Tag Archives: LP

Fred Mills: VNYL Pt. 2 – For the 2nd Round, the Subscription Service Ups Its Game

VNYL

Second time’s the charm, eh folks? In our latest shipment, the arrival of choice LPs from the esteemed Fat Possum, Ubiquity and Glassnote labels—including a just-released album—suggests that the VNYL folks heard the withering criticisms and realized they had to do it right this time around. Guess what? They succeeded! (Go HERE to read Part 1, “Love Will Find a Way: The VNYL Subscription Service Blows It?”)

BY FRED MILLS

I’m almost tempted to publish just the header and subhead and be done with my latest, second report on the VNYL record subscription service (motto: “Join the record club of your dreams”). For my above description pretty much summarizes in full what happened with the second installment of my three-shipment subscription, which I initiated back in the early spring by pledging to the startup’s Kickstarter campaign.

To recap briefly: recall that a couple of months ago I wrote about my first shipment, which yielded a trio of aesthetically moldy (if, condition-wise, clean, shiny, and mold/scratch-free) slabs of ‘70s drek, namely Worlds Away by soft-rockers Pablo Cruise, Hydra by the ever-pompous, eternally sterile Toto, and Make Love to the Music by Leon Russell (along with wife Mary Russell) at a point in his career when he most assuredly was not The Master Of Space And Time. These were, put charitably, 99 cent bargain bin titles, the kind that BLURT’s sister business, Raleigh-Durham’s Schoolkids Records, can’t even move during half-off sales. In that report I also provided some background and context for how VNYL operates and included details and anecdotes from other media outlets and frustrated subscribers; my conclusion wasn’t necessarily as harsh as some of the others, many of whom flatly stated they thought the club was a scam, but I did point out that in the wake of a fairly appealing Kickstarter campaign, the ultimate execution was a huge misfire and a public relations disaster.

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“While I am still interested to see what my next two VNYL shipments will yield,” I wrote at the time, “this initial installment in the series is not all that encouraging. In fact, it reminds me of that old Monty Python skit about Australian table wines: this is a shipment with a message, and the message is “beware.” In 2015, nobody is going to their local record store and looking for records by Pablo Cruise, Toto and Leon & Mary Russell, much less willing to pay twelve freakin’ dollars for a copy.”

Sharp-eyed readers will also recall that after I posted a shortened account of my experience to the popular Steve Hoffman forums, the response to my post ultimately yielded a message board thread that ran for well over a month—and still generates comments to this day. Translation: it’s a topic that was not only resonated with the entire Hoffman community of record and audio geeks, it also generated the type of sputtering outrage and withering sarcasm generally saved for, I dunno, Justin Bieber (or, in an earlier era, Courtney Love). Concurrently, Stereogum had also taken a look at the matter in an article titled “VNYL Sliding: Why The ‘Netflix For Vinyl’ Service Is Such A Mess” and the consensus over there wasn’t much rosier. Worse, for VNYL at least, the comments section at the actual VNYL Kickstarter page was overflowing with frustration, with more than one angry backer indicating they had filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau.

***

Needless to say, I was simultaneously dreading and looking forward to my second shipment. But as I had signed up via the Kickstarter campaign, you could say my check had already been cashed, so I sat back and waited. And waited. And waited…

The first shipment had arrived on May 13, but by July 2 nothing else had arrived. During that time frame I had moved so, while my mail was being forwarded, I realized I should update my address with VNYL and then inquire—politely—about the delay. Lo and behold, I received a reply in less than 24 hours, impressive for any business’s customer service relations department, letting me know that they got the address update, but that I had not yet selected the “vibes” category for my second shipment—clearly my mistake. I immediately logged in at http://my.vnyl.org and made the selection of “#poolparty” for my vibes, having already taken a test run with #work for the initial shipment. Then I sat back and waited. And waited. And…

By July 24 nothing had arrived so I emailed the same staffer who had been so prompt with my earlier inquiry, and received the following reply, also in less than 24 hours: “Hi Fred – We apologize for the delay on that! One of our team members actually did a special order for your second Kickstarter order for you, and it’s taking a little longer to come in than we anticipated. It should be shipping out next week. I think you’re really going to love the shipment and I promise it will be worth the wait!”

Fair enough. But interestingly, one of the aforementioned Kickstarter backers’ comments had stood out. Posted on July 3, it read, in part, “I have experienced [a delay] but I sent them and e-mail asking why was it taking so long, politely. The response i got is they have so much of a demand there is a little backlog in the category that you might of chosen.” Hmm…. Perhaps, just perhaps, this time around VNYL was going to be a bit more professional with its “curation” process, and rather than just grab some bargain bin junk they had lying around to send out, they were actually going to eyeball the members’ profiles (which included likes and dislikes as well as a suggestion that we provide them links to, say, our personal Spotify playlists), and from there come up with a reasonable selection. With that in mind, my curiosity was piqued. So I sat back once again and waited…

***

Somewhere in the middle of all this I received two additional emails from VNYL, on separate days, both essentially canned memos sent from the main hello@vnyl.org email address rather than personally drafted by a staffer. The first one, sent in early July, announced that “Your VNYL trial is about to end.” Say what? At that point I’ve only received one shipment, and they’re telling me the trial is about over? Well, I’m guessing that due to the canned nature of the email, it was simply synched to the roughly three-month time frame that the original Kickstarter agreement laid out, so that didn’t really worry me. It was just a standard notification.

What DID get my attention, and keep it, was the second canned email that showed up a couple of weeks later telling me the credit card they had on file was about to expire and I needed to update my billing information. Ha! Well, sorry folks, but I’m going to hold off just a bit on that until I’ve gotten all three shipments guaranteed to me in the Kickstarter agreement—and the credit card situation better not cause any delays or hiccups in my receiving the shipments. Now I know what you are thinking: since I stated in my previous report that when I originally heard about VNYL I decided to pledge during the campaign as much out of curiosity as sensing that there might be an interesting story here for BLURT, maybe I preemptively registered a card I knew would be no good if they subsequently tried to bill me. That’s not the case, however; I just used the card I always use for online shopping, and it was purely by chance that it was set to expire at the end of July. It was only after the fact that I heard of several instances when members did get charged without their authorizations. That duly noted, the lapsed conspiracy theorist in me did briefly consider the possibility that if VNYL has burned through all that Kickstarter funding as well as the money that came in from early subscribers—VNYL also opened a brick and mortar store in Venice, Calif., which couldn’t have been a small expense—then they would need to keep the cash flow moving if they wanted to purchase reasonably attractive product and not bargain bin junk to send out to subscribers. But I’m the kind of person that likes to give folks the benefit of the doubt, so I just didn’t worry about the credit card deal (nor, incidentally, have I registered a new one at VNYL yet).

***

Yesterday was August 17 and my latest VNYL box arrived via media mail, postmarked August 11. I knew it was en route because that same day I got an email announcing it had been shipped. Below you can see the results (extra points if you can identify the logo on the shirt I’m wearing):

Jackson Scott – Melbourne (2013, Fat Possum) hashtag #poolparty $16.99 retail/$12.99 cost

Various Artists Rewind! 5: Original Classics, Re-worked and Rewound Vol.5 (2006, Ubiquity) $15.99 retail/$11.25 cost

Son Lux Bones (2015, Glassnote) $17.99 retail/$12.74 cost

The cost and retail listed are taken from the Alliance Entertainment (AEC) website; AEC is probably the largest distributor of CDs, LPs and DVDs in the US, selling both major label and indie product, and while the cost price is usually somewhat higher than it would be if a store ordered from Sony, Universal or WEA (or, in the case of indie records, directly from the indie labels), with its huge selection and two-day shipping, it’s probably the main distributor for the majority of stores here in the States so the prices are representative (There are other indie distributors around the country as well but none with the same depth of catalog.) The actual retail prices in stores, which are based on the manufacturers’ suggested list prices, will vary depending on their policies—for example, a lot of $16.99 albums might ultimately be priced in their bins at $17.99 or even $18.99. Profit margins are ridiculously thin for vinyl. And it’s non-returnable, too.

All in all, not a bad haul, eh? I think the three titles speak for themselves: sealed, pristine new pieces, not promos or cutouts and definitely not bargain bin leftovers. As I said in my video, the Jackson Scott record didn’t knock me out when I heard it a couple of years ago, but it’s still not a dog. And as I have always dug titles on the Ubiquity label, I am eager to spin the 2-LP Rewind!, what with its eclectic roster of funk and downtempo DJs and musicians serving up an even more eclectic selection of covers, among them Nuspirit Helsinki tackling Led Zep’s “No Quarter,” The Randy Watson Experience (aka ?uestlove and friends) covering Sting’s “Be Still My Waiting Heart” and Danish duo Owusu & Hannibal for—get this—Beach Boys classic “Caroline No.” Regarding the Son Lux platter: I was definitely already a fan and I had definitely not heard the album because it’s not even two months old yet, having been released in late June! Toto, we’re not in moldy ‘70s territory anymore.

VNYL 2nd

As with the previous shipment there was a nice note enclosed from my personal curator, Teal, and it suggested that she did indeed eyeball my VNYL profile to see how she might line up the records with my tastes. “Saw you listen to Little Richard on Spotify,” she wrote, “so think you’ll really enjoy Rewind! 5, an amazing soul compilation… Gave you Son Lux, a post-rock project and rally promising up and comer.” (I had listed post-rock among my “likes” on my profile.)

Big salute to you this time, Teal, and hope there are no hard feelings from my comments a few months ago. I’m not going to be stingy with my kudos here, either, and plan to report back to some of the same correspondents and outlets that I interacted with for my initial commentary. Admittedly, while I’m definitely not eating my words from before—they remain accurate, I believe, and where I engaged in speculation I clearly labeled it as such—I am choosing to believe, for the time being at least, that Round #1 represented an extreme case of growing pains, and for Round #2 the VNYL crew made a concerted effort to up their game, and succeeded.

But Round #3 looms, and I am about to head over to my VNYL account to select my #vibes for it. Leaning towards either #lazysunday or #danceparty this time. What will I get in the mail in (hopefully) another month? Well, that recent deluxe box for the reissue of the Stones’ Sticky Fingers sure seems mighty appealing, hint-hint. But who knows? As the saying goes… to be continued…

 ***

Fred Mills is the editor of BLURT. Extra thanks to Elijah Mills for the camera work. There will be a #poolparty in your honor very soon, bruh.

Fred Mills: VNYL Pt.1 – Did the New Subscription Service Blow It?

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Would YOU pay $12 a pop for crap albums from Toto, Pablo Cruise and Leon & Mary Russell? Ye olde editor engages a hip new subscription service that promises “hand-curated vinyl records” to its eager—and apparently young/newbie—clientele. (Additional reading: Stereogum’s “Why The ‘Netflix For Vinyl’ Service Is Such A Mess”)

BY FRED MILLS, Blurt Editor

Like many of you, the BLURT braintrust was excited—or, after reading the fine print, at least optimistically enthused—by the January news that a new record subscription service was preparing to launch in a couple of months, following a successful Kickstarter campaign, which would adopt some of the (wildly successful) Netflix model features —but utilizing used vinyl LPs instead of DVDs, and instead of subscribers making their own choices, have their albums picked (“curated,” in today’s misnomer-strewn parlance) by employees of the service. The classic Sub Pop Singles Club and the Vinyl Me, Please services were also cited as inspirations.

Dubbed, somewhat minus-a-vowel cutesily/trendily VNYL (motto: “hand-curated vinyl records delivered to your door”), the service, founded by software/app developer Nick Alt, promised early backers that they would receive their initial shipments in February and the general public in March. As Rolling Stone reported at the time,

For a monthly fee, members of the just-launched venture VNYL can choose from a list of categories, called “#Vibes,” and receive records in the mail much in the same way they used to receive Twin Peaks Season 1 DVDs at home before streaming services. Although it is not set up like Netflix, in the sense that members select the records they want, VNYL still caters to subscribers. Once a member has selected a hash tag classification (#lazysunday or #danceparty, for instance) the company will send three albums curated to fit the “vibe” by the VNYL staff. The service costs $15 a month and allows members to spend as much time with the records as they would like, keeping the ones they love and sending the duds back using pre-paid shipping. The cost of keeping an album will run between $8 to $12.”

Founder Alt added, “The real magic that I can bring to this is the community aspect. People who listen to vinyl are not connected [the way online users are] unless they go to a record store, so why can’t we bridge that for people who are really into listening to vinyl.”

Fair enough. Yours truly — who has passionately collected vinyl records since the late ‘60s, from LPs to 45s to 78s to even the stray 5” single or flexidisc (ask me sometime about the 10” flexi of Australian indie bands I curated, er, compiled in the ‘80s for rock mag The Bob) — quickly became a backer of the Kickstarter campaign for VNYL, not only feeling seduced by the possibilities but also sensing a great story about what it means to be a collector and lover of records. I pledged, put in my credit card info, then sat back and waited, having been guaranteed three free months’ worth of records (translation: nine LPs), after which I could maintain my official subscription or cancel any time.

As an aside, there’s a good discussion about the numerous online record sub services currently operating over at The Record Collectors Guild. Titled, succinctly, “Review of Vinyl Subscription Services,” it’s mostly positive in tone, basically describing VNYL, Prescribed Vinyl, Feedbands, Vinyl Me Please and Turntable Kitchen in terms of what you get for your dough. It also hands out praise for the brick and mortar record stores that still exist, enthusing, “Enter a museum of 12″ square canvases displaying amazing artworks, each unique to the album they represent. Have a funny conversation with the cynical hipster latte sipping record store employee. Learn something, share something, find new music, re-discover old goodies, buy a brand new record, or buy 5 obscure used ones, it’s all part of the experience.”

***

Part of that experience: Alt mentioned magic. Ask any practicing magician, and he’ll tell you that “magic” comprises a series of illusions that feed off observers’ need or willingness to believe what they are seeing or being told, irrespective of the objective facts.

It was May 13 of this year and my first box from VNYL arrived, postmarked April 29 and shipped via Media Mail from Venice, Calif. (The full address: 1136 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice CA 90291-3314.) If you are doing the math, you have probably noticed that there’s been a slight delay from the original estimation of when backers and charter subscribers would receive their initial shipments. Intriguingly, in looking at my account profile at VNYL now, it says that I joined on April 5, but it was in early January that I made my Kickstarter pledge. But that’s no problem: the VNYL folks have kept all of us regularly updated, including at least one notification of a slight delay. So far, so good.

Worth noting: backers received an email indicating they needed to officially register and fill out a brief online questionnaire about our musical tastes in order that the VNYL staff might better “curate” our selections—for example, what categories of music we did and did not like, or the URL of our Spotify account/playlist or similar streaming services we utilize. The former was easy enough, and I faithfully documented my likes, which include indie and alternative rock, punk, classic rock, blues, singer-songwriter and more, but not classical, opera, rap and several others. The streaming-service question, however, was pointless: I don’t have a Spotify account for myself, only one that I maintain for BLURT. For that matter I don’t even need a streaming service: I have 10,000 friggin’ records in my collection and another 5,000 CDs. (Full disclosure: I’m in the process of dumping the CDs because their value is rapidly declining; nowadays you can barely get 50 cents a pop for ‘em. Meanwhile, the LPs and 45s are appreciating at roughly the same rate. Hey, Bob Lefsetz, maybe you have a blog post about this soon, hmmm?) And each time I tried to ignore that section of the questionnaire I was blocked from proceeding farther, so finally I just plugged in the URL for BLURT’s Spotify list so I could be done with it.

Canned Heat cookbook

I remained optimistic, and I had checked a box that suggested my initial VNYL three-LP shipment could fall under the general category of #work—I think other categories were #lazysaturday, #danceparty, #betweenthesheets and, uh, #cooking. The latter momentarily made me think of that album Canned Heat Cookbook that I used to own, and how cool it might be to have it again, but because I do most of my listening here at work—oh, did I mention that BLURT shares offices with Raleigh, NC, record store Schoolkids Records, and that I am spinning platters all day long?—it made sense to select that “work” hashtag for my category of preferred LPs for my first shipment.

“Magic” is clearly a relative term. I suppose you could charitably say that my first VNYL batch of goodies made me feel like being on the receiving end of a slick Three-card Monte operation.

Allow me to detail what I just tugged from my pink-interior VNYL box (displayed at the top and below), which also included a nice note from my personal hand-curator, Teal, who had affixed a photo of her smiling for the camera and clutching my records: “Hey Fred, Hope you like the records I chose for you. Love this Pablo Cruise album. Enjoy! – Teal”

 

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Pablo Cruise – Worlds Away (1978, A&M); hashtag #work, $12 value)

Toto – Hydra (1974, Columbia) ditto

Leon & Mary Russell – Make Love to the Music (1977, Paradise) ditto

 

Did you get that? Toto, Leon/Mary Russell, and Pablo Fucking Cruise. Gee, thanks, Teal.

If there is a single record store owner out there reading this right now who has any of the above listed albums in stock and they are NOT in the 99-cent bins, please tell me. Recall that I myself work in a record store, and I have worked in record stores on and off for, cumulatively speaking, nearly 20 years, for extended stints during the ‘70s, the ‘90s and, of course, the past three years during the contemporary vinyl explosion. So I know a little about vinyl. But—Lefsetz mode on here—VNYL values them at $12 apiece, at least that’s what a sticker on each plastic sleeve indicates. Jesus. There’s not a person on the planet who would pay that much for ‘em. They are titles we can barely give away at our store, sitting there in the junk bins alongside the Dan Fogelberg, Loggins & Messina, Poco, George Benson and Eddie Money albums. For $12, we have Dylan, Stones, Neil Young, Reprise-era Kinks, DEVO and the stray early Elvis Costello albums.

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Now let’s be fair: back in the day there were undoubtedly folks who cherished those LPs. The Pablo Cruise album even featured the mega-hit “Love Will Find A Way”; although the Toto album, the band’s second, was a relative flop, commercially speaking (chart monster Toto IV was still three years away), and by the time Leon Russell’s record was released, the songwriter’s hitmaking days were long behind him.

(Caveat emptor: that bassline in the Pablo Cruise song will stick in your head and keep you awake at 4:30 a.m. unless you immediately play some Twisted Sister after it finishes.)

But while each artist had its share of devoted fans, they’ve all since moved on, and it’s unfortunate but true that none of those albums have stood the proverbial test of time. Records from the same general era by, I dunno, Led Zep, Pink Floyd, Van Morrison, KISS, Paul McCartney and Joni Mitchell have, however, and proof resides right here in my record store: when I get in used records by those artists, they don’t stay in the bins for long (Zep and Floyd are typically gone within 24 hours, in fact). See my above comments about our 99-cent bin….

Pink Floyd

As a side note, I will mention that the records were in outstanding condition, both the sleeves and the actual vinyl. That’s a plus, although it should be a given that VNYL won’t send out platters that look like they’ve been trashed, or that are excessively noisy or even skip.

Bottom line: while I am still interested to see what my next two VNYL shipments will yield, this initial installment in the series is not all that encouraging. In fact, it reminds me of that old Monty Python skit about Australian table wines: this is a shipment with a message, and the message is “beware.” In 2015, nobody is going to their local record store and looking for records by Pablo Cruise, Toto and Leon & Mary Russell, much less willing to pay twelve freakin’ dollars for a copy. I posted a shortened account of my experience to the popular Steve Hoffman forums; below is typical of the numerous comments made.

 

Ha, well….I thought the idea was odd anyway.

Well, it’s not like first impressions count, or anything.

My guess is VNYL owns a record store a found a new way to get rid of that old, dusty stock.

I can only imagine weeks of dollar bin raids but who knows.

 

Indeed, if VNYL expects to make its subscription business a success, it’s going to have to do a lot better than trawl bargain bins and hit thrift stores in search of “product” for the subscribers. (Intriguingly, on the VNYL Twitter page the following info has been added: “New record store at 1136 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice CA.”) It will also have to conduct some serious seminars in “hand curation” for its employees in charge of making selections for customers. Otherwise the negative word-of-mouth is gonna kill ‘em.

Strike one, VNYL. Three strikes, and yer out. To be… continued?

***

POSTSCRIPT: Literally as we were preparing this article to post, the good folks over at Stereogum published their own piece entitled “VNYL Sliding: Why The ‘Netflix For Vinyl’ Service Is Such A Mess”. In it, writer Michael Nelson made some observations similar to ours, particularly along the lines of my 99-cent-bin complaints:

“VNYL subscriber Rob Baird talked to Stereogum for this story. For his #vibe, Baird told us, he chose the hashtag #lazysaturday, ‘based on [VNYL’s] Spotify playlist, which contained artists like Iron & Wine, Jack Johnson, Sufjan Stevens, Father John Misty, and Norah Jones, who I listen to regularly and are part of my record collection.’ Baird also shared with us a link to his Discogs profile. This not only helps to give you, the reader, an idea what he listens to; it was ostensibly consulted by VNYL personnel in order to help hand-curate musical selections based on his #vibe…. His first VNYL shipment included old releases from Jefferson Airplane, Dan Fogelberg, and England Dan & John Ford Coley.”

A number of the reader comments following the story took a similar tack, like this one:

“Damn! I thought this sounded like a cool idea and almost signed up. I ultimately decided to cheap out – and now I am so glad I did. I make enough questionable vintage record purchases without needing to pay $24 a month to get Pablo Cruise, Neil Diamond, and Kenny Loggins delivered to my door.”

Most of the Stereogum story, however, concerned an entirely different matter, that of whether or not VNYL would be violating the Record Rental Amendment Of 1984. It appears that VNYL became aware of this at some point and had to make some small changes in its operating model in order not to run afoul of the law. Writer Nelson delves pretty handily into this and it’s well-worth reading carefully.

He also talked with founder Nick Alt directly, who discussed that as well as some of the complaints that were starting to come in from subscribers. Among his quotes:

“VNYL was Kickstarted as a ‘Hand Curated Music Discovery’ project. I wanted to prove you could build the best human-curated music platform there is. After the campaign, I reached out to all our Kickstarter backers and asked them to fill out a questionnaire about VNYL and their own music experiences. I was really curious — what were they listening to? What genres do they like? What don’t they like? We’re all being sold these digital streaming services, but VNYL is about doing something anti-algorithm and focused on how people experience and actually listen to music.

“I also asked members why they backed VNYL. The vast majority (over 80%) chose to back us because they wanted to grow their vinyl collection, try a human curated service, and because they wanted to support vinyl as a medium. For a majority of our backers, the Netflix rental model just wasn’t the draw and actually created the most apprehension. Since we’re constantly making decisions around what the best user experience is for VNYL, it made sense to us to allow our backers and future members keep records they receive from us and pay us no additional costs…

“It fucking sucks when we disappoint our members. We honestly feel incredibly sad when a member doesn’t like what we sent. That sucks for them and also for us. It’s like you just spent all this time planning out what you think is an awesome surprise gift idea for someone and then they can’t mask the look of disappointment when they open it up right in front of you. It’s completely deflating. Unfortunately, this comes with the territory of being a human curated service.

“With time, VNYL will only improve. As shitty as it feels when someone doesn’t like our choices, when we do get it right, it’s a total rush. There’s nothing more rewarding for me or our curators when we see someone tweet or Instagram their open box of vinyl and are debating which one to spin first.”

Well, only “time” will tell, Nick. But judging from the growing snowball that is the court of public opinion, there’s not a whole lot of time to improve and “get it right.” Remember what I said about “negative word of mouth” at the end of my original article? It’s already started, and in a big way.

UPDATE, 5/16: Watch this video that Stereogum found by a, shall we say, less than pleased VNYL subscriber posted about his #danceparty selections:

UPDATE, 5/20: Another unhappy backer has posted a story about his experience at The Faculty of Thinking Blog. The writer’s conclusion: “VNYL charges $24 a month for 3 records via mail currently valued at less than $3 a record. Most of what you receive is not great and will feel more like a yard sale or goodwill or dollar bin find. If you’re into it, cool. You cannot return these records if you don’t like them. Very little about what you include in your profile, musical taste or “vibe” will influence what records you get. The records chosen are “hand curated” and possibly even with care, but from an extremely limited and low quality pool. There is nowhere to see the list of records that your selections are being curated from. Absolutely not worth the subscription unless you are trying to build a novelty library of quality over quantity. You are losing money in this current build.”

UPDATE, 5/20: Here is the first (to my knowledge) complaint about VNYL filed with California’s Better Business Bureau. It reads, in part: “When VNYL initiated a Kickstarter campaign (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/nickalt/vnyl-hand-curated-vinyl-records/video_share) in December 2014, it billed itself as the “Netflix of LPs.” As described by magazine Rolling Stone (http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/new-record-service-vnyl-distributes-lps-like-netflix-20150109), VNYL offered a subscription service that: allows member to select a hash tag classification (#lazysunday or #danceparty, for instance). Once completed, “the company will send three albums curated to fit the ‘vibe’ by the VNYL staff. The service costs $15 a month and allows members to spend as much time with the records as they would like, keeping the ones they love and sending the duds back using pre-paid shipping. The cost of keeping an album will run between $8 to $12.” I participated in the Kickstarter campaign and chose 3 months of service in late December 2015.On or about March 25, I tried to select vibes that had been promised on the Kickstarter campaign. I found that at least two vibes, #gamenight and #rainyday, were not being offered as promised. Nick Alt, creator and owner, noted that those vibes might be added at a later date. On April 25, I contacted Nick Alt again after receiving three albums that were not to my taste. They arrived with no prepaid return envelope, and I asked him how I could best return them. I also asked him to cancel my membership. He did not respond to repeated emails and Facebook queries until May 9th. His response, in part: “Those records yours to keep for no cost…but you dont have to do anything to get them back to us.”At this stage, I feel like the Kickstarter campaign was a bait and switch, an opportunity for VNYL to collect money and use it to open a brick and mortar record store as opposed to service members properly.Mine is not the only complaint.”

Uncle Blurt: Records? We Don’t Need No Steenkin’ Records!

Albums

Hard wax makes a 52% increase, notches 6% of all album receipts, and officially becomes the trend du jour of hipsters across the land.

By Uncle Blurt

Everybody around here knows that yer ol’ Uncle is kinda nutty for vinyl, having grown up with it; I can report in all candor that I have never owned an MP3 player of any sort and that while I do download occasionally, it is almost always live recordings and bootlegs. So it cheered my greying grey matter to learn that Nielsen SoundScan data for 2014 arrived earlier this week, and amidst all the hoo-hah over the seventy billion copies of 1989 that Taylor Swift sold plus accompanying media over-scrutiny of Sam Smith (who?), the Frozen soundtrack and Pharrell Williams’ best-selling song “Sappy,” er, I mean “Happy,” that vinyl records topped the 9.2 million mark in U.S. sales, which represents a 52% increase over last year.

According to the Wall Street Journal, that in turn represents 6% of total album sales. That may not seem like a whopping amount, but placed in the immediate context of shifting consumer habits and the gradual return of indie record stores to the national retail mix, it’s huge.

Vinyl

This doesn’t necessarily mean that vinyl will ever regain its prominence, sales-wise, that it enjoyed back in the ‘70s and ‘80s (think: Frampton Comes Alive, Saturday Night Fever and Thriller). Nor does it suggest, as some cynics would have it, that we’re currently in a vinyl bubble of sorts; vinyl never really went away, even at the height of MP3 and earbud mania, it just went underground, and out of all those teens who have just discovered vinyl, thereby making it the hipster trend du jour, we’re guaranteed that a hefty percentage will continue to prize vinyl long after a lot of their peers have moved on to, I dunno, collecting old Betamax tapes or something.

Meanwhile, good news for streaming services such as Spotify and bad news for retailers in the download business: downloads dropped a little, from 1.26 billion hits in 2013 to 1.1 billion in 2014, while streaming jumped even more than vinyl, from 106 billion individual track streams in 2013 to a whopping 164 billion in 2014 — a 54% surge. Buh-bye, shitty-sounding li’l compressed MP3s.

Pono

My predictions:

1. The convenience and portability of streaming is going to ensure that it’s here to stay and will probably continue to rise. What this means for the iPod and higher-end digital players like Neil Young’s much-heralded Pono player (pictured above) I don’t know. But you haven’t heard much about Pono lately, now, have you? Other than the news that it will finally hit stores next week, and that the Pono Store has officially launched for folks who want to pay an arm and a leg for a digital download. (Ever notice how much “pono” looks like “porno” if you are skimming the text on a website?)

The only people regularly talking about digital players are audiophile magazines and websites catering to those who are willing to plop down a thousand clams or more for a player that provides truly hi-res digital audio quality. It actually may be too early to get into a conversation about that new $1,119.00 digital iteration of Sony’s Walkman ZX2 (pictured below) just announced this week. I will say, though, that I still own a Walkman pro, the same cassette deck that I used to bootleg concerts with back in the day, so I am willing to entertain offers from people looking to get on the Walkman bandwagon and grab a genuine museum piece…)

Sony-Walkman-NW-ZX2

2. Vinyl sales – accompanied by audio gear sales, especially turntables, ‘cos ya gotta have the hardware to play the software – will continue to rise for a spell, eventually plateau, then settle in as a comfortable, attractive and, yes, profitable music format and delivery systems. We’ll also see more and more cool gimmicks like colored vinyl and shaped picture discs just like in the late ‘70s, all aimed at the collector geeks and hardcore fans out there, along with more and more reissues of classic wax and maybe even the mainstreaming of deluxe – and way expensive – vinyl box sets.

3. I will continue to geek out on vinyl. Hell, just yesterday I freaked out at the news of that colored vinyl, limited-to-500 copies, of Guided By Voices’ Bee Thousand. I pre-ordered my copy just as the door was slamming shut and the damn thing was sold out. Whew…

Postscript: you can toss all those CDs now, kids. Nobody’s gonna want them in a few years, not even you – in fact, a lot of music stores have already stopped taking them in trade. See below for the pile of unloved promos we have accumulated over the past couple of years: it’s a photo of our back office (known otherwise as “the dumpster”).

CDs

 

Fred Mills: About All That “Vinyl Explosion” News

Gramofon_1_ubt

Amazon reports massive increase in vinyl sales, and meanwhile, both Whole Foods and Target are experimenting with vinyl sales. What gives?

 By Fred Mills, Blurt Editor

 If you were listening to NPR’s weekly Sound Opinions broadcast this weekend your ears might’ve perked up when you heard them commenting on some reason news items about vinyl sales. This is something we think about a lot at BLURT; our sister business is Schoolkids Records in Raleigh, NC, and while CD sales continue their inexorable slide, vinyl has been steadily increasing—both new and used. Continue reading