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You love vinyl. Your fans love vinyl. You want to offer your music on vinyl. But how do you press vinyl and get started in the process? That’s where the problems begin: production minimums, costs, design and specifications, and the headache of how to ship them to stores, fans, and stores. The resurgence of vinyl is real, but it has mainly been driven by well-funded labels – until now.
Enter Qrates.com, an innovative music tech company based in Japan, which was founded to enable musicians and labels to design, fund, press, sell, fulfill and distribute their vinyl within minutes to customers and retailers worldwide.
I was fortunate to chat with the company’s CMO, Taishi Fukuyama, to get a feel for how QRATES can be a part of any independent artist’s or label’s strategy.
Are you calling this a crowdfunding platform or an on-demand platform?
Both terms are a little bit infamous. We describe QRATES as an analog on-demand crowdfunding platform. By combining the power of crowdfunding with “just-in-time” production and expanding distribution channels, we can collapse the value chain and make on-demand vinyl work for the niche and indie artist. The future is the on-demand space. We see it starting with digital content, then moving into physical realm, much like Uber or Airbnb.
What specifically got you interested in the vinyl space?
Well, it’s a growth market in the music industry, and valuable to fans. As we launched QRATES, there was a demand for small batch pressing and automated fulfilment, but it was/is a complicated procedure for most artists and labels. Usually, it took ten or twelve steps to get into pressing vinyl; we’ve simplified that down to three. By optimizing funding, production, and distribution, we find savings that make the project realistic.
How have you gotten to such low minimum orders (100 units)?
Yes, we feel that is the key. It’s really the production partners and plants in Europe, Asia, and of course, Japan (U.S. coming soon). The way disruption happens with any “just in time” company comes down to capability and capacity. Finding where the gaps are and fulfilling needs in a timely matter. We have an incredible staff that tracks this, and as the process becomes more automated, it will only get better.
Vinyl distribution is such a barrier for independents. Can you speak to that?
Absolutely, the shipping and packaging can be difficult and just the physical action of personally mailing [can be a challenge]. In addition to providing shipping directly to your fans and supporters, or your own home for live shows, etc., we also have store delivery without a distribution deal. We have retailers like HMV, Jet Set, Juno Records, and more, combing through the projects on our platform. Project owners can set their own wholesale prices, too.
So, what is the difference in marketing channels between Qrates.com and Vinylize.it?
Great question. Qrates.com is where it all begins – artists and labels can get a free account and start setting up projects for anyone to help fund immediately. Your music does not have to be on SoundCloud (although it should be). Vinylize.it is QRATES’ integration with SoundCloud for an on-demand vinyl offering to fans and listeners.
The SoundCloud integration is a great start with a huge community of indies and now labels. Why only this partner, and not any song from any source?
Fans put up their Vinylyze.it compilation for request, which pre-populates the demand. But, only rights holders initiate the process. In effect, they control what is ultimately pressed. Let’s say on SoundCloud, someone put up X – we could go hunt down the owner and sign the rights, and manage it on QRATES, without a vinyl order. But, obviously, a catalog of millions is hard to scale. It would take a lot of resources and time. This process makes the licensing simple for rights holders to control.
Where do you stand on music streaming (on-demand digital music streaming)?
Analog on-demand music on vinyl is a form of on-demand streaming. So, how does that live into that space? I think it goes back to opening up the services and tools to multiple third parties. It seems to me that all of these platforms are heading in a way to milk music, and have already gone to video. How do you uncap your super users out of the $9.99/month thing to get them into premium upsells? Becoming epicenters, where physical items and services are mixed with streaming; that seems to be the way forward to me. It helps the artists and pleases the fans.
Head over to Qrates.com and setup your free account to start playing with the online designer and to get a feel for all of the options you have to fund a killer vinyl release for your fans. And if your music is on SoundCloud, encourage your fans to create their own vinyl (including your tracks) with Vinylize.it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
–Michael St. James is the founder and creative director of St. James Media, specializing in music licensing, publishing, production and artist development.