indie bands  – Billy Bragg, New Model Army, Misty in Roots to name a few – and DJ-ing (badly).

I decided staring inside test tubes and petri dishes wasn’t for me, and after travelling a small part of the world, returned to London to eventually get my first job.

I can remember the thrill of working on reception at Rough Trade Distribution in Collier Street in King’s Cross when it was a very different place to what it is now.

The Pixies would be blasting out in the warehouse and there was an indescribable buzz around a fast-growing company.

I progressed very quickly at RTD and within a couple of years found myself at the helm of the “production” department, which was responsible for manufacturing all of the vinyl, cassettes, CDs, print and packaging for the labels that were distributed there.

By this time, I was living (at last) in Camden Town and the 90s were fast approaching.

RTD imploded and I was lucky enough to leave with a small redundancy with which I set up Key Production in “Old Dairy Mews” opposite Ron Arad in Chalk Farm Road.

The 90s – if you could remember it, you weren’t there so they say – were the days of Brit-Pop: the Good Mixer, the Laurel Tree, the Falcon, Bull and Gate, The Monarch. Life was one long gig in Camden Town, often ending up in the Marathon until late, or at some party where you’d often bump into the stars of the day.

Then came the noughties during which time the internet exploded after Google went live in 1998 – and MySpace, which appeared in 2003.

There began a music revolution, starting with illegal file sharing of music, followed by iTunes, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter and seemingly out of no-where a worldwide market crash.

CD singles all but disappeared and I began to wonder if the writing was on the wall.

It’s amazing to think back how technology and how the company runs has changed over the time I’ve been running the company.

We have jobs now that actually didn’t exist when I started and we have faced changes that no one could have prepared us for.

Fast forward 20 years (via Covid), a few more acquisitions and a few Camden offices later, Key Production Group is back near where I started in King’s Cross, a company of 60 people over four sites.

With the help of our partners we are still manufacturing fabulous products, making more vinyl records – allegedly a dying format – now than when I started. So is there a moral to this story, I wonder?

Follow your dreams and passions, be yourself, embrace change, be resilient, keep learning and enjoy life.

• Karen Emanuel is an award-winning entrepreneur


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