“When all music is digital, all independence ceases.” I suppose, what I’m trying to say is that whoever controls the digital platform controls the market. Whether it’s Google, Apple, Spotify, YouTube or Amazon, if all music is digital then at some point you will have to engage the digital platform for access. If you lose access to the platform, you lose access to the music. From an artists perspective, either you place your music where the people are, or you have to encourage people to find your music where you are. The first one is easy, the second is not so easy. But either way, the lack of scarcity in the digital age means that people can take or leave your music, there’s an overwhelming amount to choose from everywhere online. Artists have to make the case that their music is worth buying.
Iron Man Records has taken the position that different people will find music in different formats. Digital is certainly looking like the dominant format at the moment but wherever possible, the label will release music in a digital format and also a physical vinyl format. I’ve always loved vinyl. From a personal perspective I would rather buy music on vinyl. To me, listening to music on vinyl is not a necessity, its simply a more satisfying experience.
Most people I speak to get their music for free wherever possible. If they can’t get it for free they may stream it or consider a download if all else fails. Vinyl has become a lifestyle choice, a luxury, something you choose to purchase rather than a necessity for listening. In many cases, vinyl buyers already have the album in a digital format, but they want the vinyl to add to their collection.
I don’t think there will be a major return to Vinyl as a format, it’s had it’s day. I think there will always be a market for vinyl, and second hand vinyl, especially if the music is something worth keeping or adding to your collection. The digital format appears to be dominant at the moment. Streaming rather than downloading looks like it will develop and grow as most music listeners first choice. I think portable electronic devices have largely contributed to that. But some people will always want to purchase their favourite bands or favourite releases on vinyl for the pure enjoyment of listening to the album in a physical format, in the same way that I do. We’ll see.
For a record label like Iron Man Records, Vinyl is expensive, it can certainly prove more expensive than a purely digital release. But there are pros and cons. Being able to release records via a purely digital format has allowed Iron Man Records to release more records and spend less money taking a chance on new artists. A release on vinyl can sometimes be twice as expensive as a release on CD, and ten times more expensive as just releasing the record through digital platforms only. In an ideal world I would do all three. Sometimes a band I want to work with is likely to struggle to sell more than 50 or 100 copies of anything, but may generate 35,000 streams in the same time period. A run of Vinyl in these situations would not only be expensive but also futile. However, just because a band struggles to generate physical sales, doesn’t necessarily mean their music has no value, as the streaming statistics can often show.
Iron Man Records tries to recognise the value of artists, their work, and their music. In the past I have released music on CD as it proved cheaper than Vinyl, and has allowed the label to take a chance on new artists. As the interest in physical product and CDs has declined, I have had to stop releasing on CD as the label has been unable to assemble sufficient funds to continue. As Digital has become a more accessible and user friendly experience, the label has moved towards pure digital releases and stopped producing CDs in some cases, altogether.
Currently, where possible, artists on the label get a digital release. If things look positive I consider releasing their work on Vinyl. If the Vinyl is just not practical, for example John Sinclair’s recent double CD Beatnik Youth, which worked out at over 90 minutes of music, I will try and do a mixture of Vinyl, CD and also digital.
To try and avoid having to make decisions based on financial forecasts, rather than the value of the artists work, I have set up a page on Patreon. Patreon gives individuals the opportunity to give a fixed monthly donation to Iron Man Records to help reduce the upfront costs of producing new releases on Vinyl. After two years the label has 35 Patrons and is generating enough funds to pay for a limited run of 500 copies of a 12 inch or 10 inch Vinyl. To me this is a massive help in keeping the record label focussed on choosing good music to release on Vinyl, rather than trying to choose music based on whether it may, or may not be commercially viable. Iron Man Records has never been about money, it has always about recognising the value of an artists work, giving the artists a chance to be heard at a time when others may overlook them for purely financial reasons.
I don’t think Vinyl is affordable to most independents and I doubt it helps sell anything. It will always be the music that sells the record, not the format. So if independent labels want to survive, the music has to be something that attracts an audience. To me, everything starts with the music. The long slow death of physical product has made life difficult for independent companies as they live and die on their cash-flow and income streams. The simple accessibility of digital and the low front end costs of making purely digital releases available will always attract the independents because it’s cheaper. However, there will always be those who want a release on vinyl and where limited quantities can be produced, or a label can generate sustainable income to generate Vinyl releases, Vinyl is something worth pursuing. If only as added value to an existing digital release that people want to listen to, or as a means of displaying an artists work as beautifully as possible, giving it a real physical value.
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