Virgil Dickerson has put out some fine releases through his label Suburban Home Records and his online store Vinyl Collective. Since the release of Fear Before the March of Flames’ Art Damage picture disc and the Every Time I Die box-set featuring their first three albums (which has since been re-released through VC in individual forms), Dickerson and his imprint has made a name for himself and some of the buzz bands he’s supported along the way. Dickerson took some time to tell his story and give comment on the current state of his company and the vinyl revival in general.
How did Suburban Home Records start? When and how did Vinyl Collective start thereafter?
Suburban Home started in September of 1995 when I started publishing my own fanzine. I was inspired by other magazines like Maximum Rock and Roll and Flipside and had discovered punk rock, ska, and indie rock when I was a freshman in college in 1993. I fell in love with all the music. I felt a need to be involved doing a zine, starting a label, and booking shows. I started putting out 7" singles for bands like the Fairlanes and Overlap soon after starting the zine in 1996.
Vinyl Collective started as a thought to get back into putting out vinyl August of 2006. We are about to celebrate 3 years of VC. Vinyl never died, but it seemed that a lot of independent labels had abandoned the format. I have always loved vinyl, but we too abandoned vinyl around the late 90's as we were having a tough time selling [the format.] It all started by asking our friends in Fear Before the March of Flames if they would be into us licensing their album, Art Damage, for release on vinyl. That went really well. Soon after, we asked Ferret if we could license the Every Time I Die box set, and they too agreed. That also did well and got me to thinking about putting together a hub for vinyl collectors, a store, etc. I still have a lot of ideas that I want to launch in connection with Vinyl Collective, and hope to get going in the near future.
When did you first start to notice the resurgence of vinyl in the past few years? Was there any particular release you saw made the first impact? What was the first Vinyl Collective/Suburban Home Records release that took off?
As mentioned before, we did well with Fear Before and Every Time I Die and doing more vinyl opened more doors for us with bands like Portugal. the Man and Minus the Bear. Minus the Bear's "Planet of Ice" has been one of our most successful vinyl releases with around 4,000 copies sold. Honestly, I knew that when we started Vinyl Collective that there were long-time vinyl collectors out there who would appreciate a central place for information, but what blew me away was the increased interest that followed. I had no idea Vinyl Collective would have done as many things as it has done, and in 2008, we had our best year ever thanks to vinyl.
When Capitol Records began to do their “From the Vault” series a few months back, I contacted them for a story (one I believe I did with you as well), and their key answer for the resurgence was one of “nostalgia” for an older generation and “discovery” for a new generation. As for market share, which age demographic do you believe is more responsible for the demand?
I think that saying “nostalgia” is the root of increased interest isn't telling the full story; there are people who have fallen in love with the format for the many reasons that make vinyl amazing (physical/tangible product, better fidelity, the ritual of listening, bigger artwork/liner notes, etc). With the rise of a digital format and the lack of soul in that format, I think people have gravitated to a physical format that isn't disposable. CDs have served their time and place, but there isn't anything remarkable about a CD with a 4 panel booklet. I think that my demographic is as young as 16 to 18 to mid-20s and mid-30s. I think that a lot of our supporters are people my age, or maybe a little bit younger, who have at one time experienced music as a physical format.
Of that demand, you had mentioned in a deal a few weeks ago, through Vinyl Collective, that the warehouse is a bit overstocked. Like any business model, do you think that supply is outweighing demand just a bit at this point?
I think that it is important to learn the lessons many of us have learned with the CD format. You have to be smart about manufacturing the right amount of copies and repress when the record sells out. We made a few missteps with past releases, and have more copies than we would like to have of more than a few titles. We also have seen so many labels putting out vinyl again, and that is another reason our warehouse is swelling. I think that demand is still really strong, but between the recent over-saturation of releases on vinyl and the effect the economy has had, records are not selling as well as they did even a year ago.
When I initially went into collecting vinyl, I began with my father’s collection. I told myself that I would buy albums that I thought were worthwhile from the artists I love, yet every week I’ll see a few records that I don’t believe needed pressing, or worth purchasing. But who am I to judge? What records have sold well through VC that you were surprised at? Which ones didn’t do as well?
That's a good question. Probably the biggest surprise in the history of Vinyl Collective is the Gaslight Anthem's ‘59 Sound. Mind you, when we announced the pre-order for The ‘59 Sound, the band had a buzz, and we knew they would do well, but they were not the band they are today. We sold 500 copies on white vinyl (Vinyl Exclusive Color) in 42 minutes. The traffic from the pre-order shut down Side One Dummy’s online store, and they had asked us if we could post the 1,000 copies of their color (blue vinyl) on our site. We sold out of the blue copies in a little over a week. With the black vinyl, we sold 1,800 copies of vinyl and helped contribute to the first week Soundscans for the [album,] which has now sold well over 60,000 copies in the United States. That was exciting.
As far as things not selling as well, most records we have been posting on pre-order have not been doing as well as we thought they could, but that is in due largely because of the economy. Every time I post a new pre-order, there are at least a few people who mention how they don't have money to buy records. It's tough.
Do you think the resurgence of vinyl is a direct correlation with the revival of the independent record store, or do you hear that more people purchase through online outlets such as VC and “exclusive” pre-orders through Merchnow.com?
I think that the increase of interest in vinyl has helped strong, independent retail destinations become stronger. Smart mom and pop stores have always sold vinyl, especially used vinyl, which tends to have a higher markup. That and a good store has a high turnover of new arrivals for used vinyl, so their die-hard customers come into their store more than a few times each week. I am sure along with us, online stores like Interpunk.com, Insound.com, Merchnow.com, etc. have also experienced a huge increase of vinyl sales. Even Amazon.com have been selling vinyl, so you know that there is money to be made if they are getting involved.
Fads come and go. Is this revival just a fad, or is it more that those consumers of tangible music getting more for their buck? Along with labels packaging digital download cards with their LP releases, is this the nail in the coffin for CD releases, or is vinyl still a niche market compared to the masses?
Vinyl sales will never become the main musical format; the best selling LP of 2008 was Radiohead's "In Rainbows" which sold like 10,000 copies, but combined sales of the other formats of that same album sold over 1 million copies. I think vinyl will see a lot of life for a long time and even when the fair-weather vinyl fans leave, the loyal vinyl collectors will continue to collect like they did before vinyl saw this upswing. As far as the CD format, people are still buying millions of CDs every week, and the suits will continue to keep CDs alive so long as there is money coming in. I have thought about phasing out CDs, but I think that the time isn't yet right for that to happen.
What do you think of bands that are formatting JUST on vinyl now? Your pressings have opened up a fan base to bands such as Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground, O' Pioneers and Bomb the Music Industry!, who have released a lot of vinyl only material. Does that alienate a market share who could otherwise discover the music through CD and digital formats?
Good question, there are positives and negatives to bands that primarily release their albums on vinyl. I think it has helped the examples you have given. When we posted an mp3 for Kay Kay and his Weathered Underground and announced the pre-order, everything just clicked. We sold nearly the entire pressing based on word of mouth. It should be noted that we have since released the album on CD in hopes of getting more publicity for a band I think everyone should here.
For Bomb the Music Industry! and O’ Pioneers, lots of their music is available for free download through quote-unquote records. So yes, they primarily release vinyl, but there are other options to find their music. That and Asian Man has released CDs for both bands. I think that for both bands – and other bands that put out vinyl before everyone started doing vinyl again – putting releases on vinyl distinguished your band from the other millions of bands out there. It also helps that both bands rock and have great ethical views on punk rock.
If this revival were a fad, would you expect to see an abundance of used records at independent record stores? Just yesterday I found a copy of Minus the Bear's Beer Commercials EP in the new arrival rack at Waterloo Records.
I think that you will see lots of used vinyl in any record store because people always need money, so they sell the records back to the stores. With the economy, I am sure lots of record collectors are selling back the records they don't feel they have to have. That Minus the Bear record, for example, was pressed on 3 different colors; it could be that the person sold it because they had it on a different color. I hope you bought it, that record rules!
Given the current state of the vinyl industry, where do you think supply and demand for this particular tangible medium will go, or end, in the next few years?
I think that vinyl will stay long after people find it interesting to write about, but vinyl won't make sense for every artist. People are saying that Wilco's new album will be the best selling LP of 2009, so I guess bands like Wilco will always see a strong following on vinyl. My guess is that the newest Jonas Brothers album, for example, won't sell a lot of copies on vinyl. Let's say that in 2 years, there isn't as much enthusiasm, I am sure that there will be lots of labels that will abandon the format, but there will always be labels like No Idea, Magic Bullet, Robotic Empire, Deathwish, Bridge 9, and others that will continue to put out vinyl, and there will continue to be vinyl collectors excited about those releases.
Is there anything you'd like to say to vinyl collectors on Absolutepunk.net, and in general, about keeping the industry thriving?
Vinyl Collectors of Absolutepunk.net, and anyone else that might be reading this, I know that times are tough and maybe you don't have a lot of money to spend on music, but I urge you to support your independent retailer and independent record label. Fuck the majors. Fuck the big box retailers. Times are tough for independent retailers and labels, and so if you download an album for free and you find that you love it, please consider buying the LP – or hell CD – and support those independent labels, retailers, and artists with your hard-earned money. I often think about how different my life would be without my discovery of independent music; man it would have sucked. I think a lot about what separates us (supporters of independent artists/labels) from the people who mindlessly listen to commercial radio who find themselves glued to the television to watch reality television and enjoy the experiences other people are having and not experiencing anything new themselves. Kudos to you for supporting sites like Absolutepunk.net and discussing independent music. Thanks to everyone for taking the time to read this.
This was awesome. My bf and I are big vinyl fans and we always support bands. My bf is also a huge vinyl collective fan. he is on that site all day long. Shopping in indie stores that sell vinyl is our favorite thing to do!