Qrates is an online service focused on vinyl pressing. The two biggest features the service advertises and thus why I'm shooing to write about are: orders start at 100 units and a turnaround time of 6-8 weeks. For artists who have looked into pressing their own vinyl the two numbers have likely already caught your attention. Typically, vinyl pressing plants have minimum orders set at 300-500 and due in part to the growing interest in vinyl, turnaround times from three to six months (with delays often pushing orders even further back).
The company's site allows a person to design their record sleeves, select options for the record's vinyl all while getting updated price info based on the choices made. You can do crowd-funding type release where the record only goes to press if enough pre-orders are made. Additionally, the site offers distribution options with the ability to have the artists, fans, record stores all sent records directly to them. With this information as a starting point, I talked to Qrates representative Taishi Fukuyama to find out more.
The main thrust of the conversation was about how even in this very digital age of music an artist's core fans are still very enthusiastic about physical releases. A group may have a committed fan base that wants a vinyl release and will buy it, but that number might not meet the higher order minimums of pressing plants. Enter Qrates. Based in Japan, the company was created by people with experience in record stores. The company is centered around enabling smaller vinyl orders and thus allowing artists to press smaller numbers of records to meet a core demand that may not have previously been an economic possibility in the past. The natural targets for this would be small labels and independent artists, but I learned the service does not explicitly exclude larger labels from using it. A small detail though, since major labels are not generally interested in small volume releases.
How can Qrates offer smaller minimum orders and after turnaround times than other record pressing services? The company has partnered with multiple record pressing plants around the world to take advantage of availability for record runs as they present themselves at various factories. This flexibility is one way of avoiding delays with orders. Using multiple plants in different locations raises the question of consistency, an issue the company addresses through guidelines they have with the pressing plants they work with. The company does not own any pressing plants, nor does it do mastering, their strength is in connecting artists to the means to get their record made and then delivering the release in an efficient way.
Qrates started first by focusing on Japan and Europe in 2015, and while it was open to US orders, it is now placing greater focus on the US market. Part of this US push involves a distributor partnership with Fat Beats.
Additionally, the company has launched Vinylize.it, a site that allows users to express their desire to have a piece of music pressed to vinyl. The site allows soundcloud users (other services may be added in the future) to submit tracks to let the artist or label know they would like a vinyl version of a track. Artists can gauge demand for a record pressing and then go through the Qrates service for a proper release with high quality audio and everything else. The company spokesman was very clear that no records could be pressed without artists (or label) consent, they have no interest in making bootlegs. I like the idea behind this site a lot, though linking it to other services beyond soundcloud would greatly add to its potential.
Overall, the Qrates approach is an interesting solution for those wanting to make a vinyl record without the means to make a 500 unit run, or going the boutique pressing (lathe cut for instance) route. It offers artists a way of meeting demand for physical records from their most loyal fans without having to risk a large amount of money on excess supply. Adding crowd-funding, store sales, and other distribution elements gives the service a well thought out feel that artists and labels can feel pretty confident in.