Matt Fiedler and Tyler Barstow were a couple of music-obsessed twentysomethings in Chicago working for a startup when they came up with an idea. It wasn’t necessarily a new idea as much as it was a repackaging of an old idea for a modern audience.
They were looking for a record club to join to help build their personal record collections, but had trouble finding one. So, they started their own and what began at the beginning of 2013 as a record club with 12 people has turned into a large online community of vinyl aficionados.
For a fee of $23 a month, Vinyl Me, Please sends you their record of the month. Fiedler, Barstow and the three others that make up their staff pick out the records themselves. As the club has grown they’ve been able to offer limited-edition presses of the records, a huge deal in the record-collecting world. They feature small and large artists, including offering a limited edition mint green pressing of the most critically- acclaimed album of 2014, The War On Drugs Lost In The Dream last August.
We talked with Matt and Tyler about their love of music and resurrecting the record club for a modern audience.
SB: Tell me about starting the company… How have you been able to make a niche offering in a niche market a sustainable business?
TB: Matt and I were working at a different startup but spent a lot of our time in the office talking about music. At the same time we wanted to start getting into vinyl more than we had been. We started looking for vinyl clubs to help us with that. Vinyl Me, Please definitely started as a hobby that we just did on nights and weekends for at least the first year of the business. We launched with 12 customers and didn’t have any advertising money or anything, but we grew to about 300 customers after a year.
MF: It really just started as an experiment. We didn’t have too many high aspirations. We just thought that it would be cool if we did this thing and then we decided to do it. It’s already surpassed all of our expectations of how big it could get.
TB: We want Vinyl Me, Please to be the kind of music club that people get super excited about. We spend a lot of time and energy thinking about ways we can do that. It’s one thing to say to 500 people, but it’s another to say that for 8,000 people. We want to make sure that every single person that joins Vinyl Me, Please has a really great experience with us. The difference between a really great experience with a product and just an OK experience is a fine line. That’s something that as we have scaled it has required more time and attention.
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SB: How did your fascination with vinyl start?
MF: My dad had a huge collection of vinyls, probably a couple of thousand records. It was right about the time that CD burners came out. I think he paid me a dollar per record if I would take the vinyl and convert it to a CD. That was my first experience with vinyl and listening to records. As I grew up I started getting more interested in vinyls. And when I graduated college (with a degree in Music Business and Entrepreneurship from Belmont University) and was moving into my own city I wanted to start collecting records. Obviously, I had everything I could ever want digitally, but I was longing for that tactile connection.
TB: I grew up obsessed with music. My grandfather is the dean of music at a university in upstate New York. So I grew up around music and it’s something that was really important to my dad’s side of the family. When I graduated college I kept trying to get any job in the music industry from my grandfather that I possibly could. As you can imagine, his connections were all in New York City and that’s a very difficult place to get a job. I ended up just having this wish that someday I would be able to work in music but I had no clear idea of what that would be until we started Vinyl Me, Please.
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SB: What has the feedback from artists been like?
TB: We first started being able to do custom prints last April and now every month our product is a limited-release. There are a couple of artists that we were able to jump up into the Billboard charts with our order. One of the records that we ran showed up above the Beatles reissues for the week in vinyl sales, which was kind of cool.
MF: It’s always a huge deal for an artist to be able to make money on their work, especially in this day and age. We have heard a couple of success stories where an artist has been able to quit their job and do music full time, maybe not solely because of our order but our order helped them out greatly. That’s the best news that we could hear out of any artist.
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SB: What’s the biggest mistake people make when beginning their vinyl collection?
TB: One of the cool things about vinyl is that it forces you to listen to the album the way the artist put it together. Unless you are already in the habit of listening to music that way, randomly buying stuff you don’t know and listening to it, you could just be getting into vinyl and you have all these records that you don’t really like and you give up on it. We encourage people to go buy albums that they already love or artists they already love. There is something about vinyl where it’s a particular way of listening to music. Listening online is not bad at all, you just listen to music differently on vinyl. So we encourage people to stick with what they know at the beginning and then work your way out from there.
MF: People typically look for the cheapest setup that they can get, which will suffice in the short term because you’ll be able to listen to records. But in the long term you will end up spending more money fixing those things. One thing people don’t understand about vinyl is that your sound is very dependent upon your setup.
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SB: So those are the problems with it, but what makes vinyl records so special and enduring?
MF: What I like most about vinyl is the experience of listening to records. There’s nothing like putting a record down and dropping the needle. It’s a unique experience. It feels good to sit down and listen to music. And it’s kind of a trophy in some ways to have a big collection and to have stories behind particular records. It’s almost like everybody’s record collection is unique to them and is like a fingerprint. You can know a lot about a person by the records they’ve collected.
TB: It’s like collecting anything, whether that’s coins or stamps or vinyl, where you can get super into it. It’s like golf where once you start playing it, it takes over your wallet. But I think it’s a lot more fun than golf. Unlike a record store, it’s also not fun to go into the iTunes store and buy stuff, that’s more of a necessity. Vinyl is a lot more engaging.
Favorite Vinyl Records Of All Time*
Tyler: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – Kanye West
Matt: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot – Wilco
Scott: Reflektor – Arcade Fire
*Tyler wanted me to specifically say that this could change at any moment.