Subscription Based Vinyl


There is little doubt that subscription services are the new big thing. Whilst Netflix and Spotify are the offering all you can consume music and video through your Internet connection, other mail based services are supplying everything from coffee, to razors, to cured meats. Now we are seeing vinyl enter the mix with the successful Kickstarter campaign from VNYL.

VNYL is a subscription service, similar to the original Netflix model, whereby paying a monthly fee you will be sent three handpicked records based on your chosen ‘vibe’. Once you’ve listened to the records, you can send them back in the prepaid packaging and VNYL will send more records out. Alternatively, if you decide you like the wax and can’t let go of it, you have the option of buying the record to keep for an extra fee.

The selling point is that “humans are at the helm” and it seems VNYL are affectively getting their message across. Their Kickstarter campaign had a total of 777 backers and raised $36,000 – $26,000 more than they were asking.

However VNYL is not the first subscription based vinyl service. Both Vinyl Me Please and That Special Record offer subscription services where for a monthly fee they’ll send out a monthly selection of records for you to keep. Likewise, record labels such as No Sleep Records offer a subscription to their entire annual catalogue for one upfront fee.

The advantage of services such as these is that it takes the effort out of vinyl. In VNYL’s case, you can have a consistent variety of wax without having to spend the time going to stores. Vinyl Me Know and That Special Record allow you to expand your collection and discover new music. However, these services do rely on you trusting your taste in music with another. Also, concerns about the quality of the wax being sent could also be an issue. For this reason it’s unlikely these services will convert anyone already collecting. But they may well open up a new market of people who like the idea of playing records, but have no time for the process involved in collecting.


More Stats on Streaming and Vinyl in 2014

Total Music Wallet Spend, 2014

As Nielsen Music trickles out their annual music sales figures, the tiny amount spent on digital streaming services and vinyl has been revealed.

Whilst the average music consumer spent $109 on music, only 3% of that was spent on digital streaming services, and 2.5% on vinyl and cassettes. In comparison, 35% was spent on admission to live concerts (this is good for artists) and 12% was spent on CDs.

These stats throw the analysis of last week’s stats out the window. Last week, some suggested the increase in demand for digital steaming services was leading the recovery of record labels. Instead, these figures suggest the turnover generated from digital streaming services is minimal, and record labels are still relying on CD sales for the bulk of their profits.

Turnover is an important figure in the music industry because most of their expenses are upfront and fixed. Whilst the sale of a CD has the added cost of manufacturing, this cost is minimal when compared to the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on the recording, production and marketing of an album. It is these costs which need to be recouped in order for labels invest in future releases.

With this in mind, whilst much of the press was downplaying the rapid increase in vinyl due to its minimal share of total sales, it would seem vinyl’s contribution to turnover is almost equal to that of digital streaming. This is particularly true when you consider that record labels will only see a faction of an online digital subscription through royalties.

What is interesting is that these two formats sit side-by-side. Whilst one is lauded as the future and the other dismissed as nostalgia, it seems that at this point at least their contribution is the same. And whilst there is little doubt that different types of consumers are attracted to each format, it is perhaps symbolic of the increasingly eclectic nature of music.


What Does it Mean to Be Authentic?

New Birth Brass Band in Preservation Hall

I’ve been thinking a lot about authenticity in music. In particular, what does it mean to be perceived as an authentic band

I used to think this meant sounding ‘old school’. That you needed to sound the way the style used to sound. This is the thinking I see in the majority of blues and some soul & funk fans, and it isn’t without merit. If you can’t play the style the way it used to sound, then can you really play the style at all?

But this raises the debate of what is the roots of a style. In the blues context, some would say Robert Johnson, others Freddie King or Albert King – but the reality is there was a point where these artists would not have been considered ‘old school’. Sure, they were influenced by those before them, but they added something.

So whilst you need to be able to play and understand the background of a genre, that doesn’t mean you can’t do something new with it – make it modern. This is the adding of a piece of yourself and a piece of the time in which you live. You can’t talk to a modern audience if you don’t have modern values and ideas.

With this in mind, this also eliminates the way you dress and present yourself on stage as a sign of authenticity. A 60’s cover band, dressed in 60’s clothing, is more likely to be perceived as a tribute band than anything else. Whilst fashion, like music, is influenced by the past, it always has modern elements to it.

I’ve watched bands of all genres and styles and instantly thought, they are either authentic or they are not. So perhaps how a band holistically, as opposed to superficially, presents itself, has something to it. This seems to be the ability of a band to take themselves seriously enough that they don’t look like amateurs, but not so seriously they look contrived and fake.  Relaxed, effortless and comfortable, but also professional.

Overall, authenticity is that ‘something’ that an audience collectively perceives from a band. It is most prevalent when it is seen live, although it can be captured in a recording. It is a combination of old school and modern, of seriousness and tomfoolery, and of studio and street. It does not come from having the best equipment, or being the best dressed on stage. But it is something that authentic bands do not aspire to have, they just have it.

What do you think it means for a band to be authentic?


Music Sales and the Future of the Industry

In what is becoming as predictable as a new years day hangover, the start of 2015 has also seen the announcement of  a decline in music sales for 2014.

According to Billboard, Nielson’s 2014 music sales review is reporting a 11.2% drop in album sales and a 12.5% decline in single sales.

The report did not comment of the total decline of CD and digital sales, but it did note the 51.8% increase in vinyl sales, although this only accounts for 3.6% of the entire music market.

The report is however focusing on the 54% increase in demand for streaming services, a figure that is likely understated as it doesn’t includes non-interactive services such as Pandora. This figure is apparently the equivalent to an extra 56.1 million album sales, making it larger than the decline in physical and digital units.

The troubling thing is that whilst Billboard are suggesting this increase in demand is moving record labels back toward profit making status, it is seemingly at the expense of artists. Whilst Pharrall’s Happy  was the highest selling single with 6.41 million units sold, it has been previously reported that 43 million plays of Happy on Pandora translated into only $US2700 for Pharrall.

It’s also difficult to quantify units streamed as an equivalent to sales. Whilst some use streaming services instead of purchasing albums, many treat these services like a radio station – they simply consume what is aggregated for them, and would never have purchased this music otherwise. And whilst these services can be a handy tool for discovering new music, there is little evidence to suggest that this is actually occurs for most users.

The other concerning element is that music steaming isn’t as cheap as it initially seems. Whilst the subscription price is reasonable, only $12 per month for Spotify, data usage still needs to be seen as an expense. Mobile data expense and limitations means that streaming outside the home could be prohibitive. There is also ramifications for music consumers who find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide. The last thing the music industry needs is for music consumption to become an elitist pursuit.

Overall it seems the music industry is still in a state of limbo. No one seems to know when or how this will be gotten out of. Yet the artists keep writing and performing the same as it ever was. If streaming is the way out, it seems it will be at the expense of artists. But then this inequality has been documented time and time again over the industry’s 110+ year history. Let hope though that music consumers are not left worse off.


A Vinyl Review of 2014

Well as 2014 is on our doorstep, the news media has once again filled its white space with what is quickly becoming a mainstay of the end of year news: the rise of vinyl.

The most common angle this time of year is the one that comes with the least surprise; vinyl sales have once again grown, up 49% from last year. This means vinyl now represents 3.5% of total music sales, up from around 2% of sales at the end of the 2013. Whilst the resurgence is small, it’s bucking the trend of declining physical sales.

This growth is on the back of rock record buyers, with Jack White’s Lazaretto being the highest selling vinyl album with 75,700 units. It seems the gimmick of a backward playing, secret section vinyl album payed off with the next biggest seller being the Arctic Monkeys who sold about half that amount.

Top Selling Vinyl 2014

Top Selling Vinyl 2014

However, this year saw Billboard taking an interesting angle by suggesting Record Store Day is driving this resurgence. They point out that since the first Record Store Day in 2008 vinyl sales have grown 223%. They note that this has given major record labels the confidence to press the kind of numbers needed to get a decent return on investing in vinyl. But the story does note it was 2007 which saw the first increase in vinyl sales, so perhaps Billboard are looking at the wrong side of chicken or egg question.

Another interesting angle was taken by the Wall Street Journal who noted that vinyl is possibly becoming a victim of its own success. With aging equipment, fewer qualified repairers, and only a few suppliers of raw material, hold ups in the manufacturing process are becoming more common and more costly for customers. This story perhaps has some traction; Fat Possum records recently opened their own record pressing plant in Memphis, in order to overcome delays from backlogged record pressing plants. But then if Fat Possum are seeing the worth in setting up a new plant, it suggests demand for vinyl will find a way to fuel more supply.

So another year another growth in vinyl sales. Whilst it still represents a small portion of overall music sales, this continued growth is positive. Most of us are seeing friends sourcing out record players or parents dusting off theirs, and it’s now easier to find brand new, consumer turntables. The high price of second hand vinyl suggests that demand is still high, and the fact that it’s rock albums which are the highest selling suggests this is becoming a mainstream phenomenon.

Here’s to a healthy 2015, and more wax on your turntable.


Happy James Brown Day!!!

Happy James Brown Day everyone. To mark the 8th anniversary of his death, here’s a funky James Brown Christmas song.

Ferguson, White Privilege, and the Enemy of Silence.

I’ve been uncomfortably silent with regard to the grand jury decision in Ferguson. Whilst I did follow the story closely, part of my silence came from reading protest notes to non-blacks asking that black voices be heard; part came from not wanting to say the wrong thing; and part came from not wanting to treat #blacklivesmatter as a trivial social media campaign, such as the Ice Bucket Challenge or #kony2012.

I was wrong. I realise that now in light of the Twitter exchanges between Iggy Azalea, Azealia Banks and Q-Tip. And the more I read and think about this, the more I realise this to be true.

Firstly, I want to acknowledged that white privilege exists (before you argue this assertion please take the time to read this and this). The sooner this is widely acknowledge amongst the white community, the sooner we can come to tackling problems associated with it.

Denying its existence, being colour blind, or arguing that white privilege doesn’t apply to you does however perpetuate it. Just like not speaking up about your work colleague’s “I’m not being racist but…” comment actually being racist, not acknowledging white privilege perpetuates its existence: This is because, by default, those perpetuating the problem will assume you’re on their side.

There also needs to be real life, day-to-day, exposure of systemic racism. As this video illustrates, the flow on effect can be remarkable.

Also, more minority voices need to be heard, particularly in the mainstream media. From an Australian perspective, when was the last time you saw an Indigenous Australian on television talking about solutions to Indigenous inequality? Personally I can’t remember ever seeing this happen. But when this does happen (and it should be happening) there needs to be a show of support to give these voices traction. Being silent in response to these voices, on the contrary, only lends support to those who would rather tell than listen.

Silence is the enemy here, I now see that. Whilst I didn’t want to take away from the voices that needed to be heard, by saying nothing in support of those voices I was, by default, supporting an establishment that I am only incidentally part of. Whilst I grit my teeth a few months back at the foolishness of the Ice Bucket Challenge, I saw its effectiveness for raising awareness. However, I did nothing to raise awareness and show support for #blacklivesmatter.

We still live in a world where racial inequality is rife – the facts and figures continually back this up. Whilst I can never truly understand what it’s like to be treated in this way, I for one think enough is enough. This is not a problem that is simply going to go away, it needs to be tackled head on. Saying nothing is tantamount to sweeping it under the carpet and ignoring its existence. Only when we all speak up in support of equality, will inequality and prejudice be effectively tackled.

Some suggested reading:
12 things white people can do now because Ferguson
12 Things White People Can Actually Do After the Ferguson Decision