The timeless act of setting a needle in a groove. For those of us who grew up with vinyl records, we took this experience for granted. This is how we listened to our music and we didn’t give it much thought.
Until it was gone, that is. And as excited as the Baby Boomers were about the digital revolution; its portability and choice and convenience and availability, it always felt like there was something missing.
In the nineties you’d find audiophiles touting vinyl’s supposedly superior sound, but there was an air of desperation to it; it seemed like a lost cause, and the sales figures bore that out. Vinyl was a dying format. And when Napster and then iTunes came along, and you could have instant access to just about every song ever made, then what was there to keep vinyl in the game? Well, plenty, as Vinyl Me, Please founders Matt Fiedler and Tyler Barstow will tell you. As Matt puts it, “we offer experience over convenience.”
Rather than just focus on the sound of vinyl — although its analog warmth is certainly part of it — Vinyl Me, Please has tapped into the same Millennial demographic where there is an evolving sense of distrust for speed and convenience, and indeed technology itself — Slow Food and Third Wave coffee are examples — and a desire to step back and rediscover meaning and experience, and a physical and tactile connection to art and music.
After 20 years of death-spiral numbers, in 2006 vinyl sales began to grow exponentially, and Matt and Tyler realized there was an opportunity to start the kind of business that every music lover would dream about. The overwhelming choice available on streaming services like Spotify seemed like both a blessing and a curse, providing access to so much music but also making it hard for consumers to know where to even start. As Matt puts it, “We wanted to bring back the experience of going into a record store and asking for a recommendation from the person behind the counter and hopefully walking out with something that you’ve never heard before but which intrigues you.”
At the same time they wanted to not only provide the kind of artwork and packaging that vinyl is often prized for, but also increase and enhance that experience by working exclusively with bands and record companies to release unique and limited editions of new music, and to re-release older classic records with additional information and artwork, essays and poetry and commentary.
But Vinyl Me Please is not just a vinyl album portal for people to shop at. In fact it’s not that at all. Matt and Tyler, when they founded the business in 2012, looked back at the book of the month and record of the month business models of the past, and realized that the kind of music lovers who would appreciate the quality of their product — the heavy vinyl pressings, the special releases, the added-value packaging, the artwork inserts — would also be receptive to new music and genres, and older touchstone albums, curated by a team of knowledgeable music lovers.
Signing up for Vinyl Me, Please costs $23 per month if you sign up for a yearly subscription, and each month you will receive an album in the mail. Selections in the last year have gone from classic jazz to electronica, nineties power-punk to indie-angst, neo-soul to dub reggae, and all points in between. The packaging is superlative, even to the extent of providing a themed cocktail recipe with each album, the rationale being to capitalize on the linear experience of sitting down, relaxing, and actually listening to a group of songs in a certain order, with a degree of concentration, and allowing oneself to grasp the kind of meaning and enjoyment that cannot really be had by song-surfing on Spotify. It’s as different an experience as filet mignon compared to a fast food burger, cognac versus lite beer, or even Tolstoy versus People Magazine. For those who get it, Vinyl Me, Please has its finger on the pulse.
I asked Matt about the record selection process, and the choice of add-on artwork and commentary: “One thing we are really trying to work on too is how can we tell the story of why we chose that record and what the record’s history or story is. It is just another element that we are trying to incorporate to really reinforce that this record matters and give people more context as to what they are listening to and what they should be looking for.”
There is a simplicity to Vinyl, Me Please’s business model which appeals to those of us overwhelmed by the current choices available, and an attempt to get back to a time when community was more important. They pick the album, they send it to you, you listen to it. The music may grab you right away, or it may take some time. You may put it down and come back to it later. Like a good book, or an aged wine.
Matt again: “We said, let’s try and get people engaging around the same piece of music, and try and start a groundswell of discussion about a particular record. You know, here’s 45 minutes of music to listen to, digest, connect with, and have an opinion about.”
We talked briefly about the actual sound of vinyl, but the audiophile aspect is certainly not the company’s primary focus. At their website they have links to excellent introductory turntable packages that will not break the bank, and my experience has been that the heavy vinyl pressings coupled with a modest system will produce sound of very high quality that will compete with and often outperform CDs and certainly digital files.
Let’s not kid ourselves here; for many “consumers” music is just that, a product to be consumed, and they are happy to do that on their iPhones and iPads, or retrieving their now skippy and scratched CDs from the box in the trunk of the car, but for those music lovers who still consider music as art rather than product, the vinyl experience is still important and valuable. It’s the difference between a print and the original painting.
Vinyl Me, Please is a company which has recognized this and has found a niche where good business and good music can intersect. They are a growing company satisfying a growing need, one that the record industry probably could not have imagined ten years ago. But the “record of the month club” model would not work if the album choices were not superb. But they are, and that is the key to their success.
If you are getting into vinyl for the first time, or adding to and rebuilding an old collection, Vinyl Me, Please is the perfect place to start.