Hey all, Ernie here with Tedium’s resident vinyl-head, David Buck. This time around, he highlights how a digital music curator got into the vinyl subscription service game. Read on:
Today in Tedium: Given the insane, nightmarish hellscape that is 2020, it’s comforting to find reprieve in a hobby or creative pursuit. For me, vinyl records and music—lately I’m on a pretty big Lee Ritenour and Masayoshi Takanaka kick—are one way to catch a break from all the stress. While we’ve covered the concept of virtual crate digging and collecting physical music media in the digital age before, there is still a certain magic to the practice of holding a large vinyl record in your hands and engaging in a tactile listening experience. There’s no doubt that part of the appeal of vinyl records is the warm, analog audio quality for some listeners. For others, it’s the artwork. But what happens when the vinyl format is combined with modern digital music from new artists, with elaborate artwork to match? One guy decided to find out, creating one of the most unique vinyl subscription services available today. Today’s Tedium is all about the juxtaposition of analog formats, digital music, elaborate artwork and a DIY aesthetic as we explore the story of Vinyl Moon. Fingers crossed I don’t get any of the numbers wrong this time … — David @ Tedium
Today’s GIF is from this video of a vinyl pressing plant.
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The percentage of revenue made up by vinyl record sales in the first six months of 2020, per a report by the RIAA. While streaming is an amazing, convenient method of enjoying music—it accounted for an impressive 85 percent of recorded music revenue during the same period—there is still a small market for physical media like CDs and vinyl records. This year, vinyl records outsold CDs for the first time since the 1980s. It’s no surprise there is a dedicated niche for fans of the format to collect, discuss and enjoy.
The genesis of a unique subscription vinyl concept
I love acquiring and collecting vinyl records—old thrift store vinyl, garage sale finds, trips to the local record store and Discogs are all great ways to build a collection—but sometimes, going a step further by joining a vinyl record subscription service can be fun. Services like Black Box Record Club will curate existing records from a user’s favorite/most listened artists specific to their customers’ tastes. Another subscription service, Vinyl Me, Please, does things a bit differently with their online magazine and album-of-the-month offering.
Both are fine services catering to fans and collectors alike. While there are a great deal of vinyl subscription services beyond these, none are quite like the multimedia experience known as Vinyl Moon. Vinyl Moon subscribers receive a record containing ten songs from new musicians, a postcard with information about the band and their song’s artwork, a cool record sleeve design and some members-only benefits unique to the service. They’re pressed on colored vinyl, too, if you’re into that sort of thing. But the complicated story of Vinyl Moon begins with a solution to a problem many music fans constantly face: a lack of time to find and discover new music. Brandon Bogajewicz—the founder and driving force behind Vinyl Moon—created a solution by launching his blog The Burning Ear in 2009 as a sort of online mixtape intended to showcase new and interesting music for people who didn’t have the time to discover it themselves. Gathering a large readership at the site led to a plan to translate the online mixtape idea to one of his favorite formats: vinyl.
In a recent interview with Tedium, Brandon discussed his passion for mixtapes and how it partially seeded the DIY aspect saying, “I’ve been into mixtapes ever since I discovered music. I used to make mixed tapes of songs that I loved on cassettes and even sold them in middle school and high school. Color photocopies at Kinkos and hand cut-out J cards, etc. That is one part of the seed.”
This love of interactive music led to the success of The Burning Ear and cultivated a true passion for creating these online mixtapes. Eventually, Brandon found work in the music industry for management companies and record labels. Determined to come up with a unique idea of his own—but completely unsure what it would be—Brandon continued working to spread the word of the wonderful artists he’d been discovering through both his industry work and website. Then he discovered a love for the vinyl and he was suddenly struck with inspiration:
Around that time I was getting into vinyl and the first thing I thought to do was subscribe to a couple record clubs. (I’ve always loved getting stuff in the mail. Who doesn’t?) none of the record clubs I subscribe to really struck a chord with me. I couldn’t get excited. Because I was involved with a lot of emerging bands from the music blog I was buying more and more 7 inches. But it was frustrating to have to turn them over every 3 1/2 minutes. I just want to sit down and relax! One day I thought aloud to myself, “I wish someone would take all the 7 inches by all these emerging bands and put them on one full length LP so I could sit down for 20 minutes!”
That’s when the lightbulb went off in his mind and he arrived at the idea that would become Vinyl Moon. Solving his own problem—the desire to listen to every new single all in one session and without changing the record—in this manner involved a significant amount of preparation, numerous spreadsheets and a successful Kickstarter campaign. He figured other people might desire the same thing and he was right. It only took a little over 650 backers to generate almost twice as much as Vinyl Moon’s original $10,000 goal and they’ve been going strong ever since.
As for the name, Brandon humorously explained its humble origins when we asked him about it during our interview:
VINYL MOON was literally the first name that popped into my head. There are so many things that I love about it. The Moon cycles about once a month just like a record club. The moon is round like a record. The moon has two sides like a record. And if you want to get really deep and wacky, the moon has powerful influence over the earth in the same way that music has powerful influence over people. But honestly, I’m fine if people just think it’s a cool name, because it is. I think the deeper meanings are like Easter eggs on a DVD. They can be fun but not necessary.
That doesn’t mean there’s an intricate, deep meaning to everything Vinyl Moon does, but it’s a part of the appeal of using the service and may account for some of their recent success during the pandemic lockdowns.
“The biggest challenge has always been how to get people excited about something that is inherently an unknown. You don’t know what is going to be until it arrives in the mail. That can be a scary proposition for some people.”
— Brandon Bogajewicsz on the inherent challenges of running a subscription service like Vinyl Moon. It became more difficult trying to pitch it through Kickstarter due to the lack of previous releases or past content at the time. Brandon readily admits it was a bit of a gamble to go on Kickstarter video and basically say, “You have no idea who I am but you should totally trust me to curate music and artwork for you. And pay me. Every month.“ Something must have struck a chord with users, however, because five years later Vinyl Moon is still producing a new curated LP each month for its users.
Creating an immersive living room experience
The music contained on each release tends to challenge listeners while opening a world of possibility to discover their next favorite artist. It isn’t unlikely to find music from across the world and most genres as well. Brandon personally selects songs with the only criteria being that it’s something he loves and wants to share with the world. Always on the hunt for fresh music, Vinyl Moon also has several submission channels to allow musicians everywhere a shot at being included. By sourcing submissions this way, both listeners and listeners are involved in the creation (or at least the suggestion) of each project. This kind of interactivity isn’t typically part of a subscription service, but it helps make the project a smaller, living room experience.
Brandon attributes the ongoing success of Vinyl Moon to this idea but also to the concept that many people are seeking for something entirely original and outside the box for their own music experience, especially in an age of constant entertainment choices. Sometimes making musical decisions can be tough, but Brandon tells us he is definitely up to the task, “I think the fact that we live in an area where we can stream any music whenever we want is pretty magical, but that kind of infinite choice creates its own challenges. Too much choice can be paralyzing. I think more and more people are appreciating when someone else can take the challenge of choosing off their plate.”
Add to that the idea that many of us enjoy a unique musical experience and it becomes the perfect way to experience music in the living room again, hearkening back to the days of large hi-fi sound systems in a dedicated space. Vinyl Moon actually saw more subscribers maintaining their subscription during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and saw their revenue increase by about 50 percent during the lockdowns.
Brandon reasoned that everyone is stuck in their living room during the lockdowns and craved a connection to the outside world--which Vinyl Moon helped provide. It could also have something to do with the intricate artwork and packaging designs.
The artwork combined with the curated mix is worth it for most music fans. The DIY nature of each package from mix tape to art choice is unique. What goes into making those decisions comes down to the theme of the mix and Brandon’s disdain for the lack of attention to detail from which most modern album art seems to suffer. There’s also no barcode, freeing up more canvas space. A different visual artist creates a sweeping tapestry of artwork with each new release. One month you could receive a watercolor style painting of an ocean or beach. Another month could bring a comic book style rendering of a cowboy against a lenticular hologram of a cosmic backdrop. Other releases integrate the cover, the insert and the art on the record itself into the package designs.
The art isn’t merely a static image in most cases, either. Most releases feature a visual mechanic like a lenticular hologram, fold-in, reflective foils, a zoetrope and more. Vinyl Moon #21 featured a scratch-off lottery ticket style gold insert and #33 had a 3D floating house vinyl topper that you could build and place on the record as it spins. Release #46 is a personal favorite with it’s red and white snake cover and the cool red filter that comes with it. This type of innovation is unheard of in most vinyl packages and functions as more of an artistic expression on behalf of the visual artists, rather than a mere gimmick. The different styles all highlight the personality of the mix and come from the minds of a different modern artist each time. Not only are listeners being treated to a novel listening experience, they’re getting a visually spectacular cover for the cost of admission.
Future packaging concepts are in the works, but they’re a surprise for now. They may become more technical—thinking about last week’s 3DS piece, I suggested incorporating augmented reality (AR) into a future release—or they may not. Whatever the future of Vinyl Moon’s art direction holds, it will be interesting both to both the eyes and the ears.
The number of months it takes to put together a single Vinyl Moon record. The process begins with listening to and selecting new music, which is probably the most time-consuming aspect of the job. Then they work with the visual artist on the creative aspects of the packaging including the artwork and visual mechanisms. Then sending it off to be mastered, printed and pressed, assembled and shipped completes the job. The company is small, with only a few people working toward the goal of getting a unique vinyl experience to subscribers and fans alike. While they wouldn’t share a figure for how much it costs to put together each package, Brandon said it costs quite a bit to do, but they invest more per unit than anyone else in their releases. It definitely shows.
As Vinyl Moon continues to grow, its user base and artistic direction remain fluid, constantly changing with each new month into something more magnificent than what came before. There are 61 unique vinyl packages available from Vinyl Moon as of its fifth anniversary in September, 2020. The combination of the vinyl format with a careful selection of new, digital music is unique among vinyl subscription services on its own. The beautiful, intricate artwork—some of which come with their own DIY components—effectively transform each Vinyl Moon release from a curated mixtape into a veritable multimedia experience with past releases available for posterity and exploration in Vinyl Moon’s collection.
Brandon manages to stay busy, too. The Burning Ear still sees regular updates, introducing new music to fresh ears. As for Vinyl Moon, they’re expanding their community more and planning to hold in-person events when it becomes possible to do so. There are also some exciting things coming down the pipeline for new releases, but he didn’t give much of an indication about what that may be. Whether it’s the art, the music or the interactive experience itself, Vinyl Moon has much to offer both subscribers and casual music fans alike. It’s still a bit of a niche, however, but with massive potential. The story of Vinyl Moon is just beginning and they’ll keep engaging music fans everywhere for years to come. As Brandon succinctly put it at the end of our interview, “Life is a choose your own adventure book but ultimately every book’s last chapter should be a VINYL MOON record.”
Music is a wonderful therapy for these dark times and Vinyl Moon is certainly helping. Besides, we could all use a little bit of music once in a while, right?
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