“Artists are always giving benefits to digital buyers and chain stores, and we wanted to give a benefit to the vinyl buyer.”
Most of us first experience our favorite artists’ newest music digitally, and we are rewarded for it. Free MP3s come with digital pre-orders, instantly-available playback is granted to streaming subscribers on release day, and bands offer sneak previews on Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter.
But there’s a problem with the digital music revolution. It’s extremely hard to keep up with even your most beloved artists’ new music, let alone take time to enjoy it. On any given “new music Friday,” our Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube time is demanded by so many bands, it’s hard to experience any one of them on any kind of deep level. The digital delivery era has made new music feel less personal, too, because the internet’s voracious consumerism almost always outpaces the inflow of new material.
In a world where vinyl is enjoying a record-breaking resurgence, it’s clear music lovers crave a more personal experience — one which costs time and rewards with deep appreciation. That’s why Los Angeles band Local Natives, Spoon frontman Britt Daniel, and Record Store Day founder Michael Kurtz have decided to turn conventional music distribution on its head through a clever new program called Vinyl Gratification.
Get them in the store
Those who show up to a local record shop on August 9 to pre-order Local Natives’ next album, Sunlit Youth, will pay the normal price for the upcoming release, but will be given a special four-song vinyl record at the register. The 10-inch EP will be an exclusive bonus, available only to those who make the trek to pre-order the album in person.
The idea to give out special vinyl releases at the exact same time as a vinyl pre-order — simulating the instant gratification so often reserved for online audiences — was dreamt up by a frontman who was fed up with the way that modern releases were being pushed.
“[Spoon frontman] Britt Daniel came up with the idea,” Record Store Day founder Michael Kurtz told Digital Trends in a phone interview. “He sat in a corporate meeting where they were talking about the launch of records and at the end of the meeting he sat up and said, ‘You guys have talked about everything but record stores. And that’s the most important partner for my band.’”
In a world where vinyl is enjoying a record-breaking resurgence, it’s clear music lovers crave a more personal experience.
The folks at Spoon’s label Loma Vista listened. The next Spoon release after that meeting — 2014’s They Want My Soul — was the first album ever released via the Vinyl Gratification program. It was also their most successful debut to date.
“Artists are always giving benefits to digital buyers and chain stores, and we wanted to give a benefit to the vinyl buyer,” says Daniel of the project. “Once I came up with the idea, I thought fans would appreciate it and get it, so why not try it … Can we get our record label to actually make these piece of vinyl that will be expensive and probably take a loss on them? Can we get them in the stores, and can we get the stores to be involved in a totally new program? I was wondering all those things … and somehow we made it happen.”
Vinyl Gratification worked so well for Spoon that Loma Vista has now announced it will do the project again, this time with Local Natives’ much-anticipated new record.
For members of the popular indie rock band, the project was a no-brainer.
“We’ve always been such a close-knit family with the people that we work with, our whole thing is that music works better as a family,” says keyboard player/vocalist Kelcey Ayer from inside a car outside his band’s LA practice space. “Real-life record stores are like families where people come and have common interests. They could be complete strangers, but they are bonded by their record store.There’s something really amazing about that, and this is where something like this 10-inch vinyl gratification thrives. In these communities where people really appreciate the special things that you can’t just get anywhere.”
It also makes good business sense. Instead of getting a dime-a-dozen digital sample of an upcoming album, fans get a physical symbol of their love for a band, and the band gets more income from the slightly higher-priced purchase of a physical release.
“In this way, they’ve monetized everything,” says Kurtz, “The band is getting paid, and they’re also giving something to their hardcore fans.”
With vinyl sales skyrocketing in recent years — Kurtz says that Record Store Day sales have expanded almost 100 percent a year since it was founded in 2007, and the industry made more money off of vinyl sales last year than YouTube, Vevo, and ad-supported Spotify combined — the addition of a good pre-release model could end up making release cycles more lucrative for bands nationwide. After all, vinyl is the only physical form factor for music which is growing in sales, rather than rapidly declining.
Daniel thinks the uptick in sales has to do with capturing an experience that other forms of playback don’t offer.
“I think people enjoy the process of actually placing the record on the turntable and putting the needle on the record. That’s part of a process that you just don’t get involved in when listening on a CD or cassette,” he says.
But though the increase in sales of physical albums will likely help fuel the expansion of the indie music world and especially smaller labels, the fact of the matter, at least for Local Natives, is that financial success in music is hard to achieve in the streaming would without touring almost constantly.
Fans get a physical symbol of their love for a band, and the band gets more income.
“I would love to get paid more for the albums we make,” says Local Natives’ Ayer, who still refuses to be an anti-streaming evangelical.
“At the end of the day I need people to hear the music and I want it to be better. But we started making records in 2009, and Napster had been out since 2001 or something, and I had been ripping CDs all through college; It feels a little dishonest to get on my soapbox and claim that everyone needs to change everything,” he says.
With sales of physical music on the rise, members of the band are optimistic about the future of music and an audience which is increasingly willing to go out of their way to get special new pressings and other touchable rarities.
“We came into this industry pretty recently, and we always knew that if we were going to make any money it would be through touring and connecting with people,” Ayers admits.
“I think there’s a lot of things that can make you feel like it’s a harder hill to climb. To see people buying vinyl makes me feel like there is a chance for everybody.”
Rather than trying to completely convert steadfast streamers into voracious vinyl listeners, what Local Natives and Spoon are pioneering is a new balance in the release eco-system. This new program offers instant gratification to both deep music lovers and casual listeners alike, but it rewards participation in the local economy, rather than the digital one.
At the end of the day, that’s the best any band can do.