In A Digital World, Vinyl Me, Please Is Reviving The Lost Art Of The Record Collection
There are many traits we get from our parents. Their eye color, their wit, the charming dimple planted on the side of their cheek that instantly makes their smile feel warmer. But aside from genes, if there's one gift we'd all be obliged to put respeck (word to Birdman) on, it's certainly music — the harmonious vocal and instrumental combination that evokes the most beautiful form of self-expression.
For many, their musical taste is a direct reflection of their parents. And for those old enough to remember, it all started with vinyls, the grandfather of CDs, and a record player. However, that was then and this is now. The times of carefully grasping the sides of the record with steady fingertips, operating the tonearm and needle with the sharpest precision, and slipping into a state of musical bliss without the option of fast forward has faded into history books territory. Nevertheless, the lost art is having a undeniable resurgence. From the lifestyle section of your local Urban Outfitters to your favorite artists' merchandise store, the growing demand for vinyls is being delivered at a fascinating rate. Another exciting presence in the market being Vinyl, Me Please, an independent record club that delivers record junkies the nostalgic dose of polyvinyl chloride they've been waiting for.
"Growing up during the Napster generation, if you will, I’ve always longed for a tangible connection to something. So, Vinyl really fosters that experience better than anything," says Vinyl, Me Please founder Matt Fielder. But instead of choosing what you'd like to spin on your turntables, the musically-inclined staff chooses an exclusive vinyl each month to send its customers, giving each the thumbs up as an essential to any record collection.
VIBE spoke to the guys behind Vinyl, Me Please to discuss their grassroots success, the importance of bringing vinyl back to the forefront, and why exactly they are the "Best Damn Record Club Out There."
So, of all things, why vinyl?
Matt Fiedler: The reason we started Vinyl Me, Please was to create an experience around music. Our mission is to help people explore, experience, and enjoy music on a deeper level, using vinyl as the medium. There's a nostalgic tangible nature that has a forced intentionality around it that actually makes for the best listening experience. It’s a unique discovery experience, too, because you’re not being served up something by an outlet or being able to click around and all that stuff. You have to sit with it and be with it and get through it.
Do you remember your first experience with vinyl?
Matt: My dad amassed this huge record collection, and ironically enough, he bought one of the first commercially available CD burners. It's the pre-industrial looking recording equipment where you mount it into the wall. He used to have me take records by one and burn them onto CDs and then put them onto the computer so he could listen to them on his iPod. He'd pay me a dollar a record or something like that. You couldn’t fast-forward, so I would have to sit and listen to all of these records to ensure that the sound was transferring properly. So that was my first interaction with vinyl, and weirdly it was at a pretty young age. So when I came back around, I was already pretty familiar with the components and how it all works.
Severan Johnson: I had an older buddy in the neighborhood who was three years older than me, and I stole his Too Live Crew, As Nasty As You Want To Be. I hid in my closet and put it on my first cassette player when I was 12. I never heard anything like it. My dad had a turntable and every Sunday he cooked waffles in his underwear with music blasting. Now that I think of it is was really weird [laughs]. But I got his turntable and I tried to scratch because I heard all these cool sounds. It was this nice turntable, too. I ended up getting an a** whooping man. It wasn’t scratching turntables either. So yeah, my introduction to vinyl, trying to scratch Too Live Crew and getting an a** whooping.
Lots of times, when people look back at their favorite albums, if they really think about when they first connected with it, it’s often not the album that they would’ve picked. —Cameron Schaefer
How did you guys formulate your idea of an updated vinyl experience into a thriving business?
Matt: It all started when Tyler, my co-founder and then roommate, really wanted to get into vinyl after my dad gifted me turntables for Christmas. There were tons of records that we loved and wanted to own, but me personally, I have severe purchasing anxiety. When I walk into a record store I want them all and can never pick one. So we thought it would be cool to create a record club that was for the new generation. We decided to focus on one album each month: something that's sort of a diamond in the rough, something that flows from start to finish, and something that's really great and probably undiscovered, that everyone will get it, and then build from there. We didn’t take any funding or financing. It was literally something we put up on Facebook, saying, 'Hey we’re going to try this and if you’re interested, put in your email address and we’ll let you know when we’re ready to launch.' In January 2013, we launched with just twelve members in our first month. Our main focus was creating product that was cool and exciting enough for those people to tell their friends. By the end of that first year, we grew to about 300 members. However, the whole concept shifted soon after doing one-on-one consulting. What we realized is that we were calling people and saying, 'What do you want to listen to? What do you want on this playlist? What should we curate for you?' And they were like 'I trust your taste, so just give me something that you think I should be listening or what you’re listening to or something new cool.' That was a light bulb moment for us because we were realized we could be curators and tastemakers.
What's the process of picking the record of the month like?
Cameron Schaefer: I lead that process. Ultimately, every single record is a team decision that we all listen to multiple times and debate vigorously until we decide.
Severan: Sometimes blood is shed [laughs].
Cameron: Yeah, but we first approach it by dividing up the calendar year and just saying we know we want four to five major reissues; three, maybe four new releases from smaller artists to have that element of discovery. Then, we fill the rest with what I like to call undiscovered gems – albums that maybe came out a few years ago and were great, but for whatever reason, we feel like didn’t get the attention they deserved. After I identify a few potential albums that could be our featured record, then I’ll bring it the team. We’ll all listen normally three or four times, each album. We kind of have development over time, our internal score card, the different elements that we kind of judge to think that this would be a great release for our members: a coherent narrative and something that was intentionally put together to tell a story and isn’t just some singles that’s sporadically thrown in with some filler. And above all else it has to be a great album from start to finish. So, everyone gives the records intentional listens and scores them. We’ll put it all together and see where things line up. Generally, we get down to two albums and then the debate begins, which is a lot of fun.
Would Metro Boomin’ trust would your scorecards?
Severan: I hope. I would love to do something with Metro Boomin’ [laughs]. But like Matt said earlier, we're all about the music at the end of the day. So I think there’s a level of respect in the industry when people see that and in return they trust us.
The idea of a vinyl club is nothing novel, so what separates Vinyl Me, Please from others in the market place?
Matt: What separates us is our core values as a company, which are humanity, humility, and authenticity. We’re real people and real music fans, and we’re incredibly passionate about what we do. It starts with the music and ends with music. It’s not about being the cool startup or any of that other bullsh*t, which is very obvious in our product. The curation element is key because most of the industry has tried to move into a space where they look at your tastes and try to give you recommendations based on data, whether that’s what you’ve been listening to on Spotify or what you like on Facebook. We're different. It's not that we ignore those things; we’re totally aware of them. But we recognize that there’s lots of great music discovery that happens through serendipity and a bit of randomness.
Cameron: Lots of times, when people look back at their favorite albums, if they really think about when they first connected with it, it’s often not the album that they would’ve picked.
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There's also the really cool element of artist involvement in your membership, too.
Matt: Yeah, it’s always better for us if the artist can be involved in the creative process around creating the package. It just feels way more personal and way better because it feels like it’s coming from the artist rather than just us and the label putting our heads together. We like for them to be involved in many ways whether we want to look at maybe changing up the album artwork. Or do we want to do a new lyric booklet and have them write a foreword or a personal note to members.
Cameron: Before I started working with Vinyl, Me Please, I was actually a pilot in the Air Force. On the side I had a music blog that I was writing with a friend they got wind of. Originally it was called Vinyl and Cocktails; we would just listen to albums, make a drink, and then write about it for fun. Matt and Tyler came to me saying they'd love to have a cocktail pairing component to the monthly package that compliments and the listening experience. So, that's also another major feature we offer our customers.
You guys are based out of Colorado. What's the appeal of the city since it's not really a music hub per se?
Matt: The day before my wife and I were to get married, I got a job offer in Colorado. At that point, Vinyl Me, Please was pretty small at that point, so we took this job and sort of just moved the fulfillment to our apartment in Colorado. We weren’t like that’s where we build this business. It just all came together for us in the same way we talk about the serendipitous music discovery, it was a serendipitous experience for us.
Severan: There was actually a discussion of whether we should be in Los Angeles or New York. We actually found a lot of benefit by staying in Colorado because we were separated from the scenes. We're outside of the vortex, so much to the point that we don't get caught up in the hype.
Matt: Right. It's like having a pretty unbiased opinion because we’re not being forced in a certain direction by anybody. So you know, I think it’s something that’s special and we’ve always been very cognizant of preserving so even when we hire people, it’s like this is what we’re hear for and this is what we’re about, do you fit into that kind of culture and that mantra.
Are there any future plans for expansion?
Matt: For us it all comes down to iterating the membership, iterating the features of the membership, and making it better to be a member. We just introduced a new feature called Swaps, which for three, six, or 12-month members you have the ability to swap a featured record for something else. So if there’s a title that you’re really not interested in or you already have a copy, or issue it gives flexibility to the member and encourages that we're not being a**holes just telling you, you need to take this record. Our member store is growing tremendously, too, so we’re continuing to focus on that by adding more titles. We’ve somewhat recently started doing limited edition of 750 to 1,000 copy runs of other records. So there's unique, limited edition records like Young Thug's Barter 6 and Future's DS2 that we put in the store that are exclusive to members only.
Lastly, what are you guys' top three albums of the year so far?
Severan: Radiohead's A Moon Shaped Pool and Car Seat Headrest's Teens Of Denial. Young Thug's Slime Season 3 was f***ing brilliant, too.
Cameron: I would say the new Car Seat Headrest as well. I really like the new Marissa Nadler album, Strangers. And then I would probably say Parquet Courts' Human Experiences.
Matt: I love the new Sturgill Simpson record. Anderson .Paak’s Malibu is amazing. We saw him at South By South West and was mind blown. Kendrick Lamar's, untitled, unmastered, I really dig that too.