ndustry observers have been stunned by vinyl’s resurgence, and music business players big and small have tried to ride the wave of renewed excitement about the once moribund format. Yet they are missing the point. In the era of on-demand, of immediate digital creation of physical objects, the vinyl frontier lies not in mere recreating the glory of days gone by, but by pushing the boundaries of the possible and the personalized.
Vinyl is weaving its way into more and more places in the music space, from upselling suggestions on streaming services to bringing more foot traffic to beloved indie record stores. The just-in-time, small-batch approach that offers vinyl as a service, however, can do so much more.
The vinyl format has the potential to forge a unique strong bond with valuable audiences. iTunes infamously unbundled the album, then streaming services gave new meaning and contextual value to a collection of tracks with playlists. The opportunity to create a different kind of branding has been seized by everyone from retailers to media outlets to consumer companies.
If sustained engagement and branding are what we’re looking for, shouldn't playlists evolve outside of the digital realm to further drive fan or brand loyalty? What is more evocative than something you can hold in your hands, something you see again and again? On-demand vinyl via services like Qrates makes printing and distributing limited editions of special compilations feasible.
The internet has made it possible to tap into a fleet of pressing plants and get the best quality, delivery times, and shipping rates at any given moment, the same way you can order a ride or find a place to crash online. At [the] same time, rights management and licensing are experiencing radical shifts, making it possible to create a compilation or reissue less subject to legal bottlenecks, thanks to companies like Dubset. This means brands or media tastemakers, say, could issue a quarterly collection just for subscribers, or offer vinyl goodies to dedicated fans or engagers.
It’s not hard to imagine taking things one step further. Crowdsourcing vinyl is in its infancy, but is quickly moving from crawl to dash. Fans on Vinylize.it are pinging their favorites artists on Soundcloud to issue their best tracks on vinyl. Collectors and LP aficionados are banding together to urge legacy artists and labels with killer back catalogs to reissue classic releases.
And one step further still, things get even more intriguing, even more personal. Here, we get into slightly uncharted territory, with some catching up to do on licensing, but with lots of promise of new revenue streams and more engaging fan experiences. Imagine being able to search existing vinyl-centric communities like Discogs, the world’s largest database of music, and select the release you would like to repress. Vinyl communities could give new life to rare and out of print albums that would have never had the opportunity to be repressed on a large scale.
Imagine creating a playlist on a major streaming provider and then with the click of a button ordering it to be sent as a birthday present to a friend. Imagine the coolest wedding or birthday party favor ever: A compilation (fully licensed, of course) of the event’s carefully selected music that party-goers can take home with them. Family recordings could be archived for a lifetime on LP.
Nightclubs and theaters could ask fans to vote to create an annual compilation of their favorite performers of the past year. The venue could then create a new revenue stream for their performers and themselves while giving fans of the venue a branded keepsake that shows of their curatorial taste. Music media could do something similar, putting their “best of” list for a year on wax and sending it to subscribers.
TaishifukuyamaThese ideas are not far away, despite what many say about limited vinyl pressing capacity and high cost per unit. The era of vinyl-on-demand has dawned. Let’s go crazy and start finding cool new ways to use a well-loved format to its fullest.
Taishi Fukuyama is CMO at Qrates, a crowdfunding platform for on-demand vinyl. Fukuyama has been the Japanese territory representative for companies such as The Echo Nest/Spotify, Consolidated Independent, Mobile Roadie, and other innovative music tech companies.