Innovating on Vinyl

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We all get excited about vinyl consumption numbers. Double-digit growth! $395 million market! Revenue increasing by 26.8% YoY! The “vinyl resurgence” is a really nice headline but at only 3.7% of total music revenue, streaming is still the cash cow propelling the music industry’s growth.

If vinyl won’t fuel an artists’ business, why bother? Why not just get another playlist add?

Well, making vinyl is like how liquor brands market booze at Christmas. Vodka is vodka. But, during the holidays Absolut pours the same recipe in a beautiful bottle, jacks up the price and in doing so creates a premium product suitable for gifting, bringing to parties, and displaying as ornaments. New packaging creates new ways to use the product.

Vinyl is an album’s capsule collection for luxury consumers — a gift, a treat. A playlist cannot be brought to a party, it cannot be wrapped up as a birthday gift, and it can’t make the walls of your bedroom handsome.

That’s what this post is about: why do vinyl?

To answer this, I’ve enlisted Cameron Schaefer, Head of Music & Brand at Vinyl Me, Please. Schaefer is a brilliant mind who’s inventing new paradigms for music consumption, bettering the fan experience, and providing exceptional service to artists.

My experience marketing physical releases at a label was woeful. The standard approach is to do everything you can to keep the CPU as low as possible then mark it up for the highest margin. The result? A cheap looking product sold at a premium. People didn’t buy them, shocker.

Vinyl Me, Please throws all the conventional thinking out the window and guess what? Their campaigns are so successful that Nielsen banned their sales from chart reporting because when they featured an album it’d propel the artist to #1. Check out their brilliant Arctic Monkeys’ ‘Whatever People Say I am, That’s What I’m Not’ smoke reissue, Beach House’s 10th Anniversary ‘Devotion’ reissue, and Mitski’s ‘Be The Cowboy’ campaigns.

If you’re in any way responsible for marketing physical releases. Read on for Schaefer’s sage advice.

5 critical tasks for vinyl marketing

1. Respect that listening to music on physical or digital is not a 1–1 comparison

“Digital music is increasingly functional (work, exercise, bbq, sleep) while physical music, specifically vinyl, is about the art/ritual of deep listening or listening as the primary activity. There’s not a utilitarian reason for collecting & listening to music on PVC discs these days…it’s not super rational and yet it persists. Understanding & appreciating the psychology & culture of why people continue to insist on vinyl records as the ultimate listening experience is the basis for our marketing efforts.”

2. Don’t ignore women

“It’s no secret that vinyl culture has been particularly male-heavy historically, but we’ve seen our female demographic not only growing, but proving to be incredibly valuable members of the club both in spend, but more importantly engagement with content, openness to new music & eagerness to share with friends.”

3. Make a premium product, don’t just charge for one

“What I do see is labels putting out vinyl packages that cost $6/unit to manufacture and trying to charge $29 and consumers seeing right through it.

The goal with vinyl shouldn’t be to keep the CPU low, it should be telling the artists’ story in the most compelling way & delivering as much value as possible to the fan in the process.

I get that labels & distributors have to make some margin in the process for all of this to work, but trying to cynically squeeze as much juice out of the current growth trend is shortsighted and ultimately will hurt everyone. Fans of all ages will pay for quality, but it has to be real quality, i.e. color vinyl isn’t enough. We’ve made conscious decisions as a company to use margin gained in other areas to continually upgrade our packaging (tip-on jackets, poly-lined inners, embossing/foil, etc.) and we believe quality is something people will pay for regardless of age.”

4. Survey your audience so you know what value they’ll to pay for

“We’re constantly surveying our members and asking questions like, “What’s the difference between a ‘superfan’ and a ‘collector’ and where do they overlap in the venn diagram & how are the potentially different?”

We know that there are similarities that fans of physical music seem to share — an obsession over packaging details, a belief in the album as a format, a strong sense of wanting to support the artists they love in a more direct way.

Labels have a hard time marketing to this group because most don’t want to invest the time in understanding the culture and obsessing over the details of what drives them…it’s easier just to run some more FB ads.”

Bonus: What is your #1 weapon in your marketing arsenal?

“Curational trust — we’ve built a level of trust with our members & extended base that allows us to put albums & artists in front of them that they might not know, but are willing to take a chance on due to our success rate of surprising & delighting them in the past.

This trust has been built by continually passing on a lot of good albums & choosing to focus, sometimes ruthlessly, only on the stuff we believe in. We ask 3 questions before working on any major record project: do we want this in our own collections? Can we tell a real story around it? How will it look in a 10-yr timeline? Btw, I got this from Ronnie Fieg at Kith…thanks Ronnie :)”


For Schaefer’s music digs be sure to subscribe to his What’s In My Headphones Playlist (via Spotify). Otherwise catch him on the internet: Twitter and Instagram,