Dedicated music enthusiast Daniel Mitchell has recently set up the Underground Vinyl distribution service, specialising in various forms of extreme metal, and its sister site, a blog/zine that provides news, reviews and all the latest from the UK underground music scene. M3 got in touch with Dan to learn more about selling vinyl in the digital age…
M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
Danial Mitchell – I guess I am a musical hobbyist. I like to write and play music (instrumental productions, bass guitar and drums) and write about music. As of recently I have started collecting vinyl records also.
What inspired you to start Underground Vinyl? What is your own musical background?
I have been a music enthusiast for several years and my appreciation for amazing sound only seems to grow the more I listen to music, so I have been experimenting with small group of related projects, including Underground Vinyl and the accompanying blog, Undergroundblogzine.
What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
It’s definitely a case of different mediums for different circumstances, as MP3s and digital streams are great for discovering new music, listening to music out of the house and skipping to the best parts of songs that might be otherwise mediocre. CDs, and tapes also are nowadays as much of a convenience medium, suitable for listening to music in personal transport like cars.
Personally, when I’m at home and want to listen to a lot of music – my preferred medium is definitely vinyl records. I think with vinyl you are likely to have a more specific collection of personal favourites and classics than you might in amongst your CD or MP3s. Its a combination of factors; not most, but certainly not least importantly the consistent high sound quality that you get from vinyl records, especially when its really well mixed production-wise and new (not brand new but after its broken in with a few plays!).
Generally vinyl gives you a slightly greater package than CD, as you get larger cover art as well as extras, such as bonus tracks and art-books.
Do you think that we will see a resurge in vinyl’s popularity over the next few years?
I think that the place for CDs, especially for music enthusiasts is becoming very limited in its applications and limited not only but often to usage in cars. Due to the specific equipment and a small amount of amateur knowledge required for maintenance of that equipment – Vinyl is something that, to those who may not be so familiar with it, a specialist format.
The popularity of reissues alongside the number of vinyls released by experimental, avant-garde and fringe bands appears to represent the largest areas that vinyl is popular; to collectors of classics or perhaps people who have an old collection with missing entries. This, and as mentioned before, music enthusiasts who want to collect new releases which will at one point become classics (helped by limited editions etc).
Do you feel the idea of an album, as a piece of art that people will listen to from start to finish, has been undermined or forgotten about in the digital age?
I think that a great number of people still listen to albums in their entirety, and as long as artists produce albums with the intention of it being listened beginning to end; and their labels/management and that of retailers and the press continue to promote this idea – it will still be relevant.
If anything, I might suggest that CDs discourage people more than digital formats to listen to albums from beginning to end as you are presented with the album as one huge piece. Conversely, the nature of vinyl records (and technical boundaries such as how many minutes of music you can fit on one side) means that every album will be split into at least 2 parts – which allows you to digest it in smaller chunks, depending on time constraints, and also means that the album will not only be defined as a whole but as small number of movements; two halves, 4 quarters or (less frequently) more sections. This means that you can more easily listen to the parts of the album you may not have heard as much as the rest and helps avoid an issue I have with CDs which is that you always have to start at the beginning of the album and you will inevitably listen to the first few tracks more than the rest depending on how often you listen to it (and the start of those tracks even moreso) .
From the number of full-album streams that are often officially made available on the internet before an album’s release date instead of only releasing individual songs, or singles (recently, for example; Black Sheep Wall’s No Matter Where it Ends or Del + Parallel Thoughts’ Attractive Sin) it is evident that digital audio formats have not undermined the idea of the whole album, yet it has certainly removed its necessity in music appreciation.
Much has been made of the supposed death of the record store in recent years. Do you believe the digital age has killed the record store, and if so, do you think that this is a necessary part of progression, or a tragic loss?
The record store has become something of an elite when it comes to physical locations, especially those in cities due to the huge start-up costs. There is a lot of risk in starting up a business in a trade which serves either niche music listeners who are looking for new artists and sounds or collectors who wish to either complete or replace a damaged collection. The reliance on walk-in sales for most stores means that they have to focus more on the latter; overly on stocking big names, greatest hit collections and generally the same albums you might find in the store of a high streen chain media retailer.
I never had much personal experience with record stores as there have never been any which are particularly close to anywhere I have lived. If the record store dies out, its a testament to both the management’s inability to adapt, and the fact that in any cities or towns where there may be a strong music scene that could support an independent record store – such as Edinburgh or Brighton, the market is so small that it will inevitably be saturated, partially by the aforementioned elite of shop owners. I enjoy the idea and it will always be remembered nostalgically, but there isn’t much room in the UK for small independent retailers, especially not those without great experience, capital to invest and most importantly a thorough knowledge of their subject matter with a strong enough belief in both what they enjoy and what they believe others might enjoy.
Do you think the popularity of limited edition pressings, coloured vinyl, rare tapes etc. is in some way a reaction to the easy access and ready availability of digital files?
It varies from artist to artist. In the London/South East sludge metal scene, for example, a lot of bands seem to put all of their tracks for free streaming on websites such as Bandcamp while at the same time selling limited pressing Vinyls. It’s almost as if the bands themselves are acknowledging the weakness of digital files as a product. When you purchase physical merchandise off a smaller band (especially through mediums like Bigcartel and Storenvy) you know that you are contributing to the production of new music, and more live performances. You are also getting an exclusive product – if the band ends up achieving long term success then you have a rare product from their early days and if the band stops you have an even rarer piece of memorabilia.
As for larger bands; there is a great deal of limited edition pressings, coloured vinyl etc, a sign of the smaller audience vinyl has compared to other formats and it’s value as a collector’s items – not necessarily collection everything from one band but building a collection of personal favourites. The value also lies in what you actually get on the record too, for example; production specific to the vinyl seperate from CD/digital versions, bonus tracks, demos of songs from the album and live tracks.
Do you think traditional copyright laws are still enforceable in the digital age, or do you think we will have to rethink the concept of copyright itself?
Unfortunately I do not think we have any choice in the matter. It would appear that copyright in the future may grow and control the industry as much as it does now, yet with more stability. Considering the unfaltering nature of the industry giants’ position on the matter, it doesn’t appear that their contribution to government policies is going to lessen any time soon.
The law is now being enforced not so much by scaring the public but those who operate file-sharing websites, as well as obscuring the sources of copyright violating content distribution through all-out censorship. Worst case scenario would be a 21st century dark-age of internet censorship. I highly doubt it will go that far, but the British government has certainly opened the gates for it.
What do you personally believe the future of music distribution will look like?
It seems that most bands at the moment offer free digital downloads when you purchase the CD off of their website, but I haven’t seen anything standardised. I think a great way to improve distribution and sales would be to offer codes with all merchandise and physical media purchases which allow downloads of all, or part of the band’s latest album (or the album appropriate to the merchandise purchased). It sucks having to purchase an album more than once and encourages copyright law breaking file-sharing which might otherwise not even be necessary. If someone is obviously a fan of a band, purchases merchandise and/or goes to the live performances I think that they should be encouraged to spend invest more in the band rather than feeling ripped off.
Finally, what does the future hold for Underground Vinyl?
Well, we will be adding to and diversifying the stock as much as possible as well as stocking more albums from artists we already have. The sister blog to the store, Underground blog/zine will also become a lot more active as I have neglected some of my writing duties while focusing on establishing the record store. Overall expanding the store and the blog will help to serve the development of each other under the same brand.
Not only this but soon we will start our next venture, concert promotion. Watch out for super heavy, fuzzed out stoner/doom/sludge (and other related subgenres of rock and metal) gigs in the SouthEast come September/October!