For all the talk of a vinyl resurgence, it’s not easy for small labels to press plastic and turn a profit.
Over the last five years, the standard run for a small label pressing a 12″ single has gone from 500 to 300, and it’s often hard to even sell that. Even the labels you might think are booming are often struggling to sell vinyl – believe it or not, some of the biggest dance anthems from the last couple of years still haven’t sold 300 physical copies, even if they’ve likely made the money back on digital sales.
Even if you do sell out a 300 run, what does that mean? Let’s say you sell to your distributor at a price of £3 per vinyl, that’s £900 max physical sales on a record that probably cost more than that to manufacture. Of course, there are ways around this (digital sales, or removing that distributor cut by selling records direct), but the margins are still small, and that’s before paying for press or braving full sleeve artwork.
Qrates is a new start-up aiming to make life easier for small labels to press small quantities (some plants won’t press runs of less than 300 records at a time, and it’s sometimes hard to press sleeves at less than 500 copies). In short, it’s a crowd-funding vinyl scheme that cuts out the middle man: buyers pledge in the form of generously priced pre-orders, and when, let’s say, 100 copies are ordered, Qrates manufacture them for the label. It can, however, simply operate as a straight-up service for labels: the label can simply pledge all orders themselves, and get a good rate on a limited run of records, while also designing the record via an easy-to-use interface.
We spoke to Qrates to find out more about how it all works.
Why did you start Qrates? Were you frustrated record label owners yourself?
Hah – not at all, never frustrated! We are just a team of people that have worked for years in music retail, distribution, label management. Some of us are musicians and producers too, so we just wanted to create a tool to make releasing vinyl easier than it is now, in very small quantities without costing you and your customers a fortune, and even with the possibility of making your vinyl releases profitable from 100 copies.
Have you already started hitting up labels about it, and what has the reaction been?
Yes, we have been speaking with a lot of people in many genres and projects are already starting to pop up on the Qrates site. This is an open-genre platform, anybody can use it, and more and more people are contacting us to know more about the service.
Were you inspired by Ninja Tune’s Beat Delete scheme? Beat Delete was designed for reissues, but people have used it for digital releases that haven’t been pressed yet.
Beat Delete is definitely great but Qrates is very different as anybody can build their Qrates store and start selling music and running vinyl funding projects in a matter of minutes. New releases, repress projects and limited collector editions are all welcome.
What happens if a label doesn’t get its 100 copies funded? Is there a time limit for them to reach their goal?
You can set up your campaign for a length between 30 and 90 days. If you don’t reach your goal, two solutions here: you can cancel your campaign and then your customers will not be charged for their pre-orders, or even better, you can self-purchase the remaining copies at the pressing cost and start pressing the record! You may also need some copies for your own website or to sell at your shows, so you can self-purchase copies of your own project at the pressing cost at any time during the campaign.
You said that labels can use the site to create a preorder for records even if you press them yourself – how does that work?
This option is actually not available right now but we are working on this and it will be available soon. In such campaigns, you will be able to gather pre-orders from your fans and collect the funds to press your vinyl at the pressing plant you wish to press at.
What other opportunities do labels get through QRATES?
The purpose of Qrates is to provide your fans with exceptional items: first records, but also purpose these records with something special such as the ticket event to a release party, some limited edition merch, etc. We want to make Qrates a place for music lovers where you can find quality records in a multitude of styles from all over the world, and then give the opportunity to labels and artists to reach a new audience. We’re working on various tools that will make the label’s life and record pressing easier: we are building a vinyl mastering center inside Qrates, we will be able soon to ship the records directly to your customers on your behalf, and we are also working on a system to give the possibility of selling your records at a wholesale price to record stores who would like to stock the releases. More news about all of this soon.