This website from the Tokyo Digital Music Syndicates lets artists crowd-source pressings of their own music on vinyl records and it is one of the coolest platforms I've seen:
I've been fortunate enough to work from home the past few months and with that change has come the opportunity to enjoy more music out loud again.
Some of my favorite album artwork, not all of which are pressed on vinyl... yet
While trying to keep my favorite records to a single crate, I've been learning a lot more about today's current vinyl landscape.
I've got notifications turned on for some great Twitter accounts, keep an eye on crowd-sourced new releases, check for limited pressings from vinyl "clubs", and sometimes even end up browsing the resale market.
Yet even with all this exploration and research, my mind was still blown when I found Qrates.
I found Qrates through this dope project from Cookin' Soul:
As a long time fan of Cookin' Soul remixes from way back in the blog era of hip-hop, this seemed like a perfect opportunity to support artists.
Checking out the site, Qrates goal is as simple as this:
"We make it easy for artists to press vinyl, so fans can keep pieces of the music they love"
Before committing some money (crowd-sourcing has had its fair share of skepticism around failed projects in the Kickstart/Indiegogo realm), I had to do some research.
Crowd Sourced Vinyls
Quick aside, can we agree that "vinyl" is an acceptable way to refer to "vinyl records" yet? I know a subset of vinyl record collectors refuses to acknowledge the name for valid reasons, but this seems like a much less harmful "definition fight" to give up on than "literal" for example. Anyways, I digress.
As with many things on the internet, crowd-sourcing vinyl records is not a new idea.
The latest entry into this space was actually Bandcamp in 2019, a company which I love for directly supporting artists with physical media purchases and high quality audio purchases.
I couldn't find when Diggers Factory started offering crowd-sourcing but Vinlyised's Twitter account was created in 2013.
Qrates came somewhere in this middle of the pack, detailed in this 2015 article from Tech In Asia.
The brain child of Japanese start-up, Tokyo Digital Music Syndicates (TDMS), Qrates was released in beta in 2015.
With that background research complete and a few promising Reddit posts about the record quality, I decided to take the plunge.
Since the records take some time to be pressed once they reach their goals (or don't), I started browsing the site for more potential projects to back.
Qrates browsing features made it quick to find the projects that interested me most:
Projects come and go and these are the active projects matching the above filters as of December 2020:
During my browsing over the summer I found this amazing project:
Even though I planned to hold off on any other purchases until receiving my first order, the beautiful cover art and preview of the music was irresistible; I backed the project.
Now it was time to wait for 2 records to succeed, press, and deliver.
So how does the platform work beyond the familiar crowd-funding paradigm? How do artists design and create their vinyl records?
Enter Qrates studio:
Now this is dope! Check out its sleek 3d animations and virtual renderings of vinyl records and packaging yourself here.
I've bookmarked this for a future tech breakdown (it's built on React) as well as a future project if I bail on tech and go back to my music producing roots. Maybe I'll do both ;).
The Final Product
At long last, my vinyls were received! Despite COVID and cautions from Qrates that vinyl record production could be delayed, I received my records on the original schedule. You'll see the schedule of backing and pressing when you back a product.
Check out the shipping/packaging below:
Paper padding I had never seen before but have since seen in other vinyl record packages, big fan.
Soft tissue paper to protect from the rough texture of the paper padding.
Record stored in an "overbag", "shrink wrap" is another option available in the Qrates Studio.
The paper inner sleeve (also configurable in Qrates Studio) is stored inside the overbag, side by side with the sleeve rather than inside it. This is a great packaging method I've encountered in the resale market which helps prevent seam-splits of the sleeve during shipping.
And finally the color vinyl.
Overall I was extremely happy with how it turned out!
If I had one complaint, it would be that the sleeve did not include a printed spine:
But after playing with the Packaging section of Qrates Studio, I realized that the spine is an artist-configurable feature and could have been included.
In fact, when I received my Caribbean Bites record a few days later, it had a spine.
Playing with the Studio actually gave me an even greater appreciation for all the possibilities. They're not literally endless, but they're pretty close.
Now the *most important* question: how's the audio quality?
Unfortunately, I'm currently away from home for an extended period of time and without my record player. I do have an old unit with built-in speakers – it plays the record as well as it can – but I'll update this post as soon as I get back to my setup.
* I say "most important" because people buy records for lots of reasons. For many it has to do with audio fidelity and the analog reproduction of sound. For me, artist support, physical interaction, and visual design/appreciation play a bigger role. If a record is poor quality, that would be a non-starter for me, but in general, beyond a bootleg pressing, I haven't found a record I wasn't satisfied with.
The Wrap Up
All that said, I highly encourage the use of these services.
Thanks to Qrates, Bandcamp, Vinylised, Diggers Factory and more, the world of vinyl records and physical media creation is becoming as accessible to creators as digital music in general has become in recent years and that is extremely exciting.
A note to new collectors: don't go overboard.
With this endless stream of vinyl records available through all these marketplaces in this resurging industry, I've learned to keep record purchases to a minimum lately.
If you love music and have years of favorites, it may be easier than you think to break the bank.
After trimming down my record collection and even cancelling some over-eager pre-orders, I've started to build a criteria.
I try to fit my records into the Venn diagram of music I love, beautiful cover art, and (when possible) unique and colorful discs.
Your criteria may and should be different than mine, but if you don't set any boundaries, it's very easy to get carried away. The music you want doesn't have to be expensive and it doesn't have to contribute to clutter.
I've found that the better I do that, the more I enjoy and treasure the records I do own.