A decade ago, vinyl records were a forgotten relic of the past. Relegated to the dustbin of musical artifacts, vinyl records were nothing more than a reminder of a by-gone era before technological advances had enabled consumers to carry entire music catalogues in their pockets. Gone, but not entirely forgotten, music collectors, enthusiasts, and DJ's who had yet to succumb to digital mixing were able to keep the dying format alive; barely.
Fast forward to 2016, and it is safe to say that we are seeing a renaissance or rebirth of the vinyl record industry. No longer simply found in boxes in your parent's garage or in hip vintage stores, vinyl records are now commercially available not only online and in record stores, but even at your local grocery store.
The resurgence of the vinyl record industry is astounding. In 2015, not only did vinyl sales reach their highest levels since 1988, but physical sales of records created more revenues than that of the free-ad supported streaming industry. Demand for vinyl has grown so fast that it has even outpaced the ability of the few, still remaining record pressing plants to keep up, resulting in backlogs and long waiting times for bands and labels awaiting the pressing of their albums.
While vinyl records remain a favorite medium for independent record labels and bands to distribute their music to fans, long wait times and order minimums at larger pressing plants often discourage indie musicians from immortalizing their music on vinyl.
Cognizant of the difficulties of releasing music or works on vinyl, North Carolina based independent recording artist and entrepreneur Wesley Wolfe has made it his mission to ensure all artists and music enthusiasts have access to the format. By using innovative processes, technology, and with a great deal of passion, Wolfe's company, Tangible Formats, is able to provide customers with high-quality vinyl records without order minimums and without the long wait-times associated with larger operations.
I had the opportunity to interview Wesley to discuss his business, the industry, and his views on entrepreneurship. Hope you enjoy.
CG: Tell me what led for you to begin your business and what is your mission?
WW: I am an independent recording artist. In 2009, I was looking for a company that could manufacture just one vinyl record. After exhaustive research and weighing the options, I concluded that I was better off doing it myself. I contacted Souri at vinylrecorder.com and purchased the best equipment available for the lathe cut process; making it my mission to provide one off vinyl records for others.
CG: What services does Tangible Formats offer and how are you different from other companies in the vinyl space?
WW: Tangible Formats cuts high quality stereo vinyl records by etching the grooves directly into blank plastic discs. This is as instant as vinyl record manufacturing gets. Unlike pressing plants, at Tangible Formats there are no minimum order requirements and a faster turnaround.
CG: Who are typically your customers?
WW: Musicians, recording artists, vinyl DJs, independent record labels, and friends and families of artists.
CG: Releasing music on vinyl these days is often an expensive and complicated process. How is it that you are able to make the process more accessible to independent artists and individuals?
WW: By cutting directly into blank vinyl I can bypass the plating and pressing process. This is especially important now because of the high demand for vinyl. Since major labels are ordering larger quantities, it's not longer economical for pressing plants to accept small runs. Tangible Formats fills that void by offering a cost-effective solution for high quality in low quantities.
CG: Vinyl records have seen a resurgence among consumers in recent years. Why do you think that is?
WW: First, record jackets are better to look at than thumbnail images. Second, vinyl has a specific sound. Frequencies below 40hz and above 16khz are taken away because they can be impossible to cut. These frequency limitations are the charm of vinyl's signature sound. Lastly, it is possible that vinyl culture is growing because it's a more personable way to listen to your favorite album. There is a little effort and commitment involved for the listener. It's the ritual of just listening and appreciating the album as a whole; from start to finish. There's also a small intermission in the middle to flip sides. Personally, I've always thought it was mesmerizing to watch a record as it plays. It is the original way to enjoy the recorded sound. That being said, I believe that for independent recording artists, pressing vinyl, shows that you are a bit more serious about your craft. A vinyl record is the only true way to materialize the actual sound wave. The sound wave becomes physical art like a photograph, a painting, or a sculpture. It is a more personable way for your art to connect with someone. Thousands of micro vibrations are physically communicated back to the listener. Publishing a digital file worldwide only takes a few seconds with very little monetary risk. Meanwhile, writing and recording take passion, patience, and guts; just like deciding to manufacture vinyl.
CG: What role does technology that was largely unavailable during vinyl's previous heyday such as computers, mixing software, and/or other digital tools play in your business?
WW: The principle of cutting audio to a disc is still the same. However, recording technology has advanced so much that techniques for mixing in the digital realm don't translate to vinyl. So, the role is both problem and solution. Digital music has a wider frequency range than vinyl. This can lead to extreme bass and trebles in the final mix. I have to find the problem areas in order to achieve the best results on vinyl record. I like to use a spectrum analyzer plugin to detect and pinpoint any needed frequency adjustments. I use an equalization plugin to zero in and adjust any critical frequencies. You have to use your eyes as well as your ears when preparing audio for vinyl. The software makes it easy to do it quickly with precision and confidence. The principle of cutting audio to a disc is still the same. However, mixing software helps me edit and filter the audio for optimal performance on vinyl visually as well as aurally.
CG: Entrepreneurship is rife with challenges and obstacles. What is your advice to other entrepreneurs seeking to launch a venture of their own?
WW: Start small and do something that actually interests you. Define "success" for yourself and devise a business plan to achieve it in real life.
CG: Any parting words?
WW: A wise man once told me ... "beware of energy thieves".