EVEN BEFORE WE HAD A NAME FOR IT, vinyl played a major role in the development of what we now call “crowdsourcing.”
Kickstarter, Indiegogo and all the other crowdsourcing clones emerged at the precise moment that the music industry was in its second stage of collapse – that mid-’00s arts recession which seemed designed to take the most money from the type of indie artists that could afford to lose it the least.
Cookbooks and frivolous gadgets aside, most of the public probably first learned of the concept of crowdsourcing when the musician they saw live six years earlier sent them an email asking them to help fund their next album on Kickstarter.
In the decade since, vinyl as a medium enjoyed a resurgence even more improbable than the rise of crowdsourcing itself. Still mocked in some circles as the ultimate “hipster ornament,” vinyl is now seen as an essential component of any successful musician’s career – a physical product for people who want to listen to it for audio quality, hold it for nostalgic purposes or hoard it for financial gain.
Because of its upfront costs, vinyl has always been the least democratic medium in music. A few companies are aiming to change that, with crowdsourcing at their core.
I heard about DiggersFactory – how else? – via an email campaign from a label in Poland that wants to press vinyl. These services come and go (and make more noise when coming than going), but just a few days later I heard about Vinylised, another company which provides a similar service. They say three examples of a fashion make it a trend, but two was enough for me to dig around and ask questions.
Distribution matters, because making records – I mean the actual physical process – has never been the hardest part of the business. Finding and servicing an audience is.
Imagine the possibilities here: if you can effectively take the risk out of vinyl – or at least mitigate it to the greatest extent – you could in effect open up a system that was opaque and out of reach for most to… well, maybe not all, but more than before.
Is this the next big thing or the next big nothing?
What is Vinylsourcing?
DiggersFactory and Vinylised are two related services with somewhat similar means to solving a common problem: defraying the upfront costs associated with vinyl production via crowdsourcing. In simple terms: take pre-orders and ensure a simple way to refund everyone if the project doesn’t work out.
These companies represent a new stage in crowdsourcing when it comes to music (and reflect more broadly how specialized and niche crowdsourcing has become). They’re aimed directly at producers and labels that have built digital audiences that may be receptive to a vinyl product.
Both companies have a “make-good” system. You start by selecting a minimum number of copies to sell via pre-order. If you meet this threshold (it’s a 100 minimum for DiggersFactory), your vinyl gets pressed and everyone is happy. If you don’t, everyone gets their money refunded and the vinyl never gets made, and you presumably wonder if you’re really cut out for this business after all.
Obviously, there are a number of intermediate steps in the process of making a record that fall before “everyone is happy.” While Vinylised seems to be in pre-launch phase (they’re working with several bass labels at the moment, including Titan and Plastician’s Terrorhythm), DiggersFactory has a substantial amount of documentation online, likely because the complexities of pressing vinyl means they’ve spent quite a bit of time hashing it out in customer support emails.
Disappointingly, the further you dig, the more you realized how “niche” vinylsourcing really is.
Who Presses Your Vinyl?
Vinylised says they’ll handle all manufacturing and fulfillment. DiggersFactory offers at least some degree of choice. While they’re partnered with Wolfpack United in France, they also offer you the option of working with your own pressing plant while admitting it complicates the process somewhat to do so. DiggersFactory also requires pre-approval of your project by their team – most likely to ensure the project is financially viable and you’ve priced your products accordingly. Mastering (test presses are mentioned) is handled by the policies of Wolfpack or the company you choose.
DiggersFactory takes a 15% cut of the money you raise from pre-orders (Vinylised says they take “a small fee”). There is no charge per record or to set up. This would ordinarily be a fairly substantial middleman’s cut for vinyl production, and obviously makes further distribution unviable. But since all of the “crowdsourced” records are being pre-sold direct to consumers, it likely comes out to be equal to or less than a distributor’s discount.
Distribution Dead Ends
Distribution has to be considered the major drawback of vinylsourcing. Outside of pre-orders to individual customers, distribution doesn’t exist. Doing more than sending a single record to a single person at a time will break the model these companies are using. If a record is actually really good, there’s no way to use vinyl crowdsourcing in a way that can possibly rise to meet demand.
Distribution matters, though, because making records – I mean the actual physical process – has never been the hardest part of the business. Finding and servicing an audience is. It’s difficult to imagine any of these records “breaking out” because they’ll go to people who already know about you rather than those who don’t.
Vinylsourcing is Vanity Publishing
Bands and musicians made crowdsourcing popular and cool, but vinylsourcing is a different sort of beast entirely. Kickstarter, for instance, is built around the model of setting a lofty financial goal which could pay for (for instance) a 1000 piece pressing of a new record. Vinylsourcing appears to be set around matching one piece of vinyl to one customer and no more. Even this has rather unfriendly restrictions: if a project with a 100 pre-order minimum actually sells 150 pre-orders, the last 50 are refunded and your fans receive nothing for their time. While understandable given the restrictions of the pressing process, “selling people promises you can’t deliver on” is a pretty severe problem.
Vinylsourcing does meet a need – just a very specific one. It’s perfect for people who want to sell records that fans already know. For anything else: not so much.
Support #RealHouseMusic! This post was originally published in 5 Magazine Issue 145 featuring Joeski, Ricardo Miranda, WildPitch and more. Become a member of 5 Magazine for First & Full Access to Real House Music for only $2 per month!