Waxing Eloquent: 5 Questions With Vinyl Me, Please CMO Matt Hessler

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“And we’re puttin’ it on wax / It’s the new style.” The Beastie Boys were as right with those lyrics in 1986 as 31 years later in 2017. Vinyl records are exploding, beating digital music sales for the first time just a few months ago. The rebirth of vinyl has given rise to not only the annual Record Store Day homage to the independent retailers and labels lovingly championing music on vinyl but a subscription service that’s more than a subscription service in Vinyl Me, Please.

Vinyl Me, PleaseVinyl Me, Please is not just about some music on a black disc. Launched in January 2013 as a record-of-the-month club, the service has grown into a lifestyle brand, stating “Vinyl is a tangible representation of the music you love, and brings with it a ritual you shouldn’t live without.”

VMP now has more than 25,000 subscribers and have shipped nearly half a million records since to date. Partnerships are central to the brand, working with musical artists (from up-and-comers to established) to create custom, limited edition pressings of coveted albums by Fiona Apple, Gorillaz and The Fugees, for example. Brand partnerships are also vital to its growth, with collaborations and activations including Mastercard, Diageo, Sonos, Spotify, Tumblr and Ice Breakers. In addition to hosting monthly listening parties in cities across the U.S. to engage music fans, VMP has just released its first book—an ode, of course, to the best in vinyl music.

We spoke with Vinyl Me, Please Partner and Chief Marketing Officer Matt Hessler about forging partnerships, whether vinyl records are a Millennial fad, building a lifestyle brand and his favorite tracks on wax.

brandchannel: What makes for a good partnership for Vinyl Me, Please?

Matt Hessler: Vinyl Me, Please is a record of the month club, born out of the age of digital streaming, which lends itself to conversations being more about how artists are struggling to make money as the industry evolves. Given this, we’ve always believed it is important to leave something on the table in any of our partnerships. Whether it is partnering with a label or artist on a record release or collaborating with a brand on an event or activation, we want our partners to get as much out of the partnership as we do.

Our members are incredibly passionate and discerning, so it is critical for us to not only consider whether something is good for the Vinyl Me, Please brand and worthwhile for the partner, but will it ultimately contribute to the VMP member experience in a genuine and quality way? Those ideas that meet all three criteria are always the most successful and allow for more long-term brand benefits.

bc: Is youth obsession with vinyl here to stay or are we at peak vinyl? 

Hessler: Trick question! From a very long-term standpoint, vinyl is almost certainly a phase. In the relatively short-term, however, we see vinyl continuing to grow in several different segments. There are Baby Boomers that remain longtime collectors, who likely have the time and money to invest in music for years to come. Then you have the folks in their mid 30’s and 40’s who remain nostalgic for vinyl after growing up with their parents’ record collections. Now, as they have their own families, they enjoy the idea of sharing music with their kids and the physical format is a much more compelling experience for that.

Lastly, and probably most important to the continued growth of the medium, are the Millenials. These music fans are every bit as voracious as the generations that have preceded them in music consumption, but they have grown up with access to millions of songs in their pockets at all times via streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music.

Millennial music fans are drawn to vinyl as a way to show their fandom. Vinyl collecting answers the question: how can I describe a band, or record, or even a song as “my music” when it only exists for me on a Spotify playlist? We hear all the time that younger collectors are digitally discovering music, but want to physically collect the music they love (and vinyl is coolest way to do just that).

bc: How much of the popularity is the audio quality and music itself and how much is driven by the vinyl lifestyle?

Hessler: Music is incredibly personal. You often hear people refer to a band or track as “my music” whereas people rarely refer to other media as “my movies” or “my books.”

That is one of our big challenges at Vinyl Me, Please. As a record of the month club, we always press one record that all of our members get as part of their monthly subscription. It is our job not just to pick great music, but also to share it with members in a way that they consider it their own so we typically accompany releases with a story of sorts, whether that’s via podcasts, video or some sort of educational written content (ie. liner notes, columns, interviews, reviews).

We have also learned that you can’t win over every member to falling in love with every record, so one benefit our multi-month members receive is the ability to swap any records they aren’t interested in for one they will love. We believe that the music is the most important thing!

With that said, we are living in a time of peak consumerism where entire subcultures define themselves by what they collect (think comic collectors and sneakerheads!) They read blogs with up-to-the-minute information about what’s about to drop with frothing anticipation, they hop on forums to share the treasures they have scored, and go to meetups and conventions like ComicCon and SneakerCon to be amongst other like-minded people. Vinyl culture has always been about collecting, and the deeper you get into it the more you start to lust for rare and collectible records.

We create limited-edition pressings of records (many of our projects are stamped and numbered) so we often see collectors buying titles fueled in equal parts by the desire to collect and by the music itself. It is not at all uncommon to hear that a collector is getting the standard pressing of a record from their local record store and also getting the Vinyl Me, Please exclusive edition that they will keep sealed in the plastic wrap.

It is really interesting when you start to realize that there is a secondary economy where people are actually buying and flipping records. We see our club records show up eBay and Discogs often and almost always for more than face value. Recently with our release of Gorillaz’ Demon Days, we saw our pressings going for 10x face value on eBay.

bc: What areas have you identified for growth for Vinyl Me Please?

Hessler: In the next year Vinyl Me, Please will be growing in a number of ways, but all remain focused on the vinyl community. One exciting new area of growth is building out our subscription offerings to appeal to all kinds of music lovers—more on that later.

We are also developing in-house technology to power a rewards system to make Vinyl Me, Please the single best place to buy records on the internet. Our store, which has a number of exclusive and curated titles, allows us to reach a new consumer who may not be interested in a  subscription-based model, but still want to access our records. Instead of trying to keep stock of every title under the sun (like Amazon), we curate about 40 titles on a monthly basis with a mix across genres and decades. We also typically feature 4-6 titles pressed exclusively by and for Vinyl Me, Please, which you can’t get anywhere else.

Members get first crack at all exclusives, then any units left are available to the general vinyl-buying public so that membership continues to come with its privileges. In the middle of each month, we announce the restock of the store, which always causes a frenzy from both members and vinyl collectors alike who hop in and see what’s new to jump on certain titles before they sell out. It operates as a pop-up shop for the web, which has awarded us significant growth month-over-month.

The pop-up model works so well for us that you will start to see Vinyl Me, Please doing more physical pop-ups in the coming year. We love connecting with record collectors and music fans in person so we’re testing activations at music festivals, record fairs and music industry events (like The Grammys 2017!)

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bc: What’s your favorite piece of vinyl?

Hessler: Working in music/vinyl, this has to be the most frequently asked and also the most dreaded question. How do I choose between the Motown classics (The Temptations or Gladys Knight) that my parents raised me on, the hardcore records of angsty teenage years (Snapcase or At the Drive In), a record I feel in love with (American Football), a record that soothed my broken heart (The National, Boxer)? Or do I pick something modern that I am currently obsessed with (Sorority Noise)?

In the end, I think picking a favorite piece of vinyl is actually an impossible task and my answer changes every time. What I can say is the record Soul Brothers by Milt Jackson and Ray Charles is the record that I play the most. It is good for happy and sad times alike—from building spreadsheets at work to dinner parties, this record is a true gem.


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