Elliot Jay Stocks is a designer, speaker, and author. He is the Creative Director of Adobe Typekit, the founder of typography magazine 8 Faces, one half of Viewport Industries, and an electronic musician.

Studio diary: part 4

Posted on 30 January 2009 21 comments

Article illustration for Studio diary: part 4

Today I’m going to ask you a question, and the question is this:

Vinyl?

Or, to give you the question in full explanatory glory, “if the EP download sales go well, I was planning on combining them and releasing them in the physical form of a CD album, but as people will probably just be buying this for the packaging (you’d only rip the tracks to iTunes anyway, right?), then should I release the album on vinyl instead?”

You see, this idea came to me a couple of days ago when I was interviewed by an experimental music website (more on that soon). The interviewer and I were discussing the appeal of packaging, and I said that as most people experience (and almost always obtain) music in a file-based format, the only point in buying a physical release would be if the packaging was absolutely gorgeous. If I do release a physical version of the combined EPs (which will also be bundled with extra tracks), I’ve already promised that the packaging will be lovely. But how many of you would play the CD? I’m guessing that you’re far more likely to simply rip the tracks to your hard drive as MP3s and play the album from there.

So… if I released the album on vinyl – arguably the most luxurious format for lush packaging – it’s unlikely that most of you would be able to play it (even I don’t have a vinyl player), but would that matter, in light of my guesses above? If it would essentially be a purchase for the packaging (as well as the limited edition feel of it), then I think I might as well release the album on vinyl and bundle a free download of the extra tracks (in MP3 format) for anyone who buys it. What do you think?

Of course, using vinyl is not without its repercussions. To start with, it’s much more expensive to produce, and as such I’d probably have to charge more for it than I’d like just to cover the manufacturing costs. Also, the run would probably have to be a lot smaller; perhaps limited to 250 or 500 or something. But then maybe that’d be a good thing, as it’d be more of a collector’s piece. Some people might suggest a vinyl and a CD version, but I think that’s a bit excessive.

Right now, I don’t know if the idea of a vinyl release is just ludicrous – I’m just throwing it out there. It could be that my guesses about your music acquiring / playing habits could be completely wrong. So, in order to plan for the best possible direction, please give me your feedback! I’d love to hear what you think of the idea. Ultimately, you’ll be the ones buying it, so it’d probably be good to know how much you’d be prepared to pay the vinyl format.

(By the way, I just want to say thanks so much to all of you left such kind feedback about the preview medley. I was completely overwhelmed by your response and I really appreciate you all giving the music a try!)

Photo credit: I will choose Freewill by Drewski2112

21 comments

  1. Ross McFarlane

    Ross McFarlane

    30 January 2009 @ 02:43PM #

    I’m looking forward to hearing the completed EP. You’re right that I’d only rip the CD to iTunes, albeit in lossless format, so maybe there’s something to be gained there.

    As for nice packaging, maybe vinyl is a distraction. How about book? Does it really have to contain the physical medium used to play the tunes?

  2. Elliot Jay Stocks

    Elliot Jay Stocks

    30 January 2009 @ 02:46PM #

    @ Ross McFarlane:

    “How about book? Does it really have to contain the physical medium used to play the tunes?”

    That, Ross, is a very interesting question indeed… hmmmmm….

  3. Alex Older

    Alex Older

    30 January 2009 @ 02:48PM #

    I don’t have a Vinyl player, but I’d still have the CD for the fact that (yes I’d rip it to my computer in MP3/ACC) I still enjoy listening to CD’s in my Bedroom or on the sofa when I’m reading or doing something away from my computer.

  4. Al Power

    Al Power

    30 January 2009 @ 03:02PM #

    Hmm tough question. In terms of practicality, CDs are the obvious choice, but vinyl has a real loveliness in terms of a big canvas for lush packaging design that you lust don’t get with CDs (which I suspect is 50%+ of the reason you are doing this :o)).

    Alternatively you could go for some kind of limited edition packaging for the CD that gave you more room for artwork/include some kind of limited edition poster/postcards or such like? That would probably work out cheaper for you, and let people rip tunes from the CD (which as you rightly pointed out is what 99% are going to do).

    I certainly don’t own anything to play vinyl on. But if you went the whole hog and produced a beautiful full-on picture disc I might well stick it on the wall :oP

  5. Christoph

    Christoph

    30 January 2009 @ 03:12PM #

    Well, it’s funny. I just read an article about the comeback of vinyl in a german magazine. 700000 discs were sold last year in Germany. Not much compared to CD’s, but there seems to be a market.
    According to your experimental music, I think vinyl feels more right.
    It fits better to your sort of music.
    I don’t think your idea is ludicrous, but it could be risky. It’s a question of how many buyers have a record player?

  6. Ryan Townsend

    Ryan Townsend

    30 January 2009 @ 03:31PM #

    I totally agree with people buying CDs over MP3s just for the packaging – I do that myself. However, I don’t think many people would buy a vinyl just for the packaging if they couldn’t play it, regardless of the quality of packaging. Besides, most people like to use CDs in the car on the commute to work.

  7. Marius Bastiansen

    Marius Bastiansen

    30 January 2009 @ 06:51PM #

    Vinyl records are definitely gaining ground and I myself is a vinyl lover :) I´m sure you will have no trouble selling these vinyls due to the limited run you have in mind. I also think that going with a vinyl solution is a logical fit in your situation since you are a man of excellent design skills and would certainly be able to make something special with the larger vinyl-sleeve canvas.

    Looking forwards to see what you come up with and the best of luck

  8. Dan Donald

    Dan Donald

    30 January 2009 @ 06:56PM #

    Hi Elliot…good to hear the recordings are coming along ;)

    In some ways, why not move past making a choice and make the physical release a limited set worth owning? Have you seen the range of options U2 have done for their latest? Crazy big collectors edition all the way down to a basic CD.

    Maybe you should do a pack similar to Radiohead’s collectors edition? heavyweight vinyl, CD and booklet? Obviously it’s a commitment for you to get something like that done in terms of printing costs but it would be pretty sweet ;) Maybe get some multimedia going on tyhe CD – some visuals for the tracks?

    Between your artwork, Sam’s photos, wrapping up your music, that could look very cool!

    The difficulty is gettin gsomeone to partwith cash for this physical thing that’s worth having withou tmaking it too pricey, eh…

    Good luck.

  9. Scott

    Scott

    30 January 2009 @ 08:23PM #

    Having just gone through this myself for my band, we chose to do vinyl instead of CDs because it felt right for the type of songs we’d laboured over recording, plus we’d never done it before.

    For us this is a huge experiment and we obviously recognized that people will experience the music mostly from a digital medium which is why we’ll be including a special unique download code with each album and provide lossless versions of the tracks, but we wanted people to have an “artifact” to use Radiohead’s term.

    The hardest part has been deciding how much to charge and sorting out exactly the best way to ship them so they don’t get damaged in transit. Records are a premium item for sure now, but ultimately the price has to be reasonable (as Dan mentioned) for folks to part with their hard-earned money.

    I’ll definitely have a few with me in Austin during SXSW though for anyone that would like one and save the shipping expense :)

  10. Mike Jones

    Mike Jones

    31 January 2009 @ 10:32AM #

    I’m not sure how I feel about vinyl – the concept of a much larger than CD artwork canvas sounds great but then it just becomes another piece of furniture, perhaps mounted on the wall as one commenter suggested. I personally still like the CD format for a couple reasons: you get physical artwork (unlike a digital download); it has functionality (unlike vinyl for anyone w/o a player); its portable (vinyl is definitely not); and CDs are fairly economical – I mean you can’t beat artwork+long-term music storage+high music quality for $10-$15. The only things digital downloads have going for them is the ability to pick and choose songs from an album (boo) and instant gratification. They still cost about the same as a CD in the end. In terms of vinyl I think you’d be hard-pressed to make it economical/justifiable for the majority of the people interested in buying the album. So if you go vinyl, a limited short-run sounds like a good idea. However my vote goes for CD – I’m not sure I could justify a vinyl album.

  11. Phil Bowell

    Phil Bowell

    31 January 2009 @ 04:11PM #

    I like the idea of vinyl, but I"m not sure for a first run it’s the best idea. I own decks so part of me would like to buy the vinyl, but then I like to use CD’s in my car on my commute.

    If you did a book, as suggested in the first comment, and sold it with a download code or with a cd you get your artwork as well as the music. But then if a couple of months down the line you decide to go vinyl you could sell the book with it as well. Something for everyone and maybe the vinyl could feature special/different artwork.

  12. Abi Noda

    Abi Noda

    01 February 2009 @ 03:16AM #

    Sorry for my second reference to Scott Hansen in your Studio Diaries, but when discussing options for physical products to go along with your digitally sold music, I can’t help but think of the gorgeous prints and T-shirts that Scott sells at his website (he also sells regular CD’s).

    Personally, I’d love to see you produce posters/apparel/artwork to go along with your EP. After all, you ARE a graphic designer, and many of your listeners are designers too (who appreciate designer work!).

  13. Steve Killen

    Steve Killen

    02 February 2009 @ 03:59PM #

    As nice as the vinyl would be with its packaging, I think it wouldn’t be worth it. The concentration should go into the music and the music selling itself. Time spent on special packaging is always taken away from time spent on the production. Same rule as web design really, “The content is always king”.

  14. Andrew Rossborough

    Andrew Rossborough

    02 February 2009 @ 05:16PM #

    I don’t own a record player, and while digital download is usually my preferred method of obtaining music, I do like the convenience of being able to take a cd with me to the car or to a less tech-savvy friend’s house.

    I say stick with cd, and later on if you like, give the vinyl a go on limited edition. Just for funsies.

  15. Chris Wallace

    Chris Wallace

    02 February 2009 @ 05:58PM #

    I say you release it in cassette tape format as a throwback to the 80s.

    80s FTW.

  16. Matt D

    Matt D

    02 February 2009 @ 09:50PM #

    Personally, vinyl will always be my preferred physical format for music. It has a warmth to it you will rarely find on CD, especially if is pressed up properly on heavy black wax. Secondly, you have the lovely large canvas of a 12” sleeve, especially if you go for a gatefold style package. You can’t beat that from a visual point of view.

    However, I think you’d be absolutely mad to even consider pressing vinyl! Realistically, I seriously doubt you’d come anywhere near to selling even a small pressing, be that 250 or more copies. Without some serious distribution and PR behind you, it’s very unlikely you shift even half that. Please don’t think I’m being negative here but it is already incredibly difficult to persuade people to shell out their hard earned cash on your recordings unless you are a ‘know’ entity. Once you get through your list of friends, maybe 40 people, you will struggle to shift copies. I’m not being cynical here, it’s just that after doing 3 of my own releases, all supported by countless good reviews, I know it’s bloody hard work selling physical format music. I LOVE physical format music, I’m a self confessed ‘physical format’ music junkie. I still see the CD as an artifact of my youth, and as such, I’m a still a little attached to it. Hell I shelled out £20 on the new SoiSong EP in ‘disposable packaging’, because it’s not just music, it’s ART. I hate the way music has been devalued by the mp3 and I detest the fact that millions of people just download music without paying a cent. Creativity gets no respect anymore.

    Trust me, stick to mp3s and think very carefully before you press anything up, regardless of format. If anything, I’d do limited run ‘made to order’ CD-Rs with nice hand assembled packaging. Make it something personal that you can assemble yourself but don’t throw lots of money at something that will likely sit in a cardboard box in your garage in years to come.

    As an after through… Shame on you all for not owning record decks! Get some vinyl in your life! May I recommend the Project Debut II. Inexpensive and it sounds gorgeous!

  17. Davin Greenwell

    Davin Greenwell

    02 February 2009 @ 11:30PM #

    Having spent over $20k on vinyl in the last 10 years, I can say that Vinyl sleeve art is pretty nice to look at. But vinyl itself is a pain in the ass – degradation on every play – ugh. Maintaining needles is not as romantic as some of the purists make it out to be.

    I run a digital-only music label. Though we had thoughts initially about going Vinyl as well, every year that passes sees vinyl making less and less sense from a business perspective. But man would it be cool to hold on to a piece with our music on it and my artwork/design on it.

    Here’s some of what we’ve done:

    http://www.davingreenwell.com/productions/index.php

    Cheers,
    Davin

  18. Raena Jackson Armitage

    Raena Jackson Armitage

    03 February 2009 @ 01:43PM #

    +1 for the book. I wonder how feasible it is to make a tall (as in book height) digipak format? I’m pretty sure there’s room in those for a reasonably sized booklet, so you could combine the two.

    For extravagant gimmickry there’s also the USB cassette guys; wonder if they’d cut you a deal?

    Anywhoo, I still buy CDs. I really only buy digitally if there’s no way I’d find in in a shop.

  19. Matt D

    Matt D

    03 February 2009 @ 02:51PM #

    Raena,

    Thank god some people still buy CDs! Good to hear.

    The USB cassette is awesome btw!

  20. David Simpson

    David Simpson

    16 February 2009 @ 12:49AM #

    Vinyl all the way. CDs are just a disposable medium. Rip to mp3 and dispose/give to a friend, etc.

    Vinyl – superior sound and any decent packaging is a nice bonus.

    Go with vinyl!

    Did I mention vinyl?

  21. Jonathan Barrett

    Jonathan Barrett

    18 February 2009 @ 01:06AM #

    Fascinating stuff. My take:

    I think you should release something CD sized. Regardless of the “playability” vs. “usefulness” argument, there’s another, much simpler consideration: storage.

    Most households have some ability to store CD cases – even if it’s just a bookshelf or pile by the TV. Vinyl packaging is much harder to store, leading some people here to suggest sticking it on the wall. In which case, why not just sell prints? You’d probably sell more.

    The CD case format is perhaps more constrained than the “large canvas” of a vinyl slipcase, but then again, isn’t HTML more “constrained” a canvas than Flash? work with the constraints. I’ve seem some wonderful, clever CD work that would never have worked as vinyl (Nine Inch Nails’ heat-sensitive CD label, for example). Perhaps you could to distribute the packaging with a blank CD, or with no CD, relying on people burning their own copy.

    I think there’s a lot that can be done here beyond just “the CD is dead. Therefore we must release the music in an even older format to an even smaller audience!”

    Books for the win, though :-)

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