Despite the proliferation of digital music through downloads and streaming services, vinyl sales have continued to grow. For Louisville-based Vinyl Me, Please
, a record club that offers exclusive monthly installments of “must have” albums, the trend back toward analog has been a way to get music that the club thinks people should hear out to a growing audience.
For owner Matt Fiedler and his friends, something was missing in today’s digital-music landscape.
“It was right about the time all the streaming companies were making a big impact,” says Fiedler of the club’s beginnings. “What didn’t sit well with us was we didn’t think we had any connection to any of the music. It was overwhelming how much was there and yet [it was] hard to get a connection."
Fiedler says he realized that part of what helped him connect to music as a kid was his father’s record collection; later, his own CD collection served the same purpose. There was something about having a physical album, he says, that made the music feel more real and important than it would simply playing on a computer.
“If you’re listening to something on Spotify, you could listen to a million other things,” he points out. “Vinyl forces intentionality, which gives you a deeper connection.”
In 2013, Fiedler and friend Tyler Barstow started Vinyl Me, Please, despite the fact that the record-club concept has been tried before and has drawn many detractors.
“The record club is nothing novel,” admits Fiedler. “People in the industry told us, ‘This has been done. Why would you do it?’”
But Fiedler and Barstow had a fresh take on the old concept. The record clubs that people remember from the ’70s and ’80s thrived on offering lots of choices for a small fee. Yes, it was a way to build a collection quickly, but the choices, though numerous, were far from the best albums available.
Vinyl Me, Please takes the opposite approach, offering a single album each month. This isn’t a Pandora-like service, with choices tailored to a listener’s predilection for certain artists or styles. Instead, every subscriber receives the same carefully chosen record. This arrangement makes Fiedler and his partners into tastemakers, a role they take seriously.
“The original idea was offering undiscovered stuff that needs to be heard,” says Fiedler. “We feature one record per month, but it’s something we think you need.”
With no marketing whatsoever, the pair launched the club, offering the idea to friends and anyone else who would listen. They managed to attract a handful of subscribers.
“We had twelve people sign up the first month,” says Fiedler. “We tried to make the experience cool so they would tell friends.”
Things progressed slowly, but within a year, Vinyl Me, Please was up to 200 subscribers via word of mouth alone. The audience was also beginning to outgrow its creators’ ability to handle the demand.
“It was still just Tyler and me,” says Fiedler, adding that the pair packed every box for shipment themselves and addressed all the other concerns that come with running a growing business. “It was a pain in the ass.”
Help came in the form of Cameron Schaefer, an Air Force pilot who had started a side business creating cocktail pairings for specific albums called, simply enough, Vinyl and Cocktails. Fiedler and Barstow liked the idea and recruited Vinyl and Cocktails to create pairings for each of their releases. They liked the way that Schaefer marketed his own business enough to ask for his help in growing Vinyl Me, Please.
“We decided to make a run for it,” Fiedler says. “We had no clear idea of how to do it.”
With Schaefer on board, they put money into marketing the business for the first time. Several Johnson also came on board around the same time to handles the growing number of orders. The company was able to serve its 200 subscribers but also maintained a small “invite list” of customers who wanted to join when the company was ready. The business was growing slowly but building buzz around the unique service.
And then things exploded — in the best possible way. In 2014, Vinyl Me, Please was featured on Uncrate.com, a digital magazine for, as the site boasts, “guys who love to buy stuff.” Fiedler says that he and his cohorts weren’t prepared for what happened next.
“Literally overnight, we went from 200 to 2,000 people on the invite list, with 400 to 500 members. It brought the company to a level where we were like, ‘Oh, shit.’”
Fiedler attributes the interest in Vinyl Me, Please to the fact that the club offers members a chance to have something they can hold rather than just a bunch of digital tracks.
“I think it’s the uniqueness of the packaging, the records you’re going to get, and also the fact that it’s going to be a new form of music discovery that’s more real and tangible,” he says.
In the two years since that first big jump in interest, Vinyl Me, Please has continued to grow. Fiedler is careful not to reveal solid numbers but says the subscriber list is well above 15,000 customers. He attributes the company’s success to an acute understanding of its target demographic: men, mostly, in their late twenties to early thirties, with some disposable income, living in and around large cities.
But there’s more to it than that. The typical Vinyl Me, Please subscriber is also somewhat adventurous when it comes to music, according to Fiedler: “These are people who are open to listening to a bunch of new music, not sticking to a very narrow taste realm.”
They also want quality, something that a typical Vinyl Me, Please release delivers. Monthly record selections have included releases from Thelonious Monk, Father John Misty and the Fugees, records and artists that span genres and eras. Each month’s offering is a limited-edition, high-quality pressing made for the company’s customers. The record also comes with an exclusive art print and directions for crafting the perfect cocktail to pair with the listening experience. An annual membership, which runs $284, also gives subscribers access to a members-only store with special pricing on many other albums that can be added to their next shipment.
In addition, members receive the Standard, a weekly e-mail digest full of reviews, buying guides and other content, which Fiedler says is becoming an important part of the Vinyl Me, Please experience.
“Content has been an emerging thing for us,” says Fiedler. “We were constantly being asked, ‘What turntable should I buy?’ and ‘What other music should I listen to?’ Content is what puts the bow on everything. It helps us give more value to our members and increase our exposure across the board.”
Knowing one’s audience is important in the music business, and Fiedler says that tailoring content to the Vinyl Me, Please customer base can be tricky, since members’ profiles fall all along the spectrum. Fiedler says the company gears its content to serve anyone who cares about records, from hardcore collectors and audiophiles to people just getting into the game.
“We know we have people who have top-level gear as well as people with a $70 turntable. How can we, for the sake of our business, make sure the people on the bottom end of that spectrum are being served?”
More than anything else, Fiedler wants to grow listeners’ connection to the music they love, and he believes that pointing them in the right direction with high-quality, tangible albums is the best way to do that.
“Record collections are like fingerprints,” he says. “Nobody has the same one. You can find out a lot about someone by going through their records and hearing their stories connected with those records. You can’t say that for an MP3 collection.”
The April 2016 release is Weezer's seminal album "Pinkerton" in a special-edition blue vinyl pressing. Fans can pick up the album by joining for a year or from the Vinyl Me, Please website.