Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Vinyl vs. Digital? Not again...

I realize that you can’t please everybody. However, I’m sitting here with mixed emotions. Why, you ask? …Because of this ongoing (never-ending) debate about vinyl vs. CD/MP3 distribution. Let’s make one thing clear: I LOVE vinyl. I always have, and for some nostalgic reason, I always will. But let’s face it, shall we? Times are changing. Vinyl isn’t selling like it used to. People aren’t BUYING vinyl like they used to. Consumers have made a BIG shift toward MP3s, CDs and other digital media.

As a DJ, I admit that I LOVE the ease of transporting my collection of music on CDs. I love playing CDs – it allows me to create something in the studio THAT DAY, and play it immediately for the crowd. It allows me to bring 10,000 songs, as opposed to 50 records in a crate. Not to mention, there’s 80 minutes of music on a CD, vs. 20 minutes on a 12-inch record. These are just a FEW reasons why I love to use CDs.

Now about vinyl, YES I love the science that goes into MAKING the physical record. I love the authenticity of vinyl… In my studio, I have a wall full of my 12-inch singles all in frames. I’m so proud of the records I’ve pressed! I’d love to press more. HOWEVER, am I beating a dead horse when it comes to the marketplace?

Let me take this one step further…

As a RECORD LABEL OWNER, I understand the type of music I sell. Dance Music (a broad term, yes) caters to the DJ. A lot of big-name DJs don’t even spin vinyl anymore, and they play to sold-out crowds. I’ve seen people use Serato Scratch, Traktor, and those Pioneer CDJs (which I admit I’d love to own). It’s my goal to NOT ONLY cater to the DJs, but also to the CROWD of people that actually DANCE to this music. Yes, I want the DJs to support my label. But I ALSO want the average club-goer to be able to own the music they love as well… Hear it on the subway. Play it on your Ipod. Bump it in your car. Whatever. And maybe it’s just here in America, but the average music listener doesn’t even OWN a turntable anymore. So again, I want to cater to this market as well.

HERE is my issue:

I’m too young to be “old school…” I’m not afraid of changing with the times. I once pressed vinyl exclusively, but as the market changed, so did I. I even questioned some of these “digital-only” labels that kept cropping up all over the place. I asked, “Where’s the vinyl?” Because of MY LOVE for vinyl and my willingness to cater to the VINYL MARKET – however small that may be – I decided that I would only make a partial switch. In other words, I would release both vinyl AND digital versions on my music.

Anyone who presses records KNOWS how expensive it can be. The cost to export them, the dwindling market, the risk of returns, etc… It’s too much at times! Record shops are closing; distributors are going out of business, etc. Again, it’s too much! With the low cost of overhead and rising market, wouldn’t it be sensible to “go digital?” Especially since you’ve just expanded your audience to include EVERYBODY – not just DJs who play vinyl? In my opinion, it makes perfect sense. But the more I lean towards the digital market, there’s always SOMEBODY asking me “Where’s the vinyl?” When I hear that question, it makes my blood boil…
I’ve been lucky enough to find a vinyl distributor who offered me a “P&D deal.” This is every record label owner’s DREAM COME TRUE! Now I can cater to both markets, thus pleasing everybody, right? Of course not! There’s always something or someone out there, putting some damn salt in the game. My vinyl distributor is located in Paris, France. I know that in Europe (France especially), many people still prefer and play vinyl. Considering that MY music (as well as dance music in general) sells better overseas, I decided to jump at the chance! I could press my records and sell them THERE, as well as digitally distribute them HERE – a win-win situation, or so it seemed.

Well, one of the main problems I’ve discovered with the VINYL distributor is that they’re feeling the “crunch” of the market. They are unwilling to stick to the vision of the LABEL, so if THEY don’t feel like a certain record will sell, they won’t press it. And let me tell you – this is ME, putting my business “out there,” but fuck it. I’m keeping it real, and if you fault me for it, whatever. I don’t really give a damn…

Let me first state that I’m NOT speaking with any sort of ego whatsoever when I make these statements! But, since 1996, MY NAME has sold records. In 2005, when I decided to sign other artists to my label, I knew that it was MY reputation on the line. If they didn’t sell, MY LABEL would look bad. I didn’t want this to happen, so I CAREFULLY chose my releases. Sometimes I would take licensing deals, just to broaden my market – and I chose these deals carefully. I KNEW that even if I took a “not so great” deal, I would still get the exposure I needed to stay in the game, if you know what I mean…

Side note: Sometimes it hurt my damn feelings to release a record on Wallshaker, only to have it go virtually unnoticed. Maybe it’s promotions? Maybe it’s politics? I don’t know. But I can tell you this: “Tears” would’ve NEVER been released on Subject Detroit if more people paid attention to Wallshaker. “Electro Bytes” would’ve never been released on AfroSyntrix if more people paid attention to Wallshaker… And if DISTRIBUTORS actually took NOTICE of the name/quality/WORK behind a label, instead of sticking to their so-called “winning formula,” producers like myself could MAINTAIN that level of integrity ON THEIR OWN LABELS… I was once told that it’s easy to sell an artist, but HARD to sell a “label.” Go figure. If an Aaron-Carl record was released on Subject Detroit, UR, Kompakt, Wallshaker or whatever – should it make a difference? As a consumer, if the record is HOT, who gives a fuck about the label? I WANT THAT RECORD! END OF STORY!

So years go by… I evolve as an artist, producer, label owner, DJ, etc… I THOUGHT I was doing the RIGHT thing, when I released other tracks by different artists under Wallshaker. In fact, let me retract that statement. I KNOW I AM DOING THE RIGHT THING!!! And with this statement, I argue with my vinyl distributor. You see, the reason some of you STILL cannot find my vinyl releases is NOT because I’m not releasing them – it’s because they’re not getting PRESSED! They don’t get pressed or even promoted properly, because (I’ve been told)”Aaron-Carl sells records… We don’t know who these OTHER people are!” Truth be told, if you read the fucking credits, you will find that I’ve either PRODUCED or REMIXED the songs anyway!
But instead of arguing with the distributor, I said, OKAY… I’ll gauge the two markets. If nobody buys it digitally, then obviously the record is a flop. But as I suspected, my digital releases are selling GREAT numbers. People are listening, buying, trading, supporting and talking about these new tracks. (THANK YOU!) It proved my point. I AM RELEASING QUALITY TRACKS!!! Again, I’m not relying on my ego. I’m looking at my latest sales statement from my DIGITAL distributor – and wondering why the hell my VINYL distribution statements aren’t reflecting similar stats.

Here’s what I WILL NOT DO: I will NOT listen to scared excuses from the vinyl folks, when I’ve got the numbers from the DIGITAL folks to back up my claims. Gottdamnit, MY TRACKS ARE SELLING!

Personally I think that someone’s out to get me. Really, I do. It’s sort of the same reason why I’ve got not ONE, but TWO booking agents – but not a gottdamn gig as of yet (that I haven’t gotten on my own). But that’s another story…
Back to the vinyl/digital debate… When I lean on digital markets, the vinyl people complain… When I try to support the vinyl market, I get stopped by the distributors and the politics that come with it. What the hell am I supposed to do?
I’ll say this: For those who ONLY support vinyl… Take your ass over to the vinyl distributors and TELL THEM YOU WANT WALLSHAKER! For real… Show your support. Support the labels you want to hear – stop bitching because you can’t get it for free. Spend a few dollars and actually SUPPORT the labels. For those who PRESS the vinyl: Get over your fear, will you? Yes, it seems that everyone (and their mother) has a record label. But YOU know who the established artists are. YOU know a hot track when you hear one… And if YOU feel the track, then MAKE PEOPLE UNDERSTAND!!!

And for those who bitch and moan about authenticity… Let me say this… I am authentic. I am authentic when I press vinyl… I am authentic when I press CDs… I am authentic when I create an MP3. When I create my music, I AM AUTHENTIC. Fuck the format. Feel the soul…

Always,
Aaron-Carl

2 comments:

Mani said...

very well put.

augustus said...

Honestly AC I don't care what you release it under just as long as you continue to do so. I DJ using Tracktor so I'm exclusive to Digital but that doesn't mean anything to me. All the best shit out there has yet to be spun and most of it is on Vinyl in a record store someone waiting to be bought. Beatport is awesome but that still doesn't beat getting a rare track from somewhere.